Cities bring to mind many descriptions: crowded or empty, dense or sprawling, loud or peaceful, hostile or social, dangerous or safe, difficult or easy.

Cities are a stage where space is contested, a political urban tug-of-war around who gets what, when and for how much. Ideally, this contest should be relatively equitable; often this is demonstrably not the case. Witness the ‘We are 99%’ occupy protests or perhaps locally, Brisbane’s Queens Wharf Casino Development which has been widely criticised as a giveaway of public land and spaces for commercial objectives.

Alexis and Murat Sanal of SANALarc have examined contestability in their home city Istanbul, Turkey. They presented some of their recent portfolio of work which focused on a wide range of research and built projects. Like archaeologists at a dig, SANALarc carefully analyse project briefs and sites to uncover histories, topologies, conditions, explanations, opportunities to inform their design intentions.

For example, dozens of weekly Pazars occur throughout Istanbul suburbs. These are erected each week by workers who could best be described as rope, canvas, and pole artisans. As presented by SANALarc there is nothing random or haphazard about these temporary constructions which can be dismantled in 15 minutes if required.

SANALarc’s assertion is that these spontaneous city interventions improve life, enjoyment, and social connection in cities in a way different from, say a rooftop commercial food court and entertainment zone proposed at Queens Wharf.

Contestability should not be a win or lose equation. It is about growing cities that allow and encourage an equitable opportunity for as wide a range of citizens as possible.

Cover Image: Alexis Sanal, Pazar structures, 2008, Istanbul, Turkey. Courtesy of SANALarc.
Top image: Alexis Sanal presenting at the UQ Architecture lecture series.
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