What Does the Invisible City Mean to You?

Conversation between reSITE's Program Director Osamu Okamura & the Chairman Martin Barry about the theme and program of the sixth annual international reSITE conference and festival: the "Invisible City".

Osamu Okamura: “What? Invisible city? What is that?” We’ve heard that question many times this year. The theme of this year's reSITE conference perhaps seems a bit mysterious. We will, however, deal with the most banal and ordinary, and so “invisible” to our eyes – a city's basic technical and transit infrastructure. This theme hides many surprises!

Martin Josef Barry: People don’t typically think much about infrastructure, and when they do, they might think about engineers in ties, or a monumental bridge somewhere. Much of the time, infrastructure is below our feet, or over our head. Usually, it’s considered ugly. Or, at best it’s boring. But, not always and either way, infrastructure is literally the beating heart and veins of the city. And, when we finally get to see the collectors, the tubes and water pipes, or we display the data - it is fascinating and beautiful. We’re looking to expose the design of infrastructure while stressing that we need to think about it as an investment tool for private and cultural development in the city.

OO: The technical infrastructure eats up a significant part of a city's budget. With the rapid aging of buildings, the need to innovate and manage our city is more crucial than ever. Today, we not only talk about lessening the negative impacts of busy city roads or garbage incinerators on the environment of a city, but we strive for a world where city infrastructure becomes a significant engine, impulse and driver of change in connecting technical and sustainable approaches, low energy and smart technologies and thus significantly co-creating a new identity and future of a city. The technical infrastructure of the future offers new goals and opportunities – attractive and often hybrid public spaces, places for living, work, agricultural production, sports and cultural use which cities can display on the first pages of their marketing materials. Kazuyo Sejima no longer speaks of tangible buildings, but of about trying to create “a field for human activity”, a subtle concept indeed! And the unusually high number of women in the program comes to my mind at this point…

MJB: I’ve been surrounded by strong, ambitious women my entire life. I have three successful older sisters who have guided me through most of my life so far. This is one of the reasons why every debate and every discussion curated by reSITE has sought to find the best women in the world working in our field. This year the program is even more packed with awesome women. Kathryn Gustafson is one of my favorite landscape architects in the world. I have had a meditative experience in every Kazuyo Sejima space I have been in. Amazingly, Martina Ableidinger is making waste management cool in Vienna. Arnhem Station by Caroline Bos of UNStudio screams “Welcome to Arnhem.” It is a magical experience. Where to end… Leni Schwendiger thinks about lighting infrastructure like an artist, illuminating dozens of well-known buildings, bridges and public spaces. I can go on… We very much believe that the Future (City) is Female.

OO: Nevertheless, there are many awesome men I can’t wait to meet! We are looking forward to meeting other experts in their field such as the Deputy Mayor of Paris, Jean-Louis Missika; the award-winning Barcelona architect Enric Batlle; the CEO of Veolia Group for Central and Eastern Europe, Philippe Guitard will talk about smart water; the Minister of Transport Dan Ťok or the urban economist from London School of Economics, Gabriel Ahlfeldt.

MJB: Last year, we hit the heart of controversy in Europe by doing an event about migration. This year, we strive to be less political and more design-oriented. However, infrastructure can be political of course. It is smart infra - structure which can be part of visionary plans for the future, and can be the center of great campaigns - if delivered properly. Those that take risk and manage it properly, they are celebrated by historians. Missika will likely be one such politician with his Reinvent Paris competition. On the other hand, Teddy Cruz & Fonna Forman will respond to Trump’s border wall - also about infrastructure and design. Alongside, we invited some of the best architects in the world who design subways, parks, bridges, technical buildings and data centers.

OO: Yes, we will get into controversial topics as well, we will brainstorm, discuss and create together. We are planning on eleven interactive workshops led with experts of that field. You are welcome to take part. You can consult your problems with Vienna's chief of waste management Martina Ableidinger, try to measure environmental quality in the Smart Citizens Lab led by the Waag Society from Amsterdam, visualize data with Amanda Taylor and Jacopo Hirschstein from London or create strategies for saving the Karlín Ferry with Matthias Einhoff and Miodrag Kuč from ZK/U Berlin.

MJB: Osamu is going to tire us out with his interactive sessions. So, let’s enjoy our nights! Guests are invited to join our guided bar crawls through Prague. We are going to dance under the stars at the reSITE party in the Bokovka courtyard at 10pm on Thursday. Do not forget to go over and pick up an In/visible City t-shirt, socks and tattoo – then join the bar crawls, party, discussions and underground tours this weekend.

OO: Martin, you should think about skipping the night crowd and joining the tours happening on Saturday. They are family-friendly! The visit to Prague's waterworks and the sewer under Old Town Square will certainly be unforgettable! So will be the opportunity to jump on a garbage truck, peek into the incinerator or spray some graffiti on street furniture.

MJB: I can be a night owl. My nickname in university was “Marty-the-one-man-Party.” So, I’ll do both. Seriously, I risk being overly sentimental here, but I now have a really serious reason to think about how to design and plan a better city for the next generation. Our concept of creating a “lovable” city is not just a concept, it’s a necessity. The reason is: I now have a son. His name is Hayden Martin Barry, born a few weeks ago on May 24, 2017. Hayden is derived from Gaelic and English landscape terminology for valley and hill. I want our city to feel safe for my son, much as my father (also Martin) wanted for me and my sisters. Hayden should have access to awesome parks, state-of-the-art transportation, and affordable housing. He will want to live in a forward-thinking city. Seeing this precious little gentleman for the last few weeks has inspired me to work harder for his future. I will design cities where I would want our kid to grow up! Welcome to reSITE 2017.

OO: Will you bring your son to reSITE next year?

MJB: Yeah, definitely. Now, more than ever, we’re parent-friendly. Registration will open soon for reSITE 2018. Stay tuned, we will announce all the details.

Cover image (c) Petr Lebeda

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