"We feel happy when we create situations where people of very different backgrounds and very different positions in the hierarchy of urban decision-making engage in a conversation and start to understand the others’ view points."
Levente Polyak is a researcher and project leader at KÉK Architecture Center and works on the Lakatlan program reactivating vacant spaces of Budapest. He also is a curator of a variety of programs, event workshops and exhibitions regarding the developments within the urban context.
Can you talk a bit about your work?
I’m involved in 3 cities.
The first is in Budapest at the Hungarian Contemporary Architecture Center (KÉK), which is an architecture and urbanism foundation which looks at ways to establish better understanding between the architecture profession, the planning profession, and the wider society. We work on re-allegorating situations where people of very different backgrounds can come together and discuss urban development.
Another identity I have is in Vienna, Austria with Wonderland Platform for European Architecture and in Rome, Italy, I am co-running an association, which is again focusing on urban development, called Eutropian.
To elaborate a bit more, in Budapest we have existed for 9 years and one of our main missions when forming the foundation was to establish better connection, better communication, give more visibility and translate contemporary (urban) problems to the wider public. Also to mediate between local achievements and the international public.
What has happened in the last few years, besides organizing all kinds of events (we do a lot of festivals, exhibitions, research, publications, conferences & more), is that we started moving towards small scale urban development. We have been focusing on small-scale regeneration processes: operating some community gardens and working on re-use of empty spaces. Also on small-scale cooperative area development where we are trying to bring together a variety of stakeholders like municipal officers, decision-makers, professionals, local associations, citizen groups, inhabitants, cultural initiatives and more.
How do you ‘make’ your city?
The focus in all the three cities is that we really believe that there is a lot of knowledge dispersed in the city, which is very useful in creating a more sustainable and inclusive model for regeneration. There are a lot of energies and capacities dispersed and the goal is to aggregate this knowledge to channel them into a focused discussion about one territory or one neighborhood. This is the big issue: to manage to bring together really different people to sit around the table and discuss their viewpoints.
In some of these cities they are no traditions of this, such as Budapest. We feel happy when we create situations where people of very different backgrounds and very different positions in the hierarchy of urban decision-making engage in a conversation and start to understand the others’ view points. I think this is one of the most important issues here.
How did you start or get involved this work?
KÉK was born due to a possibility to take over a building for a few years. This was an opportunity that brought together a lot of people who were loosely connected before but not yet formalized. I joined in when the idea was already established but before it was launched.
It was a very organic process. We slowly discovered more and more our interests, our public’s interests, our possibilities, what we can achieve, and what the most important topics are. Its an organic process with a lot of feedback from different kinds of partners.
In Vienna, I joined an organization that already existed for 9 years when I joined 3 years ago. It’s a bit more formal; it’s a well-funded organization where we have had a lot of possibilities to create workshops in different cities and mobilize an international network. Here, we have a less locally rooted activity; it is more networking around architectural associations around Europe.
The Rome association grew from our experiences of working with municipalities and local citizen from various initiatives. We realized Rome, in a strange way, is in a very provincial situation when it comes to cooperation, best practices and knowledge transfer. We realize there is a great need to bring in a lot of fresh ideas and energies; although, we do believe Rome has an amazing amount of bottom-up initiatives.
In the different cities, its always an organic process where we realize what is needed, what are our capacities & possibilities are and who we can partner with.
It seems like you are really an ideal example of a City Maker. What does the term City Maker mean for you?
City Maker is a nice expression to include many different actors who have various roles in the process of making cites. It’s a very simple way to refer to a more democratic way of making of city. Its not about politics, its not about top-down planning, its about a lot of different contributions to the city. Of course no one makes the whole city, but even a little contribution to make the city function better is creating the city. Understanding the city in an ideal way, as a very sociable, inclusive, cooperative, dynamic place where people should be comfortable. I think its makes sense in the way that it’s a common reference to many actors who are often forgotten when we talk about decision-making processes.
You are also involved in the newly established re:Kreators, network! What is this network for you?
I’m really happy I found myself in this cooperation because there are a lot of values we share across the different cities. Surprisingly, networks we have had before weren’t able to grab these values and communicate them in a meaningful way. The previous ones were maybe architectural and very much disciplinary, even when we were trying to be interdisciplinary. I believe that here the connection is much more a way to approach the city and the values of cooperative development. It captures the capacity in local hubs, which brings together a lot for different types of actors. It makes complete sense from our viewpoint and is a great learning possibility for all the actors. What’s very important is that it’s an effort that mobilizes and aids all members to better achieve their local goals. If used well, it can also be helpful as a pressure-making tool on the international and local level.
What does the New Europe platform highlighting various initiative across Europe mean to you?
I think the New Europe platform is a great way to introduce initiatives. Its becoming more and more important to create meaningful connections to find the right partners, initiatives and inspirations. When we think about (xx) our own strategies, it’s a good way to navigate. Because of course millions of interesting things are taking place in Europe and its important to find a way through all of it via the platform.
What inspires you?
I am really curious. I think Europe is changing. The way cities are created and run are changing a lot. Its very interesting to me personally to see how energies, not necessarily bottom-up, but on the ground are relatively autonomous from top-down planning or at least run parallel to them. Its great that they are able to create important influences on how cities are formed and developed. I am really curious in somehow connecting these different levels. I am fascinated by well-functioning cities and neighborhoods and I think it’s always a pleasure when you see that there is cooperation between different parts of society.
Are there any specific projects/examples that stand out to you?
Of course there are the re:Kreators members which are doing interesting projects. STIPO, for example, is totally fascinating. I really like the whole experimental but still very professional, large-scale operation covering different topics in ZOHO. I find it also inspiring that, in the Netherlands, people are engaging in the conversation from different administrations. If you do interesting things, people come and engage in a conversation. I think this is something that we all have to learn from in different cities. The re:Kreators’ meeting at STIPO we had a few months ago, the people that came from different ministries and municipalities was all very exciting to see that they are all so curious, ready to engage with new ideas and ready to learn. This is very inspiring for me.