A tent for Europe!
Where the ’Tour Sablon’ stands today, before there stood the ‘Maison du Peuple’ by Victor Horta, a house for people. Sold by the Socialist Party to a private investor in 1965, it has been demolished and the investor has built a tower and a parking garage, the ‘Tour Sablon,’ in its place, an office infrastructure. The tower casts a long shadow not only on the surrounding buildings, but also on the ‘Place Émile Vandervelde,’ who was a leading figure of European socialism. Capitalism casts a long shadow on politics in Europe, it even devaluates the public space in the European city. When we enter the ‘Tour Sablon,’ we have the feeling that its mechanism of exclusion has been constructed according to an Europe that is increasingly securing its outside and inside borders. Stopped at the reception, enter can only who has rented an office or has an invitation and can prove this with his or her identity. Once we can enter, we ride up in an elevator and leave the city below us. Once we arrive up, we are mesmerised by the view over Brussels up to political paralysis. Inside, you forget that you are part of a system that you would have criticised from the outside. The ’Tour Sablon’ is an analogy for an European citizenship that looses all its ability to criticise once you are inside, safe and comfortable. In the ‘WOZ Europakongress’ 2017, Saskia Sassen pointed out that the capacity of the city is to make us into urban subjects, even if only for a moment, and that there are moments in the daily routines of a city when the city can hack all the other, more specific subjects we also are. Structures like the ‘Tour Sablon’ stand on the opposite side of this empowerment. I propose to demolish the ‘Tour Sablon.’
After the tower has been demolished, what rests is a void. A private figure has turned into a public ground. Europe does not need towers of political representation. Europe needs voids of political empowerment. But the rough concrete structure of the former parking garage around looks ruinous. And Europe does not want to be a ruin. So this ruin needs a dress. I propose to put up a tent. The fine tent fabric spans from pillar to pillar, hangs from slab to slab of the former parking garage. It is a cover to heal the wound of the technocratic skeleton. Through the translucent fabric, the structure of the former parking garage shimmers through. The red of the pillars reminds us the red of the columns of the ‘Maison du Peuple.’ The imaginary of the tent itself reaches from tents in refugee camps as seen in Ai Wei Wei’s ‘Human Flow’ to tents in urban contexts such as the ‘Fondue Chalet Europaallee’ in Zurich next to the cinema where I have seen the movie. It reaches from primitive shelters to festive palaces, from deep sadness to high joy. While Europe is increasingly securing its outside and inside borders and is pushing refugees to its periphery, the act of putting up a tent in the centre of a city is an act of hospitality, not only for refugees but also for citizens. To serve the tent, there is a non-commercial kitchen infrastructure next to it, where people working for the NGOs can cook for themselves or for the masses. To keep the space alive, there is also a bar, public toilets and a roof terrace, so that you never feel lost when there are few or cramped when there are many.
My proposal is aiming at materialising what I sense from Europe today into an architectural expression. In order for it to have become optimistic, it was necessary to go through the most pessimistic of thoughts. However, I would like to end with an image in front of my inner eye. A gentle breeze enters the tent, the fabric flaps, the wind blows it up, Europe is sailing into the future.