PERIMETER AS ADVOCATE: Making Tangible Stages for Protest

Penn State BArch Program, Fifth Year: Thesis Research (1 semester)

Status: completed (see newest THESIS page for final presentation materials)

In a true democracy, the public sphere is synonymous with the political sphere: public congregation creates political action. But the institutions built in the U.S. to represent all its people were built by and for a specific demographic, leading to a sustained exponential divergence between the Powerful and the Powerless. Time and time again, it is proven that in the U.S., protests are the most effective method for the Powerless to catalyze a shift in the status quo.

every individual reacts to circumstances differently, but collective power dynamics of two opposing entities of Powerful & Powerless communities is constantly diverging. mapping these two forces exhibits the space in between: a malleable but impermeable envelope. drawing this delineation in a city and discovering its thresholds may lead to convergence.

But with the continued erasure of true public space and increased institutional monitoring, activists must identify where the forum--or an incubator for protest--can exist within the narrowing spectrum of public and private space.

The public forum can exist within this spectrum, but only where there is a density of building and population, accessibility at the intersections of demographics, and a leniency of institutional surveillance.

The recent protests and riots in Baltimore are evidence of just that: on a single night, 23 protests spontaneously erupted throughout the city, with the majority occuring at intersections of neighborhoods with high poverty rates and high diversity: places notorious for slow police response. 

when a boundary is impermeable, segregation based on income and race proliferates the city. highways are an excellent example of a built object imposed by the Powerful onto the Powerless, dividing institution from individual. in Baltimore, Route 83 divides the business district and the poorer East Baltimore. additionally, tragic events further the racial and income divides, leading to protests typically relegated to the edges of poverty-stricken and racial-minority areas. intersection breeds unrest.

The delineation between the forum and the outside forces that shape it is an elastic sort of frontier: one that is permeable and promises communication across its thresholds. Protestors must redefine the objects within the fluid fields on either side in order for onlookers to interact without prejudice to the space and the contested issue. This line exists not simple in plan or section, but in some combination of the two on a macro-urban scale.

When clearly defined, these reciprocal dichotomies of voyeur and actor, public and private, & institution and individual become the responsibility of architects: distinguishing and making tangible spaces for protest that will maximize the intersections between disparately enfranchised communities to spark meaningful change through an emphasis on the empathy of the onlooker, the scaffolding of the carved space, and the spectacle of a disobedient mass.