Publication | Bulletproof Glass. A Short History of Transparency, Public Space and Surveillance in Amsterdam Nieuw-West

Research paper “Bulletproof Glass. A Short History of Transparency, Public Space and Surveillance in Amsterdam Nieuw-West”, published in special theme issue of the online journal Reconstruction, (In) Securities. See:

From the editorial:

“Roel Griffioen proposes in his paper is an insightful analysis of architecture that demonstrates how changing paradigms of social surveillance and privacy have been exemplarily materialized in projects of urban construction and requalification. The article Bulletproof Glass. A Short History of Transparency, Public Space and Surveillance in Amsterdam Nieuw-West examines how the 1950s housing buildings of the Westelijke Tuinsteden have undergone a significant metamorphosis, also illustrating shifting conceptions of architecture which are visible in mutable ways of living. In this paper, Griffioen pinpoints how the ideals of the ‘open city’ during the 1950s, which promoted mutual inspection as a social model, have changed recently towards a technological ‘city of security’, in which houses are no longer integration mechanisms but rather seem to sharply separate individuals from their urban social space. Above all, Griffioen’s contribution provides a critical standpoint to witness not only the shifting notions of visibility, shelter, transparence or surveillance, but also to better understand the discourses surrounding urban life of particular modern and contemporary cities.”

From the article:

As New-Nieuw-West is steadily emerging within Nieuw-West, the metamorphosis of the ‘open city’ into the ‘city of security’ is approaching its final state. Those who can afford it move into an enclave, shut themselves off from a world that is associated with danger, animosity and inconvenience. Or, in the words of Peter Sloterdijk: “The individual bubble in the living-foam forms a container for the self-relationships of the inhabitant, who settle into his housing unit as the consumer of a primary comfort: the vital capsule of his living quarters serves as the scene of his self-coupling, the operational space for his self-care and as an immune system in a contamination-rich field of ‘connected isolations,’ also known as neighborhoods” (Sloterdijk, 118).

Perhaps the biggest loss in this process is the loss of a functioning public space. Domainizing, mixophobia and spatial segregation are not medicines against urban insecurities, merely palliatives. The urban renewal program in Nieuw-West seems to make the mistake of “removing the rash while mistaking it for the cure of the illness” (Bauman 2007, 92). In fact, I tend to follow Bauman in his assertion that this proposed cure itself is pathogenic and makes the problem deeper and less curable. Fenced-off habitats remove personal responsibility, undermine our relationship with the surrounding environment take away the “continual, almost subliminal interaction with strangers which is part of healthy city life”, as Anna Milton recently diagnosed. “The consequence is that people are left far more frightened when they do have to confront the unexpected that can never be entirely removed from daily life” (Milton, 33). In other words, mixophobia leads to more mixophobia.

Ironically, the ruthless urban renewal apparatus that produces these changes, is marketed as a way to revive the public realm by encouraging demographic diversity. This way of advertising a complete make-over taps into the fact that no-one can oppose the proclaimed goal to transform neighborhoods like Amsterdam Nieuw-West, ignored for so long, into lively, mixed neighborhoods, by encouraging social-economical and cultural diversity. But while paying lip-service to open society, it establishes the opposite, namely an archipelago of private islands for the have’s in a sea of have-not’s — “and never the twain shall meet”.

Read full essay:


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