architecture : urban : visual culture

"Infrastructure is the beating heart and veins of the city" - Martin Barry

People don’t typically think much about infrastructure, but it's below our feet or over our head. One might consider it ugly but the truth is, it's the heart of the city. We talked with Martin Barry [landscape architect, reSITE´s chairman] about the fantastic programs of this year's conference and the diversity in life and planning. 

Zsanett Fürdős (ZsF): You have different experiences in different disciplines. How can this diversity help you in life, in planning, in teaching and of course in organizing reSITE?

Martin Barry (MB): I’ve always been confused by my own personality and interests. I often think that life would be so much easier if I were a conventional expert with a narrow focus in something like bee keeping, or fine carpentry. Or, if I were able to have a single hobby and daily routine. However, I’ve always kind of drifted in polar directions. I hate routine, even if I have a high regard and respect for those who keep routines. We always admire what we don’t have, I suppose. I find equal joy reading the Arts or Fashion section of The New York Times as I do reading "Corner Office" in the Business section. My life has been like this, sort of collecting knowledge from seemingly opposite corners of the universe and somehow sculpting it into a common narrative and career goal. During my thesis review in graduate school, my reviewers said something like "you have chosen wildly different areas of research to focus on, and for threes, we thought there was no way to pull it together in one project. But, you have. And, in the end, the project couldn’t exist if you hadn’t." 

I used to hear the same thing about reSITE. People would say that there were too many different topics and they didn’t like such diverse projects. My answer is that our subject is the city. The city is a collection of diverse people and forms often with wildly competing interests. We can’t study the urban condition without including all of those interests and all of that diversity. But, in the end, the mission is quite simple and minimal. We want to leave the city in better shape for the next generation than it is for this one, and we think investments in high-quality public space and public architecture is a way to get there. But, the stream will have many fingers, all converging to one in the end. I see parallels in my life, my choice of friends, my career, my personal interests, my love. It can be confusing. But, I really think it enriches my life and my response to challenges. I have a deep toolbox for ideas and solutions to problems. This goes for personal matters, and to my approach for reSITE. I am inherently collaborative because I am so super enriched by the cooperation across distinct knowledge boundaries. The solutions can usually be way better if formed collaboratively and implemented by a leader with a clear and inspiring vision for how to bring diversity to a coherent end.

Martin Barry, reSITE 2015 - photo: Dorota Velek

ZsF: What are your expectations for this year's conference? How can a conference like this be professional and exciting at the same time?

MB: "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!

ZsF: Which lectures or presenters can be the highlights? 

MB: It’s so hard to say which speakers our guests should be excited about! There are 53 global thought leaders from 20 countries who will speak at reSITE 2017. This year the program is 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 building 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 Schwendinger 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. We are also 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.

Martin Barry - photo: Dita Havrankova

visible City is the main theme of this year's conference. To what extent does infrastructure shape the cities?

MB: 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. 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 now more 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 the state when 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 about trying to create "a field for human activity", that is a very subtle concept!

reSITE 2015 - photo: Dorota Velek

ZsF: What is new in this year’s conference?

MB: 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. You know, we spend a lot of time on designing the experience. Actually, way too much time! Most people tell us that the environment we create at reSITE is really fun. And, it’s enriching. You can hear from the smartest people in the world talk about incredibly important issues. You can also meet your friends for a beer in the courtyard or take a selfie with a pair of huge blue glasses, or an In/visible guest this year! Osamu is going to tire us out with his interactive workshops and discussions. So, let’s enjoy the 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 10 pm 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.

Zsanett Fürdős


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