Olafur Eliasson, The collectivity project, 2015. (Timothy Schenck/Friends of the High Line)

Olafur Eliasson, The collectivity project, 2015. (Timothy Schenck/Friends of the High Line)

by Ares Kalandides

Oh no, not yet another artist playing at being a planner –  was my first thought, when I stumbled upon the Wall Street Journal headline this morning:”Artist Urges Urban Planning, With Legos”. Of course it was not just some artist – it was Olafur Eliasson, whom I respect and admire. And despite the WSJ heading it was not urban planning – it was art. In cooperation with the High Line in New York, Olafur Eliasson invited passers-by to play with the million white plastic bricks of legos and assemble with him their own utopian buildings, in an interactive art installation called The Collectivity Project. The artist had invited several well-know architecture studios (including Renzo Piano) to start the game with their own buildings. From there, visitors would take over, deconstructing and reassembling.

So what’s my issue? Probably envy most of all! I would love to spend hours playing with millions of pieces of lego – I would take my 5-year old nephew to join me at that – and although I have no talent at building anything at all, I’d make something so absurd, that I would claim my few minutes of fame. But let me be serious: that’s not what urban planning is about. Urban planning is not about buildings, or at least it’s only marginally about them. It’s about people and their spaces in the city. It’s about mediating between conflicting needs and interests, about linking spaces of the everyday, spaces of work and play, spaces for culture and the economy, structure and infrastructure. Urban planning can be normative and/or subversive, but it’s rarely about aesthetics or the form: we leave that to the architects and urban designers. By calling the assemblage of miniature plastic white bricks urban planning, as the WSJ does, you completely wipe out people.

Of course, it is not at all what Olafur Eliasson does. In his work it’s about people and space, more than anything else. He’s an artist and uses art to make people think about and interact around issues such as urban development, community, conflicts etc. What is best about this particular project is that he invites people to participate spontaneously, creating temporary spaces of interaction in the city – and I think this is wonderful.

Check these three pages for more images of the project:





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