Deserted streets, lack of traffic, rows of closed shutters that transform the ground floor into a continuous walled curtain, the silence emerging from the picture, road signs on the asphalt bearing witness to a population that used to live there, and which can no longer be spotted. It seems that Nicolas Moulin's Vider Paris dystopic vision has come true: a biological entity, invisible to the human sight, has emptied the city's lymphatic channels.
Only one thing is missing in Moulin's premonition: the homeless, the only ones who "wander the city desperately looking for help in a city void of any life" (Nadia Shira Cohen, Eternal Silence).
The forced isolation imposed by the critical health crisis we are experiencing has stripped away our cities of that contradictory complexity which determines their very urban character: the ground floor.
Suddenly deprived of it, shipwrecked in the labyrinth of our private kingdoms, we desperately tried to witness our existence and role by inhabiting that dichotomous plan that both separates and connects those two worlds, the concave, public and external on one hand and the convex, private and internal on the other: the façade.
The social interaction desire that used to make the city as its most fertile ground, has now attempted to unleash those extensions of private space suspended over the public one - usually known as balconies - stating "[the return] to one of their primary functions, a proscenium stage" (M. Litsardaki, Balco(n)vid-19: How the Pandemic Can Be Hacked). Otherwise it encouraged the conquest of the furthest urban stratum from the one which usually welcomes our public life, the roof: "an add-on territory for citizens; as an outlet for what won't fit downstairs" (Sebastian Bernardy and Vincent Meyer Madaus, New Top City).
Like birds constrained in a birdcage that spend their miserable existence verifying whether new holes had opened up towards the freedom, we have rediscovered new potentials of our architectures' envelopes, bringing new hopes and social rituals' nostalgic echoes (Ana Morcillo Pallares, On Constructing a Semana Santa).
The home has always been perceived as the place where we feel sheltered, a place where we can nurture our private domain, a fortress against the overbearing advance of the public in our day lives.
Now that work has fully entered our shelters, shall the city not react by providing places where it is once again possible to exercise the full rights of our hard-won privacy? Or should we get used to and resign ourselves to the idea that in order to survive we will have to keep on making our homes into spaces where anyone can - virtually - enter? Right now, that - thanks to man-made weather - contemporary life had just realised the dream of the "desirable and necessary" separation of the outdoors from the indoors. In other words, between the private and the public (Dalia Munenzon and Yair Titelboim, Grasping for (Fresh) Air: Exposing the Inherent Conflict of Public Interiors).
And even if those little bubbles devoted to the respite from urban chaos - a park bench, a telephone booth, etc. - are now made inaccessible by the same red tapes (photographed by Peter Dench and collected in Lockdown London: Tale of the Tape) our imagery usually traces back to the circumscription of a crime scene, should we be convinced that our attitude is criminal? Should we bring our cities back to a model based on micro-neighbourhoods and home-shops? Would we really be able to crumble the compactness of our monocentric metropolises into polycentric city cities, or - according to Richard Sennett into "15-minutes cities", a multitude of small and autonomous urban units? (Richard Sennett, Isolation and Inequality).
But then, as Beatriz Colomina asks herself "what is going to happen with all the empty office buildings?" (Beatriz Colomina,
Quarantines and Paranoia). And, finally, would we really be willing to accept a city that is built on two economic models - the traditional modern one and the one that is spreading right now - so diametrically opposed and, therefore, so divisive and discriminatory?
Thinking about the enclosed society's behaviour with regard to the architecture and the city during the lockdown, the last issue of MONU tries to answer some questions.
By investigating the impact of the current health, social and economic crisis on all scales - from the territorial to the domestic, and passing through the urban - the magazine verifies the transformations in the delicate relationships between the public and private dimensions.
The articles and arguments follow one another without any apparent order or scalar logic, reflecting in an interesting way the equivalence of the different problems of inhabiting, as this pandemic has highlighted.
Thus, in a surreal situation imposed by stay-at-home orders, from a socio-psychological point of view, the consequences of the lack of balconies in a city centre skyscraper do not seem to be less serious than living in a suburb lacking in proximity services. In a way, this crisis has led us to question the hierarchy of problems, rethinking our criteria for defining the democracy of inhabiting.
And it has confirmed the absolute urgency to leave behind a design and decision strategy that is based on mono-scale as pre-determined and rigid. Instead we should promote an ambiguous, indeterminate and, therefore, adaptive action.