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Occupy Anniversary: Looking Back at the Intersection of Protest and Public Space

Exhibit marks the first year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street by exploring architecture's role in the movement.

Anniversaries help us remember something they may have otherwise forgotten—something significant happened almost exactly a year ago in New York, at Zuccotti Park. Our current show “Beyond Zuccotti Park,” at the Center for Architecture through September 22 marks the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street.

We’re a design and architecture center, a block away from Washington Square Park, where there may be some activity this weekend. I’m the director of the center, but for this show I stepped in as curator. We came up with a way to make words on the wall seem like the posters that were at Zuccotti Park and some of the other Occupy sites in the rest of the country. We want to convey the idea that freedom of speech and assembly is about people coming together for a democratic and political purpose: not just to play chess.

The exhibition coincides with the book of the same name published by New Village Press in Oakland. In it are essays by 42 writers, as well as an introduction by Michael Kimmelman. The content of the show are quotes from the book and photos of where people were in those months last year. It’s not an archive or a history of what happened and it’s not looking backward trying to catalogue what the design features were of the places of assembly, but it’s really talking about the future. How does this continue and in what form?

We also explore how architecture relates to the Occupy movement by looking at the use of public space. It’s not just as important as drinking a cup of coffee or getting away from the office, but the parks and plazas and places that people can assemble in New York and other cities contribute to a society that’s open and allows for an exchange of ideas and discord.

By creating public places in cities, you can create the same type of space that has that openness of communication like a college student union or a dining hall. That’s how you keep that “continuing education” mentality alive. For people like architects—who think about the physical environment first—to not be involved would be crazy. These are the people who care how space augments the ability to communicate beyond the Internet, email, and twitter.

What Occupy meant to a lot of people was a different way of communicating and transparently and democratically interacting. I was there a little bit more than I had time for, because I thought it was compelling. It was just thrilling to think that the generational barriers and other distinctions were being erased.

With Occupy, issues were unifying people who might not normally have a conversation on the street. I came of age in the late 60s and was in college in the early 70s. I hadn’t seen anything that had captured the spirit of how people could affect significant change in social and political policy since those days, in a positive way, not just to try and block something, but to really talk structurally.

In the middle of last November the Occupy movement changed radically in terms of its place-based nature. But people certainly kept talking with each other and still are. The point of this show is partly to continue that. So on Sunday we have a four-hour discussion with some of the from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. We hope you can come to the Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Place, between Bleecker and West 3rd Streets and join us.

Photos courtesy of Rick Bell

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