Mark Robbins’s intervention at the second Global Governance Symposium on July 11th gave a taste of the concept of “boundaries” from an architectural, educational and sociological point of view.
As he states, the space we inhabit says much about ourselves, we use symbols and
therefore architecture represents and embodies the value of the society in which we live in, but the reflection of our creativity on the world should not be seen as a “solo procedure”. The liberal arts in their very meaning are connected to the destruction of boundaries, since they should be a right for every free individual, and the architectural project he has engaged with has as core mission that of creating open spaces that people could appropriate of and benefit from.
By digging deeper into what he thought, we found out what an interesting person Professor Robbins is and the width of its educational background. Having a mixture of sociology, liberal arts, architecture and film-making, he can’t help but share surprising insights about the concept of interdisciplinarity as the opposite of boundaries.
We asked him how educators could implant an interdisciplinary approach in order to increase students’ awareness of the interconnection of all parts of society and he answered that the task is hard, but the best thing a teacher can do is to create a plural-perspective environment around students by involving elements and people from other disciplines. In his words, the importance of interdisciplinarity lays in the opportunity it gives to people to broaden their knowledge and to draw parallels with their core discipline; “architecture is one lens to view the world, but the world has many possible ways of viewing and all perspectives are valid”. To break away from the mental closure that prevents the free-flowing of knowledge in all its perspectives, he said, we should all embrace the principle of liberal arts, “putting inconvenient facts in our way”. The true boundary is our predisposition to think about the things we already know always in the same way, but only by doing those very things that are uncomfortable for us, we can evolve intellectually and creatively.
The next question was about what role he believed architecture, art and urbanistic have in trying to create an environment for inclusivity and sharing in our modern and globalized cities. He jumped to the ambiguity of the concept of public space since it has no owner and no single-way usage. He described a functioning public space as one that is open and inclusive and that avoids any kind of denying access to all elements of society, therefore one that is designed with the needs of everyone in mind. The problems to create such space is that usually designers and implementers do not communicate or collaborate, in his words, an open space should be safe and accessible to everyone but also “sexy enough” for everyone to want to use it.
Bringing up the example of the city of Rome, where most of the things cannot be rebuilt in order to achieve the features of a good public space due to historical reasons, Professor Robbins expressed is desire to spread the idea of a historical sites being renovated for new usages, not restoring it the most similar as its original, but by making a clear distinction between what is new and what is not, while making these elements coexist. Again, the concept of space can only be legislated in a partial part since it will always be people’s choice which space to appropriate and use to hang out.
The concept of boundaries in architecture can be symbolized by fenced places: people who want to sneak from the public eyes only have to jump over the fences, while if there are no barriers around, a prowler will be less likely to use such a place as a hideout.
The last question we asked Mr. Robbins is how we could insert the utility of the arts in
the Global Governance course. He stated that the trend of people considering art as a
luxury and with little practical use has risen during the crisis period, but that the essential purpose of arts is to remind us of our humanity. The universal teaching we can grasp from visual art is to look at things expressing phenomena we never experienced and grow in empathy and ethics. Moreover, the tools liberal arts can give a person allow to move throughout life and job in a more fluid and creative way, becoming a curious human being and never get bored. The resulting sense of self-awareness breaks away from the consumerist and confrontational approach we tend to have; gives you a sense of where you better fit in the world, more respect for both yourself and what is different, so that boundaries can crumble completely.
Anita Pesoli and Claudia Schiavelli.