“The tent protest” has taken hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the streets to demonstrate against the lack of affordable housing and the increasing cost of living. The protest has been going on for weeks, showing that the growing frustration from the rising cost of basics are a genuine concern amongst many. Yet, it is not only the hardship of getting by through the month that is troubling the masses, but also the inability of average and even high-average middle class families to obtain a home. This did not happen over night, has many reasons, but amongst them stands the diminishing role of the government in providing housing.
In this context, we wanted to share one of our recent works with you. “Public Housing” is a critical proposal for installation submitted just about a year ago to a competition regarding several main squares in Jerusalem.
SAYA chose to focus on the large municipality Safra square in the city center. Though planned to hold up to 12,000 people, this immense space stands completely vacant most of the year. We found this to be troubling- such a vast empty and un-useful land, standing in the heart of a increasingly unattainable city.
Whilst the municipality sought for “urban bling” ideas in initiating this design competition, our proposal proposed a temporary protest installation. We suggested to temporarily occupy the square with an artificial archeology of two public housing blocks. At the edge of one of them, a typical social-housing flat will arise to full height, with it’s full content all frozen in white. Visitors would be able to walk inside it, sit on the sofas, use the dinning table, and even enjoy the balcony.
This installation was our response to several disturbing phenomena taking place in Israel in general, yet in contemporary Jerusalem in particular:
1. The death of public housing- Public housing blocks are history, and are about to become urban archeology pieces. The government no longer builds housing blocks, or provides affordable housing programs. Developments are left to private investors, oriented by profit and neglecting urban or social needs.
2. “Ghost houses”- The Safra square as a metaphor for the city- planned to occupy the many yet used only by few. The poorest city in Israel is increasingly being bought up by very wealthy yet absent tenants who mainly reside abroad. Young people are forced out as they can not afford to start their lives in the city and remain in it, and “holes” of occupancy are forming dead urban islands in the city, very much like this square.
The installation in the square describes an optimal democratic condition in which the houses of Jerusalem are part of its public sphere, and the public sphere is the house of the people. It invites the public to partake in this monumental vacant space by inviting everyday life to the deserted urban plaza. The apartment provided in the installation is small and modest, yet accessible to all. It aims to provoke memories from the early days of Israeli, when housing policies sought justice, and suggest the right to the city begins at home, yet extends to the public space around it.