Para-Architecture - Dwelling in Urban ‘Stadion’

A thesis on how might we research dwelling in the contemporary urban environment.

Written by Megg Evans

Dewery Allen, Melbourne, where we secretly installed this milk-crate intervention… Thanks Andre, Anna and Mike!

Dewery Allen, Melbourne, where we secretly installed this milk-crate intervention… Thanks Andre, Anna and Mike!


“Places are spaces that you can remember, that you can care about and make a part of your life. Much of what is built now is too tepid to be remembered. The spaces with which we are surrounded are so seldom memorable that they mean little to us.” Charles W. Moore, Donlyn Lyndon: Chambers for a Memory Palace, MIT Press, 1994.

The contemporary megalopolis, identified by mass, speed, technology, consumption and transformation, offers its polis a regulated and instituted urban environment in which to work, reside, shop, study and enjoy entertainment. All the larger cities of the world assure occupants national or state museums, hospitals, libraries, schools, stadiums and sports clubs, parks and gardens, infrastructure and services, monuments and council buildings, churches, markets, stores and manufacturers. They also assure streets and passageways, transport and security, toilets and mobile communications, burial sites, child care, recreation and entertainment. Such things are the necessary ingredients for a location to be considered a “city” where trade, innovation, resources and skills are concentrated, regulated and accessible. Urban planning manages, coordinates and designs all these in such a way that business, traffic, pollution, property, government, population and security can be best preserved and developed. However, amongst these designed and designated sites, or rather between and beside them, exist stadion; “an intervening space or interval.” (Heidegger, 1975, p 155) Stadion, in Latin a spatium, is a distance between places, areas that are not defined as sites of specificity. Such spaces become transient sites, momentary places, whose presencing is determined in the moment and manner by which an urban dweller occupies them. Stadion are, in effect, the unregulated and uninstituted blind-spots of the contemporary megalopolis; they are lost or missing spaces on the city map of destinations and attractions.

It is to these stadion within the contemporary urban fabric that this project turns. According to Heidegger “ich bin, du bist means: I dwell, you dwell,” (ibid, p 147) through the etymology of bauen.

“To build”, for Heidegger, means “being” in a certain place, “dwelling” in and amongst things. “The manner in which we dwell is the manner in which we are, we exist, on the face of the earth - as an extension of our identity, of who we are.” (אני , URL) If dwelling relates to how and who we are, our “being- in-the world”, then problems with dwelling should also be considered problems with building. For Heidegger this meant a careful analysis of sites and styles of dwelling, and those that are not typical dwelling places, for example “bridges and hangars, stadiums and power stations..., railway stations and highways, dams and market halls.” (Heidegger, 1975, p 145) But he continues with the recognition that a “truck driver is at home on the highway”, “the working woman is at home in the spinning mill”; who we are, including our occupations, relationships, our roles and responsibilities, all contribute to direct our ‘dwelling’. The spaces and places we inhabit and comport ourselves to are accomplices to who we are both as individuals within society and as members of a community. The instituted and regulated places organised by urban planning have the power to arrange our instituted and regulated ‘dwelling’ (“being”); stadion are the spaces that have the power to bestow individualised ‘dwelling’, dwelling that in its temporary, fleeting and ephemeral nature supports the necessary semblance of independence.

It is therefore important to architecture, in any attempt to understand the contemporary dweller, to consider and reconsider the spaces we inhabit, build and dwell in within the contemporary urban environment. And it would seem particularly important to research urban stadion for their growing influence, intrigue and occupation point to an architectural critique of contemporary building, dwelling and thinking.

One such study is currently underway conducted by a number of autonomous researchers around the world and is titled Post-It City (see la Varra, 2001, p427-431). Their thesis involves the use of “numerous para-architectural artefacts, for they enable reflection on urban experience”. For Giovanni la Varra, the man who coined the ‘Post-It City’, the interest is in alternatives to traditional and official uses of public space that somehow facilitate non-conventional relations between citizens. So far the posts have been urban interventions, photographic or video graphic exposures, essays, market stalls, tents, and lighting features. (Post-It City: Archive)

This study deviates from these projects in one main respect; it seeks to understand the fundamental and necessary connection between contemporary dwelling and the urban fascination for these para-architectures and the spaces that host them, stadion. As such it recognises the urban dweller as a pivotal agent in the organisation and construction of place.

Para-architectures lay beside or beyond architecture; they inhabit public spaces and are often transient. The para-architectures that are found in stadion, unlike the more common structures that interest Giovanni la Varra, are limited for they do not include vendor stalls, markets or tents. The para-architectures that exist temporarily in stadion are not for profit, they’re not bill boards to advertise or display anything, and they tend not to be obviously functional such that one might remove them for personal use. Para-architectures found in stadion might best be considered architectural graffiti.

They are situated within the (in)visible spaces of our cities, spaces that are not recognised by citizens for their value until the para-architecture is in place. And they often conform to similar modes of erection, voice and critique as graffiti. Or, as Banksy professes in his work: “We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves.” (Banksy, 2006, 204) Stadion offer the architectural arts sites to engage and participate in a dialogue with individuals beyond or beside instituted and regulated states of ‘being’.

Martin Heidegger: Poetry, Language, Thought. Building, Dwelling, Thinking, New York 1975 (p.155) (viewed 20.05.2011)

‘Post-It City’ Giovanni de la Varra: Mutations, Barcelona 2001 (p.427-431)

Post it City: Online: homepage.htm (viewed 21.07.2011) updated for this release:

See ‘Post-It City’: Archive Projects. Online: http://www. (viewed 21.07.2011)

Banksy, Wall and Piece, Penguin Books, London 2006

The following are images from a number of interventions visited on Melbourne. Helium Ballon house dreamed of the minimal ethereal intervention one might make in marking out ‘stadion’ for ‘home’ (with Gaston Bachelard in mind). The much loved and award winning urban intervention Playmo was built with milk crates in the studios and deposited one evening in Drewery Alley where it was watched over by neighbours (thanks Mike!) and cared for by the local public. And a very short installation of a staircase to a landing in the Punch Lane walk through, delivering a lovely spot to sit and ponder the city from. These projects, and more, can be found in the thesis by Martin Heide here.