Radical Reshaping: Public Interiority in Protest Camps

Presented by: Liz Teston

Civil disobedience is the active rejection of an authority or government. Demonstrations and protests throughout history have questioned the role of the trained designer and brought forth provisional, vernacular protest structures. This presentation will document and analyze temporary constructions and temporal interventions of protest camps. I suggest that protest camps are fundamentally comprised of semi-public interior conditions, due to their overall organizational structure, their relationship to the surrounding context, and their conditions of public-interiority, which permit secluded moments of subjectivity in otherwise public, exterior spaces. To begin, I will analyze a taxonomy of various protest camp types. Firstly, these types can be categorized within three perspectives: urban-rural, parasitic-independent, and transitory-longstanding. For example, the recent Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP) protesters currently have several different encampments near Cannonball, North Dakota. While these are not a part of an urban setting, they do have interior conditions and an overall organization structure integrated within the context of federal lands and the Sioux Tribe’s communal lands in the Standing Rock Reservation. On the other hand, the Minneapolis community aligned with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement established an encampment outside the 4th precinct police station where Jamar Clark was shot and killed. The protest camp is at the very site of the authority which they are rejecting, while the DAP protest camp is at the site of the disputed pipeline. The majority of demonstrations within the BLM movement have been brief political rallies and street marches in swift response to police violence against people of color. So, these shelters are unusual in that the encampment was active for about five weeks during the winter of 2015. The BLM organization created tensile structures which were fastened directly to the police station facade and partially blocking the entryway. In a similar manner to BLM, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) improvised makeshift shelters in a highly visible urban setting. As documented by Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder, the OWS camp delivered protection from the weather and established a provisional community during their demonstrations. Unlike the BLM approach, OWS’s choice of Zuccotti Park, a privately-owned public plaza, provided separation from law enforcement enabled the encampment to survive for several months in 2012. In 2013, Turkish architects, Herkes Için Mimarlik (Architecture for All) documented temporary structures during the Occupy Gezi Park (OGP) movement. They created orthographic drawings of the camp to define informal spatial configurations and enclosures made from appropriated materials found in the streets, an architecture that is formed “when architecture is removed from architects.” The long duration of the OWS and OGP camps encouraged clearer definition of public-private inversion, a reversal that is sometimes compared with the Parisian resistance of von Haussmann’s era and the barricades constructed during the Parisian May ‘68 events, which were largely focused on public access to the city and protesters erected barricades in the streets and razed interior zones in buildings to create passageways, inserting the public territory into these voided interiors. This focus on the dialectic between interior-exterior and houses-streets is the core of the subjective, short-lived conditional interiority found in protest architecture. These temporary constructions and temporal interventions created a vernacular architecture, amateur and improvisational. Their provisional nature strengthens the claim that everyday design is a human right. The protesters, through the manipulation of civic spaces, advocate for their own collective values, reveal the how the city and protesters jointly act as agents in the radical reshaping of space, blurring the boundary between interiority and exteriority.


  • Herkes Için Mimarlik. (2013, June 24). #OccupyGezi Architecture. Dezeen, Retrieved from http://www.dezeen.com/2013/06/24/occupygezi-architecture-by-architecture-for-all/
  • Brasuell, J. (2016, August 30). Native American Protest Grows in Response to North Dakota Pipeline Project. Planetizen. Retrieved from http://www.planetizen.com/node/88308/native-american-protest-grows-response-north-dakota-pipeline-project
  • Erlanger, S. (2008, August 30). Barricades of May ’68 Still Divide the French. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/30/world/europe/30france.html?_r=0
  • Jonathan Massey & Brett Snyder, “Mapping Liberty Plaza,” Places Journal, September 2012. Accessed 06 Oct 2016. https://placesjournal.org/article/mapping-liberty-plaza
  • Planning for Protest. (2013) Lisbon Triennale. Lisbon, Portugal.
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