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Ben Allen

James Bae

Jan Bünnig

Ricardo Gomes

Felix Meyer

Anders Hellsten Nissen

Veil of Ignorance
Call for Future
Competition: shortlisted entry

The proposal is to hold a weekly discourse on the site of the now demolished Stadtschloß and Palast der Republik. The chosen site is heavily charged with history, having been the seat of the Brandenburg Electors, Prussian Kings, and German Emperors, as well as the site where the first German communist republic was declared in 1919. In contemporary history, it was the seat of the East German parliament between 1976 and 1989. The site is now a flat grass field and will remain as such for the foreseeable future since the planned rebuilding of the Stadtschloß has been postponed.

Based on the Speakers Corner in London, and other such places of informal public forums found elsewhere globally, the idea of these ersatz sites is simple: speakers find a space and talk on a subject of their choice to an audience of whoever may be passing by. We will keep rules to a minimum; we propose no time limits. Cameras and recording equipment are a secondary concern; the raison d’être of these discussions is meant to be heard in its purest form, live and neither mediated, nor meant to be interpreted beyond the timing of the event.

We propose to curate the first months of discussions – whilst always keeping the floor open. We envisage the direction of discussion to be anything from sociopolitical to philosophical, from debating basic rites to utopian aspirations, and the curatorship will lead it in this direction. It is –purposefully– an open-ended proposition. If a person or an entity has an idea within the merits of the project, we will actively encourage organisational partnerships.

Our long-term goal is to create a programme of a self-perpetuating public forum, where people can express their convictions to an audience without the hassles of normative, bureaucratic planning. This is a discussion in the round, and en plein air: it will be free, and open to the public. Deriving from the quality of the thinkers we bring in, we see each speaker as a cell, splitting and leading to another. It is a growth cycle that will run its own course.

On its basic premise, we are utilizing philosopher John Rawls theorem of the veil of ignorance from his classic study, Theory of Justice (1971). Rawls’ conjecture is simple: if a person from any class were to speak behind a shrouding veil without anyone knowing who she/he were, what would their true intentions be: would a person’s public speech be the same as their inward, and private thoughts? In our interpretation, as a twist to the veil of ignorance theory, we would suggest that speakers’ hold forum in a simple –if any– staging: the “veil” would be their unadulterated, commonplace position amongst other people in a public, casual setting. Instead of placing the speaker on a pedestal, and thus minimizing her/his place in the dialogue as an “expert”, this staging will induce a truer dialogue between the speaker and the audience, serving to question matters central to our proposal: the utopian vs the dystopic, the optimistic vs. the pessimistic.

By reactivating this central location in the tourist heartland of Berlin, we hope to achieve a balance between Berlin-based speakers and thinkers from abroad. This space is currently a neutral one. By filling it with activity centring on global concerns, we can add to the experience of living in contemporary Berlin, as a central axis that represents multiple viewpoints of its citizens, both indigenous and naturalized. This programme is not about envisioning utopia, but about informing people about realities of experience that is not necessarily exposed in Berliners’ daily lives.

We would like this to be seen as a way for Berliners to hear thinkers that are actively engaged in social criticism, but do not adhere specifically to a narrow focus of interpretation. Hence, our project will not only be about political discussions, but also about things that approximates the human conditions through peripheral means of expression. This could lead to programming that incorporates music or literary events. For example, one idea we are exploring is a staging of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, a play which emphasizes one man’s isolation from the human world.

We believe it is important to investigate the nature of debate and question the status quo of existing democratic principals in the 21st century, and to discover if there is still room in a mature democracy such as Germany for open public discourse and heated discussion.

We have considered a number of ways in which Schlossplatz park, our proposed site, could be organised and envisaged as the ideal physical manifestation of the forum. We want to create an environment that will inspire lively and inclusive discussion, and attract passersby to listen and participate.
One design approach is ephemeral, utilising makeshift elements from simple, inexpensive materials or everyday objects which could be changed from week to week. The other approach would be more permanent and should be designed to remain on the site as a sculptural reminder of the activity that regularly takes place there.
There are three main design strategies which may either be considered independently, in conjunction with one another, or as a sequential development realized fully over time. At present these ideas are still suggestions, but they give an indication of the routes we wish to explore if the project would move closer towards fruition.

Perhaps the purest idea is to draw a simple line drawn on the ground, possibly a circle, which defines the speakers area. Each forum starts with a number of preselected speakers who give with their speeches, or partake in discussions. Subsequent invitees and audience members who wish to participate are then invited into this area in order to talk. The line also offers the easiest means by which to experiment with the spatial organisation – the space for talking could be defined as a semicircle, a horseshoe or as two halves- the line representing the symbolic division of opinions.

We considered using a series of containers with different props to suit different types of forums, sizes of audience, and weather conditions. For example, this could be as simple as a shopping trolley (for use as a lectern), a few storage crates (for sitting / standing), and umbrellas (for rain / sun protection).
We subsequently considered ways that a purpose-made container could serve a number of different functions, such as: chair, lectern, soapbox (plinth) or sculpture. If there were a number of these they could be jointed to form a larger plinth or a stepped seating area.
The next development of this idea was to remove the functionality of the container and simply propose one or more objects which fulfil the functions of seat, lectern and plinth by a more sculptural means and which could even take on a different use if, for example, they were laid on there side or turned upside down.
These objects or forms would both serve as an announcer of future forms and reminder of those past.

In the longer term, we would like to investigate the construction of a permanent speakers plinth or more ambitiously, a series of stepped platforms (maybe a modular system) that could be used by talkers and audience members alike to discuss, debate, stand and/or sit on. The form of this “landscape” could be informed by the spatial “line” experiments described previously.
These ideas would be the subject of later design studies. An initial idea was for a small informal circular or semicircular amphitheatre. In the end, we considered how the function of the forum might inform the long term urban design for the site and it's surroundings, reflecting on how it might be a unifying element for the park, which is currently divided into four quadrants, or the adjacent Schloßplatz site, or even the plinth of the Kainser Wilhelm Nationaldenkmal (and future Einheitsdenkmal).

Regardless of all other considerations, this “monument” which we propose must in essence be a reflection on the necessity of the human form –living and thinking– on a place once devoid of categorical dissent.