Gestalt is a theory that was mainly developed in psychology, but that has influenced numerous disciplines including design. Gestalt departs form the idea that there is a general overarching background that structures our mental reality. We tend to fit different elements of it according to that structure. This becomes particularly interesting when considering elements that might be missing in the mental structure. Our mind tends to complete the missing spaces and construct a toto. This is a strategy that can help in creating legibility in a fragmented territory. In a fragmented space, there are gaps that separate the totality of the territory. Therefore, if we create structures on both sides of the gap that create a conceptual totality, the user will hypothetically tend to put it together. The possibilities for this strategy are endless. Architectural pieces, sculptures, textures, surfaces can be designed as complete across the rail in order to create an idea of totality.
Is fragmentation reversible? Can urban "wounds" and "scars" actually heal? Is there a way to "re-stitch" the city? The answer is yes. However, is it feasible? Yes, but not always. There are technical, financial, political and jurisdictional challenges to reconnect fragmented landscapes. In the last ten years, cities across the world have substantially invested in reconnecting urban space. However, most of them use “major-surgery-like” interventions that require large demolitions and reconstruction of existing infrastructure. Celebrated projects such as The New York Highline Park, The Cheonggyecheon Stream Park and Seullo 7010 in Seoul completely reinterpret infrastructure lines and turn them into vibrant public spaces. Such projects are strategic interventions in the territory. That is to say, they are conceived with a large-scale and long-term approach. But the reality is that most cities cannot afford projects of such scale. However they can opt for a tactical approach (small-scale and short-term interventions).
'Where is planning in all this?' was a recurrent question I received when I presented my research on the square movements of 2011, 2012 and 2013 in urban studies, geography and planning conference. The occupations of Tahrir Square, Plaza del Sol and Catalunya in Spain, Zuccotti Park in New York, and Taksim Square in Istambul developed open libraries, kitchens that fed thousands every day, community gardens, art workshops and film screenings. They hosted open-to-the-public assemblies, teach-ins and open conversations to discuss the economy, gender, social change, the environment and the media. They cooked with solar stoves, built structures with recycled wooden skids and used bicycle-powered sound systems in their general assemblies. Here, it is difficult to recognize a hierarchical order but it's impossible not recognizing planning. However, the experience of the protest encampments makes us reconsider planning and think more about citymaking as a broad process of design, use, regulation, interpretation, representation, imagination and, of course, urban planning. The experiment of the square movement has passed. But the impetus to create citizen-driven, citizen-led and citizen-responsive cities is very much alive.