K67 The Kiosk Shots - a European project between public space and politics


Introduction

The collective mapping project K67 - The Kiosk Shots, initiated by Publicplan Amsterdam, wants to show how the public space in Eastern Europe is determined and linked by the K67 kiosk design. The eye-catching street furniture traversed different stages according to the recent history. The unified functional design has been successfully spread within planed economy systems. Also it was providing space to cultural and political change. Nowadays, with Eastern Europe in social, political and economical transition, it becomes a prominent linking element in East European public space. By collecting as many K67-photopraphs as possible the project intends to draw an outline of the eastern countries and tries at the same time to create a dense documentation of urban environment in Eastern Europe.


The original design

The K67 design was introduced in 1966 by the Slovenian architect and designer Saša J. Mächtig. Its system is based on polyfibre reinforced modules, which could be used as single units or combined to large agglomerations. The K67 could support a wide range of diverse functions, such as an an information stand or a small dwelling unit.

Other similar projects in design during the same period also experimented with mobile and modular units. Some of theme, such as the Futuro House (1968) by Matti Suuronen are milestones in design and architecture, never the less, they were never produced in big quantities. The cubicle and modular K67 kiosks also reflect structuralist tendencies in architecture, such as Aldo van Eyck´s Orphanage in Amsterdam (1958-60) or Herman Hertzbergers Centraal Beheer in Apeldoorn (1968-72). The metablist Kisho Kurokawa comes close to Mächtig´s ideas with his Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyio (1970-72) compromising of prefabricated dwelling cubes.

After patenting it in 1967, K67 was prepared for its serial production in 1968 with the first exhibition of prototypes in the provincial town Ljutomer (Slovenia). In April 1970 K67 was published in an English design magazine with the article "Low life from the streets". As a consequence, the Museum of Modern Art in New York included it into its collection of 20th century design. In the early nineties Imgrad Ljutomer stopped producing K67 due to radical changes in the Slovenian economical system.


The spread

While the distribution of certain street furniture is mostly limited to a local or regional scale, the K67 was widely exported abroad. Using clever marketing strategies the K67 was sold in large quantities not only to the countries of Ex-Yugoslavia, but also to the COMECON countries and other continents (eg. Japan and New Zealand). Due to the fact that the K67 principle is copied several times by other companies (eg. by Treska, Macedonia), K67 came to embody the Eastern European kiosk culture.

The successful spread of a specific design was also positively influenced be the system of the united socialistic planned economies of the Eastern Block. Between 1949 and 1990 Europe lived in an ideological and political division into east and west. In the Yugoslavian Republic and the COMECON nations a single, standard product was generally produced for a bigger unity (like a country), such as the allied socialist countries. In that sense a planned economy unlike the free market economy was able to promote a specific design. As a unified functional object K67 fits perfectly a system where a single solution could serve multiple and diverse needs.

Therefore the K67 principle - both the original design and its clones - is a significant object in the urban space of the former planned economies of the Eastern Europe . It inhabits the cities as newspaper kiosks, parking-attendant booths, copyshops, market stands, shelter booths, chip stalls, student cafes or lottery stands, easily visible and accessible, in different colours and combinations. The unified functional design of the units enables them to fit almost any location and its context as well as numerous, diverse functions.


Indicator of political and economical change

A kiosk provides space for activities which do not claim a permanent place in our built environment. This has several reasons: e.g. if the activity cannot afford economically a fixed location. Some activities are only temporary and do not demand a permanent accommodation. Another case is when the built environment is not able to take over the infrastructural task due to of war damage. Sometimes the political and ideological situation is an obstacle to proper establishment. By using kiosk units even private initiatives could fit into the pattern of a socialistic unified society. In that sense K67 can be seen somehow like a forerunner of market economy by hosting small private businesses, long before the beginning of the collapse of the Eastern Block in the late 1980´s.


Urban linking element

During the last decade most of the Eastern European countries joined the western economical and political systems. New national states were formed. Some countries converted rapidly into western-orientated democracies while others are still governed by autocrat leaders. This provoced a rapid change of the (common) identity of Eastern Europe. Many witnesses of eastern design disappeared from everyday life, from the shops, from the built environment and the public space. For many people they embody the negative aspects of the socialist model of society. The new freedom of choice after 45 years encouraged many clients -most understandably- to turn away from the unitary, uniform assortment which was quickly replaced by western products.

While some products and designs survived thanks to massive support of the eastern European population (e.g. the "Ampelmännchen" in Eastern Germany), others could only be preserved in the western market system through a radical renewal. The few products that succeed to survive without being radically altered were smart, timeless solutions. Within this context the K67 becomes one of the few remaining visible signs of a vanished social union and an important linking element in Eastern European public space.


Revaluation - new consciousness and other K67 (art) projects

Nevertheless the K67 kiosks are in danger of disappearing from public stage. Statements by eastern inhabitants about vanished or vandalised kiosks confirm this worry. The aim of K67 - The Kiosk Shots is to revaluate the design and point out its extraordinary role in the urban space of Eastern Europe. The process of revaluation is accompanied by a number of recent art projects which make use of K67 units. The Slovenian artist Marjetica Potrc, for example, combined some K67 units with a South American "palafita" for her installation "Next Stop Kiosk", which was shown in the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana. Magnus Bärtås, a Swedish artist, arranges K67´s in front of a black background in his photograph series "Satellites". Already a few years ago the "Mutations" project documented the important role of the kiosks in Ex-Yugoslavia for the re-establishment of facilities in the war-destroyed area.

By collecting and mapping the K67 kiosks, K67 - The Kiosk Shots will give an outline of the eastern countries in their state of transition. The K67 website www.publicplan.com/K67 brings together, at least virtually, the kiosks which are physically spread out over the whole of Eastern Europe, linking the most diverse urban spaces in Eastern Europe and rendering them visible. The project intends to show the individual variety and diversity this design product can bring into public space. K67 is significant component of a complex history and identity of the eastern European countries. With these countries joining the EU it also becomes part of a wider, common European history. As travel from one Eastern European metropolitan area to another is becoming easier and faster, also the urban network of K67 units will become increasingly perceptable.




Helge Kühnel, 19.04.2004