Posted by: Montola | December 8, 2009

Akayism as Urban Recreation

We wrote a piece on pervasive gaming research to a Finnish book on public space, called Julkisen tilan poetiikkaa ja politiikkaa. As the book came out, we found an inspiring story on Akayism from there, one that struck a chord with our research. Päivi Kymäläinen works as a senior assistant of human geography at University of Turku, and she agreed to guest blog some of the juicy stuff for us.

The Barsky Brothers Akay & Peter have actively created new social spaces in the streets of Stockholm for twenty years. They have worked under the name of Akayism which they call a state of mind rather than art. The guys themselves do not call their work art as they resist dividing some urban actions as more important (art) and less important (e.g. graffiti). If not as art, Barskys’ projects could be seen as interventions to the street life that is often defined by restrictions and power relations that may be invisible to the public. Barskys’ work experiments with such urban life that is taken for granted, and explores the moments when something unexpected happens in the everyday life of the city.

For the Barskys, the city is a living room, “a place where furniture can be rearranged and things fixed up”. Moreover, the city is also “a place where things disappear and are replaced with something new”. The effort of many urban planners is to make living rooms in urban space, but only seldom these efforts succeed. Urban planners rely on long-term solutions: buildings, parks and infrastructures, which are not enough when creating a living room. The development of the social space of the urban living room requires also temporary elements which are created in various urban actions – such as in the ones of the Barskys.

"Why does it always have to end like this", they asked at Albano

Most projects of the Barskys have made interesting interventions to the city life. Here I mention two of the projects: Albano House and 12m³. In Albano House, the Barsky Brothers went to an old industrial area in Stockholm that was going to be demolished. They built a hiding place from where they documented the destruction of the area and how the buildings were torn down. By their presence and by writing some texts to the buildings, they expressed their skepticism about the changes in the area.

Cliffhanger architecture of 12m³

Another intervention, 12m³, commented on the housing problems of Stockholm by building a house that dangled from the side of the cliff in an urban park, raising questions about ownership as the house seemed to be out of reach of regulations of the City Planning Office. The regulations were unclear as the Office regulates what can be built on land – not what hangs in the air. After the legal questions had been widely discussed, it become clear that even though the house had been illegally built, no one could do anything about it. The house could hang there as long as the Barsky Brothers wanted. With their project, the Barskys criticized the bureaucratic order that prevents using creative ideas in solving the housing problems.

In these projects, the Barskys made visible some power relations that usually remain unnoticed. In some sense, their work can be regarded as critical geography that does not stick in academic discussion, but happens on the streets and tries to transform urban space. Of course nowadays there is much happening in this respect: also urban studies have turned from the monumental and stable aspects of the city towards acknowledging the temporary events, things and meanings of the city.

Read more on Akayism from Urban Recreation, the book by Akay & Peter.

Christmas at another Akayist housing project, Traffic Island.

Images cited from, except for 12m³, which is cited from Urban Recreation.

Earlier guest bloggers: Troels Barkholt-Spangsbo on SecretCPH, Illuminatum on problems of pervasive larp, Steve Payette on accessibility, Bjarke Pedersen on Chernobyl, Neil Dansey on apophenia and David Fono on Come Out and Play 2009.


  1. Thanks, Päivi! This is really cool stuff.

    Now I finally finally know how to spell Akay Temple properly. Akay Temple is a cave complex under Slussen where they have organized everything from art exhibits to raves. At least one pervasive larp took some players there, too — tore a darn good pair of pants when scouting the place with the game masters.

    Going there is, as far as I understand, technically illegal, and there’s a small risk of getting bruises.

    – M

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