Thomas Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument under construction, June 24, 2013, Forest Houses, The Bronx. Photographs William S. Smith.

On a humid summer morning in the courtyard of a South Bronx housing project, artist Thomas Hirschhorn took a break from covering an overstuffed armchair with packing tape to explain his current project to a skeptical local resident. "There are practical, aesthetic and philosophical reasons for doing this," Hirschhorn said, summing up an impromptu discussion of his art and the benefits of homemade weatherproof furniture.

"And if you spill coffee on this chair, there's no problem," he added.

Along with other similarly upholstered furnishings, the chair will be part of Hirschhorn's Gramsci Monument (July 1-Sept. 15), a sprawling plywood complex dedicated to the Italian Marxist philosopher and revolutionary Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937). For the past month and a half, the Swiss-born, Paris-based Hirschhorn and a team of Bronx residents have been constructing a cluster of small buildings on a raised platform in the center of Forest Houses, a public development of brick high-rises in one of New York's poorest neighborhoods.

More of a community center than a traditional monument, Hirschhorn's project will house a library, Internet café, radio station, newspaper office, workshop, lounge and bar. The site will also host an ambitious summer-long schedule of public programs aimed at a range of audiences. Amongst the offerings will be art classes for children, poetry workshops with writers such as Greg Tate and LaTasha Diggs, and seminars on Gramsci led by prominent philosophers like Gayatri Spivak and Simon Critchley.

Hirschhorn has previously built similarly untraditional monuments to philosophers Baruch Spinoza, Gilles Deleuze and Georges Bataille. Like the Gramsci Monument, these temporary structures were located in underserved communities with few art-world institutions. Bataille Monument (2002), Hirschhorn's contribution to Documenta 11, was constructed in a predominantly Turkish neighborhood in Kassel, Germany.

Hirschhorn calls these works "precarious monuments," a term that captures their limited durations as well as a prevailing aesthetic of informality and improvisation. Built with non-specialist labor and inexpensive materials, by outward appearances Gramsci Monument is not obviously identifiable as a major artwork commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation, much less a structure up to New York building codes. Some of the railings and walls meet the floors at odd angles, and packing tape has been applied generously to joints and window frames.

Hirschhorn hopes that his project in the Bronx will embody a provocative vision for art in public space, fostering an authentic "encounter" with a community that is not his own. At the same time, the work is sure to spark debates about the viability of art in the face of deep economic and social inequities. While the Gramsci Monument may engage some members of this community for a short time, who will benefit when the project concludes, and the international art world once again turns its gaze (and resources) away from the Bronx?

"I really hope that the residents will be coming here," Hirschhorn told A.i.A. "This neighborhood is the first public for the work." At the same time, Hirschhorn, who has taken up residence in the Bronx for the monument's duration, was quick to admit that there is "no guarantee" that those who call Forest Houses home take interest in the project.

Some local residents who have watched the project come to fruition were critical. "It looks like a hot mess," said Karen Leonard. While praising some of the programs that will be organized around the work, Leonard sharply questioned why such a rough-hewn structure was being located in her neighborhood. "It looks like something that should be in a third world country," she told A.i.A. "It looks like shacks."

To build support for the monument and address the concerns of residents like Leonard, Hirschhorn has been working for the past year with community leaders including Erik Farmer, president of the Forest Houses Resident Association. While Hirschhorn dashed around the construction site, Farmer directed workers in red "Gramsci Monument" T-shirts and baseball caps. "The key figure" in the project, according to Hirschhorn, Farmer has been instrumental in assuaging residents' doubts while helping to navigate the city's byzantine permitting process. "We had to get the chairman of the New York City Housing Authority to approve this," Farmer told A.i.A. "That's not easy, but me and Thomas took care of it together."

Farmer acknowledged that Gramsci had little name recognition in his neighborhood prior to Hirschhorn's arrival, but that the philosopher's message felt relevant. "It was easy for me to understand where he was coming from because I had read so much about Malcolm X, and they had the same philosophies," Farmer said.

Farmer also coordinated the hiring of 15 workers to build the site and six more to handle security for the summer. Tyrone Grant, an old friend of Farmer's who was working as a carpenter, described a sense of ownership over the project. "They wanted to have people from this community build something in their community," Frank told A.i.A. "We're proud of it." Grant had also recently been exposed to Gramsci's work for the first time and come to admire the philosopher, who died after an extended imprisonment at the hands of Fascists. "In all societies you have people who have to force change for their beliefs," Grant said, drawing a comparison to Nelson Mandela, who also "stood up for what he believed in and went to prison for it."

Although the Gramsci Monument will officially open next week, for Hirschhorn, who will be on-site for most of the summer, the work is already well under way. "I want to insist on the importance of this period of construction," he told A.i.A., emphasizing that the community has been able to witness the entire process and ask questions. "It has been a fantastic, beautiful, complicated, difficult and also fun time together," he said.

Farmer, too, has high hopes for the project. "It's temporary physically but mentally it's lasting," he told A.i.A. "It's going to be in people's memory for a long time. We're going to be able to tell our kids about this."