by Aarthi MohanJul 29, 2023
The Oslo Architecture Triennale 2022 that embarked a month ago on the consecrated mission neighbourhood has just ended. With the Triennale what the world community witnessed was a major collective of work carved especially to navigate all stakeholders towards a consensus on several issues that the event sought to spotlight. With a mission that cohabited the physical world of structures and the abstract world of social relationships, the Triennale was a brave attempt to string together different aspects of living in an urban world especially during these compromised times. The goal was simply to create better cities, socially and environmentally.
Working from a blue-print on how to explore the concept of designing neighbourhoods of the future through several detailed processes that included discussions, brainstorming sessions, talk shows, exhibitions and more, the Triennale tried to create awareness of what an ideal neighbourhood could be. What are the features of good neighbourhoods? How can infrastructure such as roads be transformed into neighbourhood spaces? How can institutions, schools and offices be designed so they accommodate more diverse uses and users? What is the value of good neighbourhoods – for the individual, for the public health and for sustainable societal development? How can politicians and the public administration create better conditions for fostering neighbourhood quality? How can capital benefit the public good in urban development? These were some of the pertinent questions that the organisers laid out on the table for discussion and inquiry.
Under the Director and Chief Curator, Christian Pagh, the expressly non-parochial vision of the curatorial team, paved way for the congregation of social engineers, anthropologists, architects, artists, designers, bureaucrats and citizens from all over the world to collectively imagine and create, an ideal world with optimum urbanisation-community wellness ratio. As the world converged at Oslo to be a part of the investigations, the Triennale grew into a consummate open laboratory that experimented on how urban development and planning of cities could be chartered to align with social and moral responsibilities towards communities.
The concept of neighbourhood is one that has permeated the social fabric of all cultures, albeit under different definitions, to significantly different measures, at all times. Clarence Perry, American urban planner described the neighbourhood unit as a self-contained residential area within a city. It could also be an abstract edifice erected on moral values, interactions and sharing between mankind catalysed by human needs. It is at once both - socially inclusive and exclusive. From being perceived as a highly restrictive physical entity trapped within spatial dimensions to one that exists freely, almost hypothetically, perhaps as an emotion or abstraction in the mind of man, the definition of neighbourhood remains largely nebulous. Perhaps it would be most prudent to describe a neighbourhood as a functional, interactive physical space that fosters deep feelings of community living with a view to improve the life of man from all perspectives.
Speaking to STIR, curator Pagh at the helm of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2022, opined that “these days, urban environments fail to recognise communities and everyday life as a social phenomenon.” These are strange times indeed with an unrelenting pandemic in our midst that has forced the migration of man into the virtual world. It has dented the fabric of man’s social life, and has also placed under the lens the growing disparity between different echelons of society. It has also validated the presence of good and bad neighbourhoods, as much as it has acknowledged the widening chasms between communities and their physical habitats. Looking through the lens of the pandemic, the landscape of urban development in the context of communal living appears far more skewed and wanting than it ever was, for a more intimate bond between communities and their territories. Evidently the Triennale that invented newer methods to blend urban development with the quality of neighbourhoods could not have been better timed. Pagh’s curatorial statement sounded vociferously that we may argue that neighbourhoods do not matter much especially with the migration into the virtual world, however, empty streets and silent corners are a blemish on the quality of life.
Pagh, in response to the question as to why the mission was rather urgent, stated, “The word “neighbourhood” implies both social and physical dimension of something we share. The COVID-19 pandemic made many of us more aware of the importance of good neighbourhoods. It also made it more obvious how some neighbourhoods are more fortunate than others and what consequences this has for the health and quality of life of its inhabitants. An intense debate on housing quality and housing access is taking place in Oslo, and internationally. There’s a growing demand for improvement and for friendly, human-scaled environments that add benefit beyond sleeping, shopping and a fast commute to the city. There is something hopeful in the term itself: in a good neighbourhood, we experience a sense of community and of sharing our everyday lives with others. It’s inherent in the very word, that you must consider your neighbour. In our time, it is as if we are having a hard time building and planning for the community at neighbourhood level. That’s something we consider urgent to address in the time to come.”
Infusing ethical and civic threads into the tapestry of an architectural and design festival, Pagh has set a new order. The Oslo Triennale with its sacrosanct vision created a functional and succinct model of research, innovation and imagination that would be hard to emulate. As an experimental engagement that brought together international perspectives, designing places that are empathetic towards the needs of man, the Triennale was one of immense promise for the capital of Norway and the world beyond.
The Oslo Architecture Triennale 2022 was structured into six perspectives namely, Understanding Places that showed how the cultural layers of a place can be assessed, Social Infrastructure that explored the dimension of interactions within communities, Our Streets that presented new perspectives on mobility and street use, Naturehood that displayed projects revolving around the theme of nature in the context of the neighbourhood, Reforming Systems that questioned and reformed existing systems and Alternative Practices that showcased different ways of creating places.
From a long list of brilliant presentations that resonated with the theme, a handful that explored these to great measure and lay distributed across some of the main collaborative spaces on this mission such as the Old Munch Museum, the National Museum and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design were as follows, as explained by Curator Pagh:
CSAM, White Arkitekter and artists from Malmö in Sweden created Noisy Neighbours, spotlighting on how noise can be used as a tool to keep diverse urban and cultural activities and production in the city - and thus challenged the silence and gentrification that often comes with apartment blocks. Their proposal for a curated cultural-industrial sound zone was based on a thorough mapping of activities in the industrial area of Sofienlund - and is now being put in place by the city of Malmö!
Peter Cook’s Ideas of Cities with highly imaginative drawings that reinvent cities, natural landscapes and buildings contributed heavily to the mission of the Triennale as ideas that spawn opportunities in the urban world combining imagination and technology.
Planning the physical and social infrastructure of a neighbourhood that caters to a multilayered society and communities needs to be a conscious effort - one that also considers the perspectives of minorities. At the National Museum, Coming into Community that opened as a colourful presentation of urban planning perspectives of the marginalised communities such as feminists and queers sent home a strong message. As an interesting platform for these communities to stage their apprehensions and vulnerabilities especially with regard to their space issues, it centred on the ideology of social inclusivity and its relevance especially in an urban context.
Shattering myopic perspectives of what a neighbourhood means, the Multispecies Neighbourhoods, an installation by Matthew Daiziel, a former curator of Oslo Architecture Triennale featured an outdoor garden of native, edible plants growing inside an earthen orb. Expanding social inclusivity to encompass species other than mankind, he redefined the latitude of the word neighbourhood. This phenomenal work catapulted the Triennale’s exceptional mission onto a higher trajectory, prompting dialogues along paths less travelled.
City nature is an interesting concept and SLA, the nature-based design studio works towards creating cities that incorporate nature into their plans. Their intervention into streets by way of integrating streets and cities with slices of nature helps especially in these times of an environmental catastrophe. At the Oslo Architecture Triennale, they introduced three large trees into the lecture hall of the Munch Museum to manifest a natural meeting spot that recreated a forest.
Meanwhile, the students of the Oslo School of Architecture and Design put together a series of especially curated photos that projected how daylight conditions in different housing spaces vary in a day, with time. By visual repetition and variation, the photos collected under the title The Everyday Poetics of Daylight proved that architecture and man’s familiarity with light as an experience are directly related.
Over a period of a month, with an array of activities like exhibitions, talk shows and seminars, performances, discussions, experiments, and more, the Triennale proved to be a great investigative force into how the shared space can be tweaked to improve quality of life. The findings were several and significant and in the days to come, the new knowledge derived on neighbourhood wellness will play an active role in shaping them all - from nooks and corners of streets to skyscrapers, from gardens to homes and schools, from the wilderness to cities.