by Meghna MehtaAug 11, 2020
In residence at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, The World Around Summit virtually streamed to hundreds of architecture, design, art, film and digital media enthusiasts on January 30, 2021. The summit saw award-winning stalwarts and young talent and collectives doing truly ground-breaking work discuss their projects in retrospective of the tumultuous year that was 2020. Ranging from the perceivably paradigm shift in architecture and design, and their new role in the world as we go ahead, to issues that have affected society for years now, including equity, health, community, environment, racial justice, and indigenous rights, the summit discussed the very pertinent role of design and architecture and representation using the most relevant forms of media to bring these to light.
In attendance at the summit, STIR found the talks, projects and initiatives to be inspiring and incredibly humane. The conversations it instigated were germane, timely and relevant. In that light, we curate our selection of the most STIRring talks, projects, innovations and discussions that made The World Around 2021 a resounding success, and an avenue to look forward to for the next year.
Alice Rawsthorn: Design Emergency
Architectural and design critic Alice Rawsthorn’s record of the global design response to COVID-19, Design Emergency, curated along with Paola Antonelli, is a well-documented series of IGTV talks and virtual ‘live’ sessions on how design as an interventive force came forth as a “sorely needed source of hope and optimism for everyone” during a year such as the last one. Her eloquently put address was a quick roundup of the greatest design innovations in 2020, particularly ones that stood out as the world collectively responded to this unprecedented threat.
Contrarily, many of the names that shone through were actually not designers. Instead, they were modest and pragmatic attempts that worked upon and built from the existing, working in close collaboration with actual stakeholders, with an unmistakable community spirit. From MASS Design Group’s proposal to ‘Redesign Hospital Spaces on the fly to protect Healthcare Workers’, to the Afghan Dreamers Robotics team from Herat, Afghanistan, building effective ventilators from the car parts of a Corolla, to the well-executed and graphically pleasing ‘Unite against COVID-19’ campaign commissioned by the New Zealand Government, designed by Clemenger BBDO, Wellington, these innovations were hailed as “game changers for public and political perception of design”.
You can read STIR’s extensive coverage of Design Emergency and a conversation with Alice Rawsthorn here.
The Im/possible Future: Dear Darkening Ground
‘The Im/possible Future’ (El Futuro Imposible) is a collective of animators, researchers, and designers who specialise in projects with social and environmental themes. Its goal is to build an optimistic vision of the future based on the most important ideas and movements of today. On display at the summit was the short film, Dear Darkening Ground, with a narration of an excerpt from Rainer Maria Rilke’s stirring poem, read by Indian scholar and environmental activist, Vandana Shiva. Accompanied by haunting visuals, albeit beautifully animated, of cities and societies collapsing and the natural world proliferating over ours, Rilke’s words come as a cry for help, another chance, urging us to look at the beauty in life as we know it, while reinforcing its regenerative potential. Here too, despite the grimness in subject matter, the film ends with a glimmer of hope, our impossible future.
The extraordinary animated visuals of the climate emergency are glued by one statement that echoed through its end; “All of this seemed impossible, but giving up was not an option”. The real backgrounds, even if further populated through animation, do paint a grim picture, and make us all pause. Perhaps that was the purpose of it.
These short films are part of an animated documentary that is ‘under construction’ with The Im/possible Future, about the problems and solutions that define our future.
Liam Young: Planet City
Originally from Melbourne, Los Angeles-based Liam Young is a speculative architect, designer, worldbuilder and filmmaker. His latest project, a glimpse of which was showcased at The World Around 2021, imagines a futuristic city for 10 billion people, the speculated population for 2050, sporting a retro-neon aesthetic. Planet City is a sky-bound development that houses the entire world’s population in one place, while the rest of the world is left to recover, or to return to some semblance of a natural state. Young’s intervention claims that within this framework, the entire world population can be housed in a tiny percentage of the planet’s total surface area, equal to one of the states in the US. In Young’s own words, what he hopes one of the roles of the city is “not to present a proposal. Rather, it’s a provocation to get us to see actually just how extreme and absurd the current ways that we make cities really are". He concludes by saying that our collective future is a verb, not a noun, continually shaped by our actions in the present.
The Planet City was first showcased at the NGV Triennial, and while it continues to divide viewers, its striking design and sophisticated digital production values remain analogous to Young’s vision to incite conversations in architecture through media.
Francis Kéré: National Assembly Benin
Diébédo Francis Kéré, and his Berlin-based architectural office Kéré Architecture, today stand as one of the world’s most distinguished personalities and practices in architecture owing to his commitment to sustainable, contextual development, deriving from local craftsmanship and material, and heavily influenced by his pursuit to find a unique identity for African architecture. A true pleasure to listen to, Kéré spoke of his experience and tryst with the lamentable lack of character and external influences in African architecture, before introducing his latest project, the National Assembly Building in Benin.
“It has been my experience during training and my work as an architect that contemporary African architecture, broadly speaking, is often seen as being representative of an ideology or economic interest imported from the outside,” elucidated Kéré. “To simply highlight the newly found independence, what cannot be found are buildings that reflect indigenous form of governance, democratic practices, or a material and climate responsible approach and local knowledge”.
Speaking on the design of the National Assembly, Kéré highlighted his inspiration in a tree that guided the blueprint and the form of the building. A socio-cultural occurrence, arbre à palabre signifies the spatial arrangement under a large, shaded tree such as the Kapok or the Baobab, under which people gathered to speak and communicate in the shade of their canopies. It was a place where summits were held and judgments were passed, and that unique, indigenous communal confluence became the guiding force for Kéré’s ‘Afro-futurist’ design.
BlackSpace: The BlackSpace Manifesto
“Landscapes are not neutral”. Since 2015, the BlackSpace Urbanist Collective, an interdisciplinary collective of urban planners, architects, and designers, has worked to bridge policy, people, and place: to create and protect ‘Black’ spaces. With a mission of equity and justice in the built environment, the group carries a range of activities from engagement and projects in historically Black neighbourhoods to hosting cross-disciplinary conventions and events. BlackSpace strives to unlearn traditional modes of urbanism, which have long excluded marginalised voices and disenfranchised black folk. The organisation spoke about their influential BlackSpace Manifesto, created to guide their work as urbanists and providing a practical way to reinforce urbanism from the perspective of the black community in cities. Some salient pointers and directives of the manifesto are stated here.
“Create circles not lines; foster personal and communal evolution; cultivate wealth; be humble learners who practice deep listening; plan with, design with; reckon with the past to build the future; choose critical connections over critical mass; manifest the future; move at the speed of trust; seek people at the margins; promote excellence; protect and strengthen culture; centre lived experience; celebrate, catalyse and amplify Black joy”.
Sir David Adjaye: Winter Park Library and Events Centre
Even to the uninitiated, 2020 and the RIBA Royal Gold Medal made Sir David Adjaye, OBE, a household name, setting him apart as one of the leading architects of his generation. His indigenous use of materials while infusing a flavour of the soil in every project he does has imparted a rightful edge to his work, along with prophetic, visionary insights on architecture. At the World Around Summit, he talked about and virtually displayed one of his most expansive new projects, the public library in the city of Winter Park, Florida.
Explaining his affinity for operating in the public realm of architecture, Sir Adjaye described the public library as knowledge and community facilities being brought together in a cluster to make a “hamlet of knowledge”. He described the entire process of designing as a radical shift from an “infrastructure of knowledge”, to a “space of knowledge”, bearing its own character, both spatial and structural. As his manifestation of humility in public projects, and reducing the formality usually associated with the notions of a library, the two converging blocks of the library complex accommodate and covet mutual shade and landscape.
“For me, architecture is one of the most beautiful art forms that continually has to be relayed, continually has to be refined for every generation. It has to be recalibrated. This really is at the heart of how we work. This idea of sort of really making sure that we are bringing as much knowledge into the experience of architecture is central to how myself and my studio work”, he mentioned on his stance on architecture today. Further quoting Martin Luther King Jr. on the emancipation of one’s condition by knowledge and learning, Adjaye dedicated the building as a monument to his ideals.
Curated by Beatrice Galilee, The World Around Summit in January marked one year of the summit’s residency at the Guggenheim Museum, with an impressive line-up of thought leaders and change makers. All three sessions, Pollinators, Keepers, and Builders of The World Around, streamed live, and are now available to watch in the Guggenheim Museum archives on YouTube.(The World Around is made possible by the generous support of Global Partner Facebook Open Arts, who presented a virtual reality experience during the Summit, and Italian furniture designer Arper, who outfitted the stage for the event.)