by Anmol AhujaFeb 03, 2022
Watching The World Around Summit (TWA) unfold virtually over a leisurely six hours, one was bound to come to the natural conclusion that the programme’s co-founder and executive director, Beatrice Galilee, also stated in her interview with STIR earlier last week. There exists a dire need for devoted architectural programming of this nature - one that can boast nuanced curation that transcends media and scale, while also addressing the most pressing concerns of our times, including the global climate crisis and a lack of diversity and alternative narratives in architectural discourse. Through an assuredly stellar lineup of stalwarts from the fields of architecture, design, and art, along with promising, upcoming names in these realms, this year’s summit, just as last year’s, emerges a winner with a distinct voice that is able to cut through the noise. Its structural presentation composed around ‘one speaker, one project, and one brief’ as opposed to entire practices, is reflected as a particularly interesting format, introducing powerful, timely narratives that speak to concurrent discussions in these professions, in the now. Particularly endearing and refreshing was its decidedly certain focus on African voices and POCs, in a clear, concerted effort to decentralise the architectural discussion from the Global North as well as the West. With names including Tadao Ando, David Chipperfield, Lesley Lokko, Winy Maas, Amitav Ghosh, Ursula Biemann, Formafantasma, and Paul Farber, among many others, the summit’s three curiously christened sessions - Schools, Sneakers, Stories, and other Agents of Change; Ice Stone Sand and other Archives; Trees, Words, Images, and other Monuments - proved beacons of enlightenment and entirely humane discussions, warranting change, ascribing it agency.
As official media partners for The World Around Summit 2022, we curate our selection of the most STIRring talks, projects, innovations, and discussions from this year that lend the summit its veritable identity as a changemaker and an avenue for representation.
1. Lesley Lokko, African Futures Institute
When I term that TWA is multidisciplinary in terms of the avenues they present is truly transcendental, Prof. Lesley Lokko’s intervention, a whole institution, plays a major part in the acquisition of that mantle. The African Futures institute (AFI), founded by Lokko and Sir David Adjaye, develops as a new form of pedagogical school, rooted simultaneously in theory, practice, and research in the physical, digital, and conceptual realms in architecture. With a concerted focus on providing a space for radical African narratives, the institution and its principles are underpinned by the desire to support new voices, scholarships, and opportunities for “radical African excellence”.
In her presentation titled I Prefer the Word, Lokko displayed a short segment of a documentary film on French philosopher Jacques Derrida, that talked about there being two types of futures, placing deft emphasis on the second kind, heralded by the ‘other’, and whose arrival one couldn’t anticipate. Using this parallel to draw on Africa’s painful narrative of colonialism and the quest for identity and a mutual future, Lokko eloquently and powerfully put across the importance and perceived responsibility of an institution like the AFI through alumni work. Interestingly enough and wryly in her voice, Lokko opened her presentation with a remark that she had developed particular fondness for over the last few months, stating “the next time I say I am going to open a school of architecture, please shoot me”.
The AFI’s big design project, and this is becoming clearer to me everyday, isn’t so much the design of a space, a building, a program, or even a school. It’s much broader than that, and therefore harder to describe. And the difficulty in describing it comes down to the difference between two words: exploration and explanation. – Lesley Lokko
2. Amitav Ghosh, The Nutmeg’s Curse
A literary stalwart is a particularly exciting addition to a forum on architecture. But carefully following author Amitav Ghosh’s repertoire of environmental fiction and non-fiction tales, the latter that he dictates drawing on his extensive travels and childhood, one can see how his work stands in to address the climate emergency on a global scale, something that contemporary architecture very dubiously dabbles with, without due reference to our history and indigeneity. In conversation with renowned curator Lucia Pietroiusti, Ghosh discussed his latest book, The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis, that explores our burgeoning planetary history of colonialism and capitalism, and how the nutmeg, succinctly used as a parallel here for our planet itself, followed by essentially its humanisation, becomes a capsule for studying the genesis of what Ghosh calls “telling glimpses of modernity and modern structures”.
The book begins by describing the systematic and unfortunate slaughter and eviction of the Bandanese people by the Dutch East India Company, from the Banda islands, once the centre of the global trade for nutmeg and mace. The islands hold little significance in modern folklore today, but Ghosh’s book places their most significant export, the nutmeg, easily construed as an insignificant object in the annals of planetary history, at the core of his book to explore human relation with ecology. By delving into a colonial past, Ghosh delivers an account of how our extractivist methods may have led to ruin on a global scale.
Hardly a spoiler, but I have been devouring page after page of Ghosh’s seminal work here. Where each chapter is an awakening in itself, it is hard to keep down these parables, essentially doubling up here as lessons in ecology and warning bells for the daft.
Where can the non-human be given a voice? It can only happen in literature, it can only happen in storytelling, it can only happen in art. – Amitav Ghosh
3. Tadao Ando, Bourse de Commerce
Speaking sagely from his studio in Japan, the veteran Japanese architect opened up on his transformative intervention at the historical Bourse de Commerce in Paris to host the Pinault collection. Endearingly facing the camera, and narrating his experiences of how the project came to be, Tadao Ando spoke of his influences and intent with the design of the circular concrete shell at the nucleus of the site, and how he was admittedly intimated by the sheer scale and scope of the intervention, stating it to be larger than even the Pantheon, an obvious influence on his design. The Pritzker Prize Laureate shed light on the immense historical significance of the site, located between the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou on a linear axis, and how he sought an opportunity to “add a new world inside of it,” as opposed to a simplistic renovation.
“A circle is, essentially, the origin of architecture,” stated Ando, as he reminisced the concentric galleries of the monument, and how that came to inform his design of the subterranean, winding circular galleries in the Bourse de Commerce that assume a bold new character and material definition. “I want to see them put something brave in this open space,” remarks Ando, jovially, describing the dubious relationship between art and architecture, and how a public space must lead people to discover their potentiality.
I don’t think architecture and art can peacefully coexist, they shouldn’t. They should always be in a fight. – Tadao Ando
4. Design Earth, The Planet After Geoengineering
Perhaps the most urgent and forthright of the presentations was by Rania Ghosn of Design Earth, who presented The Planet After Geoengineering as an installation of drawings, a graphic novel, an animation, and a short story, narrating a dire vision of our planet, brought to reality by the virtuous, probable, and pragmatic extrapolation of current conditions threatening our planet. Through a set of illustrations with a markedly distinct style that read more succinctly as architectural drawings, doused in monochrome and grid-like linework, a dire vision beyond our current emergency is narrated and given uncertain life.
Consisting of five segments, each addressing a different concern, and how humans address these through ‘Geo-engineering’, the graphic narrative is shown leading to irreversible results - further down the same line that brought us where we were in Design Earth’s vastly imaginative but dour future. Through Petrified Carbon -looking at an abuse of carbon-based resources and their impacts, Arctic Albedo -employing artificial permafrost to replace the melted arctic regions, Sky River -an artificial mechanism devised to facilitate rainmaking, Sulfur Storm -imagining the aftermath of the exhaustion of the ozone layer, and Dust Cloud -a layer of space debris to reflect harsh sunlight, Design Earth and Ghosn welcome you to the climate emergency.
The Earth deserves palliative care: welcome to the climate emergency. – Rania Ghosn, Design Earth
5. OPEN Architecture, Chapel of Sound
Contextualising their monolithic open-air concert hall, Beijing-based OPEN Architecture discussed their recent project, The Chapel of Sound. The presentation beautifully highlighted the conceptual sketches and site photography that inspired the architectural form of The Chapel of Sound. While listening to Li Hu and Huang Wenjing speak, one gets the sense that the practice treated sound as a secret element to define their architectural methodology. Balancing their intuition and logic, the much talked about and celebrated aspects of the structure come from their ability to allow the two to coexist. Wenjing captured this sentiment when she said, “We were inspired by the landscape but we don’t want it to just mimic a rock. I want people to read that it’s an artificial human-built structure.” Designed to capture the unfamiliar and touching experience of music performed in the midst of nature, the architects also wanted people to just calm down and listen to the sound of nature itself. The duo continued, “I think the art of architecture is always trying to balance the freedom of the imagination and the restriction from realities,” referring to the duality as a tension, concluding that it was in this moment where an idea could thrive.
Instead of against, maybe we should build something that can coexist with nature, that can endure the weathering, the harshness of nature. – OPEN Architecture
6. Winy Maas, Depot Van Beuningen
Winy Maas, ‘the M of MVRDV’, presented the recently opened Depot Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. As the world’s first fully accessible art depot, the programmatic planning and storage design has been the subject of numerous discussions. Maas gave a behind-the-scenes look at conceptual development of the building and the depot itself. Starting with the exterior of the building, Maas started the tour by situating the structure within its immediate surroundings. Located in a cultural sector of the city, the depot is surrounded by other significant cultural institutes including Rem Koolhaas’ Kunsthal and the Het Nieuwe Instituut. Once inside, Maas refers to the central atrium as a ‘vertical street’, a metaphor that aptly captures how the structure was conceptualised. Every storage space is segregated according to its contents. Each of the units have been designed specifically to store sculptures and paintings separately. The storage units also feature a glass door which acts as a storefront allowing visitors to view the material inside. Maas pointed out the importance of distinguishing the depot and its archive from a museum and how that subtle change determined aspects of the building planning.
7. Monument Lab, National Monument Audit
Paul Farber presented Monument Lab’s research and compilation of ‘The National Monument Audit’. Over the past two years, monuments in the United States have seen a dramatic change. With dual calls to dismount and remove various historical figures, to adding new statues to the urban landscape of the United States, the presented audit paints a clear picture of the current political state of the country. Farber and his team spent a year scouring almost half a million records of historic properties created and maintained by federal, state, local, tribal, institutional, and publicly assembled sources to create a comprehensive list in order to better understand the dynamics and trends that have shaped the USA's monument landscape. Founded in 2012, Monument Lab is a non-profit public art and history studio based in Philadelphia. The lab’s vision is to cultivate and facilitate critical conversations around the past, present, and future of monuments by encouraging a participatory approach to public engagement and collective memory analysis.
We must engage in a holistic reckoning with monumental erasures and lies, and move toward a monument landscape that acknowledges a fuller history of this country. – Paul Farber, Monument Lab
8. Matthew Heineman, The First Wave
Without a doubt, one of the hardest documentaries I have had to watch over the period of last year, but also among the most hopeful ones. Filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s documentary, The First Wave’s trailer alone is enough to deliver a rousing, emotional account of what’s in store. Heinaman bravely documents the triumphant struggle and pulsating ordeal of frontline workers in hospitals in Queens, New York, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave. It is much to the summit’s credit as well, that a film documenting the struggles of frontline medical workers in one of the most dynamic cities in the world, that went woefully silent, except for the noise of ambulances in streets, makes the curation of a summit on architecture, that essentially looks at the most pressing issues of our times, and how we must brave odds to emerge as one.
The film also marginally touches upon another landmark event that sent NYC in an upheaval in the midst of a pandemic - the murder of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, just as “I can’t breathe” became a common war cry againts the pandemic, and against systemic racism in the US. Amid the sorrowful circumstances that the documentary chronicles, it is human resilience that shines through in troubled times, an extraordinary will to survive, and that is what is at the forefront of this extraordinary achievement of fortitude.
Human beings come together in the face of crisis, and that’s a very beautiful thing to witness. – Matthew Heineman