Centre Pompidou, Paris to host the largest retrospective exhibition on Norman Foster
by Jincy IypeMay 02, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Aastha D.Published on : Jul 11, 2022
When it comes to analogies, architecture has had its generous share, as if its all-pervasiveness deemed it more inexplicable, in need of frameworks that draw parallels to simplify what it is that architecture is and does. The building as machine, the building as organism, as theatre, as fabric, as automobile, as a factory, an outfit, container, vehicle, cuisine… the list expands, unfettering, losing its objective of simplification, and instead, embarking on a tirade of colourful derivatives. In all of these varied explanations, the one strand of commonality that runs through them is that architecture is produced one way, and consumed in another. Disobedience of bodies is a spatial practice. One that raises questions of ownership, time, place, participation, and exclusion. Architecture becomes an ever active site of transforming notions of power, shaping who we are and who we want to be.
An activist is a campaigner, a crusader against injustice, a protestor of the status quo, an advocate for a more just alternative; one that is reformative, democratic, and inclusive. Activism is disruption. Alastair Fuad-Luke, author of Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World (2009), says, "Forms of activism are also an attempt to disrupt existing paradigms of shared meaning, values, and purpose to replace them with new ones." What does it then mean for architects to be activists? When submerged in an ever-sinking world of ecological, social, political, and economic crises, how does one of the primary causes of these issues claim a subversion, a solution to them?
"Architecture and urbanism are calls to action" – that is the principle behind Agir, the exhibition by MVRDV and The Why Factory, hosted in the connected spaces of the ArchiLib Gallery and MVRDV's Paris office. The exhibition takes its name from the French verb meaning "act", examining the work of MVRDV and The Why Factory through the lens of activism and revealing its capacity to address a wide variety of environmental and social challenges.
The Why Factory is a global think tank and research institute, based at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment (Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands) and led by professor Winy Maas, co-founder of the architecture and urbanism practice MVRDV, who says, "I wanted something that was independent, so we could research without thinking about the immediate needs of an architecture firm, but which nonetheless could help inform the future. With this exhibition we want to challenge visitors in a way: what kind of future do you want to see?".
The press release for Agir says—
In a compact space, over fifty projects are presented, positioning the firm’s French work within their broader oeuvre of international projects and research. Each project is accompanied by a punchy slogan – inspired by the language of activism and protest – that captures the essence of the project, highlighting how each design paves the way for a better future.
This isn’t the first time activism in its sociological and political sense has been appropriated by architecture and urban design professionals to project the inherent saviour complex they wear on their sleeves, a fallacy taught in institutes and practised globally like a pretty façade treatment to a dilapidating building.
Ann Thorpe of Design Activism says, “…design activism should focus on how design processes and its outcomes can affect people’s perceptions and emotions. Not to be simply raising awareness for pressing societal issues without aiming to change people’s behaviours. Accordingly, design activism should, in addition to revealing social and environmental issues, frame viable alternatives to change public opinion and put pressure on those in positions of authority." Should, would, could… words of aspiration, sermon, possibility. Not of action. Projects listed by Bryan Bell and Katie Wakeford in Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism, classify the design and implementation processes of urban projects of social interest and public impact, wherein design professionals are working alongside the community. Similarly, albeit expanded to non-architect and design practices, the database established by Nishat Awan, Tatjana Schneider, and Jeremy Till in Spatial Agency: Other ways of doing architecture, compiles several projects where design undertakes social and public action towards change.
Coming back to Agir, on the exhibition itself—
The projects are printed in chronological order on a 78-meter-long fabric curtain that is tightly folded into the gallery’s small floor plan. This density of information highlights the intensity of action required to tackle the challenges afflicting society, the environment, and the world at large. To magnify this sense of urgency, the exhibited works are accompanied by graphics on the floor that show the condition of the polar ice caps at various moments in the project timeline. At the back of the gallery, the exhibition continues into the ground floor of MVRDV’s own Paris office, which will be open to the public for the duration of the exhibition.
This exhibition is an extension of The Why Factory’s Future Cities Research Programme, which explores possibilities for the development of future cities by focusing on the production of models and visualisations. The results of this research programme are being presented in a series of books—the Future Cities series— published in association with nai010 Publishers in Rotterdam. One of these books is entitled (W)EGO: DREAM HOMES IN DENSITY, which posits the following questions, followed by a credulous set of utopian imaginations—
'Why are we condemned to live in mass cages, multiplied to towers and slabs? Why should we want to live in profit-driven spaces that reduce our options in life to limited variations of the same basic floor plans? Where is our freedom? How can we improve on this? Can architecture take on our egos and shape a future with more and more responsible options? (w)Ego investigates the freedom of designing and building our dream home in the dense city. (w)Ego explores the potential of desire-based design processes, prioritising residents' wishes in the process of constructing and adapting housing and the city itself. It expands the possibilities of individual fantasy in a dense world by means of negotiation with our neighbours and the environment. In short, freedom and imagination meet responsibility and collaboration.
The questions asked above seem a retrospective reframing of contrition. The keen awareness of the complicity in creating inequities is repurposed to sound like the earnest concerns of the design activist. Publications, exhibitions, and installations, certainly democratise conversation. In the process, they also platform ambient noise. Information dissemination through open source platforms—social media, web, e-conferences, panels, manifestos, institutional advocacy—coupled with community participation and mobilisation posits designers as agents for social and environmental change. It is however challenging, to say the least, to confront massive bodies of power and bureaucracy, while simultaneously being stuck in the vicious necessity of commercial work. Autonomy is a rare luxury, one that is earned by championing the very system that one strives to antagonise. To make activism a mode of operation, and not simply a polite form of conversation and advocacy printed on 'organic' cotton tote bags, professionals seek the support of administrative bodies (state, governments, municipalities, etc.) integrating change, ethics, reform and community participation, as a fundamental part of infrastructure strategy. However, it is also in the interstitial spaces, the abandoned land, the vacant building, that movements have thrived, and revolution stirred. These spaces of 'non-architecture' and 'ex-architecture' are spurred into action when they are occupied to foster resistance.
That potent space between the individual and the collective, one of pluralism and equity, is where possibility lies. To work with the tensions between private owners, and the public, on the subject of the future economic and social value of land, is to create a framework through regulation and community discourse. Market and political trends have always determined the development of land, its occupation, displacement, extraction, and evaluation. For that to change, is to seek radical spaces of defiance and contestation, revealing systems of power and then dismantling them. It is only with prioritising social agency as a function of architecture can access to clean air, public space, local food, home, leisure, and health be made available as fundamental human rights, and not the luxuries they are today.
by Almas Sadique May 31, 2023
The Chinese architect Xu Tiantian's works are on display at the Auditorium of Teatro dell’architettura Mendrisio as part of the Swiss Architectural Award 2022 exhibition.
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Switzerland-based Burkhard Meyer Architekten BSA revitalised a 50-year-old sports centre by incorporating innovative design, interconnected facilities, and streamlined automation.
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The residential structure in Belgium is a single family home that is built along the undulating landscape in its vicinity.
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STIR tours the recently completed Fish Island Village by Haworth Tompkins and The Trampery campus in Hackney Wick, discovering its industrial history and present day urban aspirations.
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