architecture and dissent

(Originally posted on EASA

Architecture and Dissent
(And from talking to action…)

The Berlage Institute (an architectural laboratory) have organised a series of Springtime public lectures on the theme of Architecture and Dissent.

This program of dialogues addresses the relations between architecture, power, and political dissent. By debating the cultural currents transforming contemporary daily life and, subsequently, shared spatial practices, this series of events promotes an open dialogue reflecting on today’s architectural condition.

Can architecture politically engage a global market-driven power structure? Is it possible to find alternative means of operating architecturally within this dominant system? How should architecture and urbanism address economic development, popular culture, and a design-driven consumerism? Does architecture—as both an intellectual discipline and a professional practice—contribute to stabilizing the inherent social inequalities of the contemporary city?

The talks can be viewed by live braodcast, heres the program

Tuesday 13 March – Instant City: The Rise of Dubai

Tuesday 27 March – Gated Communities in the Age of Extreme Individualism

Tuesday 17 April – The Cult of Celebrity: Superstars Architect in the Academy

Tuesday 8 May – Signs, Symbols, Spectacles: The Architecture of Global Corporations

Tuesday 15 May – Living Outside: Uneven Metropolitan Development

Tuesday 12 June – Beyond Degenerate Utopias?

Tuesday 19 June – The Power of Sprawl

Previous mention here on EASA of Berlage Institute was when an attempt was made to widen the discussion in offering further answers to their 6 questions. (109 Provisional Attempts to Address Six Simple and Hard Questions About What Architects Do Today and Where Their Profession Might Go Tomorrow )

A personal response…
(text still being worked on so apologies if the end is messy: like all things : work in progress)

Over the years there has been an evergrowing discussion about what sort of world WE want, what mechanisms we use to find out what type of world that is and from all that what actions we take to make the idea of that world a reality. The WE referred to here is global civil society, or more simply the people of this planet, and not simply the powerful few who presently call the shots which are leading this world to ecological disaster.

In many people´s opinion, there has been a limited involvment from the “architectural community” in this critical act of discussion and action but it seems that things are changing; that they have joined the table and that they have finally started to join OUR discussion. It has to be remembered, of course, that architecture is a very powerful tool and that its control, manipulation and use has been one of the many clever tools or techniques used by the THEM (the powerful few).

Architectural Biennalle Venice 2006: Cities, architecture and society

Last year at the 10th architectural Biennalle in Venice (the architecture olympics, some call it) a truly relevant theme was chosen: Cities, architecture and society. The Bienalle collective are to be commended on choosing this theme, the indepth exploration they carried out, the very well presented exhibition they presented us with and the fine oportunity created for people to engage with this idea, participate in its discussion, take it to the next level…

But there were some criticisms made too of the Bienalle along with some proposals on how it could be improved…
– Participation
– Costs
– Communication
– Seeing the Bienale as a dialogue and not a monologue.

———- Participation

Firsly who was and who was not invited to participate?
The Bienalle was divided into two parts; the Bienalles exhibition about the theme and individual invited countries responses to the theme. Much of the exhibition focused on human growth patterns, population movement, growing cities, their problems and possible solutions.

Most of these urban shifts are happening in the global south (previously 2nd or 3rd world countries: not Europe, US, Japan and the leading industrial nations of our world) but the odd thing was that although countries in the Global South were being talked about, they had not been invited to participate in the dialogue of what type of world needs to be built, their pavillions were not on show with their ideas or respsones to the biennalles’s theme of exploration. It seemed that only about 10% of the nation states of this little planet were represented in national pavillions or by allocated spaces around the city and most of these Nation state exhibitions were of states in the occidental world; predominately European and first world. To add to this, these nation states actually represent far far less of the world population due to their small populations, for example included country Ireland with its 4 million people, compared to that of India with its 1200 million, or thereabouts. Thankfully there were some exceptions, making it not purely a first world affair; Venezuela, perhaps being the most refreshing and memorable response:
“Understand this: our cities are born from a different society. We cannot imitate them. Ours (the third world) is different. It has different roots and another fate. Your recipes, which are the recipes of entertainment, are useless to us. Let us mend our errors our way, and the consequences your outrage. Do not judge us without understanding us. In the future we may even be able to teach you something.”

And what about Los Otros?(the others)
“So who`s here in this funny garden, talking about stuff? what about those who cant get here, who have not been invited, did not have the money, for whom the life didn`t allow them experience “le pur pleasure d`existence” maybe that could be fixed, maybe we could invite them; Cuba, Albania, Sri Lanka, Mali, Kenya, Kibera, Chiapas, Rossport………… ”

Some people participating in the residentMETA workshop in the “French” Pavillion METAVILLA (or mets ta vie la, a clever word play translating as PUT YOUR LIFE HERE)…

decided that this state of exclussion of the majority of the people of this planet from this critical debate was a problem, but that it could be fixed: basically by inviting more people and regions, not just nation states, to participate in the dialogue that was happening. A widening the discussion initiave was begun and for one day a physical temporary Cuban pavilion existed in the giardini. Why Cuba? because Cubans were some of the METAVILLA residents at that time, Lucien Kroll and his friends had just finished their thoroughly enjoyable and perhaps most critical week of discussions that happened at the Bienalle: Moments D`Architectures.


That finished by talking about real architectural and urban actions we can take to make our world more ecological, which led to the screening that night in the new Temporary Cuban Pavillion of Power of community, how Cuba survived peak oil.

The rest of the places on the above list were not communicated with for their input, but plans are in place to continue the work that was begun in 2006.

Moving from global to local, the attendence and participation of the local Venetians in this big exhibition in their town seemed to be very low. 1895 was the first art Bienale, which simply means bi-annual. From speaking with people it seems that many local people pack up and leave the strange island of Venice while the exhibition is on. They see it as a pricey, exclussive, non imporant event with little or no relationship to them and their lives. The cost of entrance is high and no concessions or open nights were made for the locals, that we are aware of anyway. Again METAVILLA residents felt this was a negative situation so they challenged it; they organised events within the security controlled giardini in which the pavillion exists and invited locals to enter freely, attend and participate in the parties, the discussions, workshops…..

———- Costs

The ticket for entry was around $15, which was divided into 2 parts, 1 for the arsenale and one for the giardini. The people exploring the Bienalle seemed to be mostly already part of the art/ architecture / urban community, very few non-architectural type people seemed to attend, I wonder if there is interest. Perhaps making the entire event free might change things, or at least having some free open days or a free entry concession for the Venetians..

The findings from the Bienalle are excellent in terms of the depth of their research, but as far as I know, there is no online space to access all this material. Instead the exhibitions accompanying book must be bought and at $145.00 that is just out of the price range of many. Given how important the topic is and what I said earlier about participation I would propose that each public library in the world be given a copy, or more simply that the material could be freely accessible on the biennalle website.

———- Communication

Another commendable thing at this Biennalle was the introduction of the Venice SuperBlog:
“Venice SuperBlog is broadcast from the Italian Pavilion and acts as a portal between the Biennale and the world. We invite you to explore the website and leave your comments.”

but again it had its problems… which led to pirate hijacking of communication systems

“who gets to share their views, who is invited?, are there open spaces for people to share views, are they free, who gets to listen, access to these views…..
the question raised about “architecure, cities and society” is huge and too important to only get discussed by those in the loop, those “professionals”, those who others think have the solutions.”

At present, it is a closed shop with walls around it which leads to only a fraction of society being bothered about it and its questions or findings. Open it up, make it accessible to all. Make it free and let those who desire otherwise continue to financially assist.

———- Seeing the Bienale as a dialogue and not a monologue.

the experts came in week 0, before the public, they walked the grounds, they saw the exhibitions, they talked their talk, drank all their wine, and whatever else those specialists do??

after, probably while nursing a hangover, reports were written about the content of the bienalle and they were supposed to do for the extent of the months after, when the public, whoever they are, came and saw, spoke, wondered, criticised, applauded, laughed, loved, hated….

Having lived in METAVILLA for over 3 weeks, having seen all of the exhibition, been at a few events and having spent time talking with people on the doors of many pavillions I think I am in a good position to argue that the Bienalle is, or perhaps should be more of, a dynamic system: an ever widening, roaming, probing, wandering, questioning, ongoing investigation. In short, a dialogue. This was the central raison d’etre of the French Pavillion : “an architectural act is being performed…The welcome of strangers, implacably “other”, is more than ever a relevant act.”. Its a pity that some of the VSB’s professionals didnt stick around to participate in some of the extremely pleasent dialogues that happened over the quarter year of METAVILLA‘s EXZTence

The wider dialogue…

As a good friend said…
“It is not so much a question of how architectural criticism can serve architecture, but of how architecture may be a medium for critical activity.”
in reference to the essay on by Roemer van Toorn : Architecture Against Architecture (Radical Criticism Within Supermodernity)

I would argue that there has recently been an explosion of critical activity which has come about for a few reasons

1 – paradigm shift,
2 – new tek
3 – new mechanisms of organisation and action

leading to a requestioning of exis

So now that the architectural world has started to address the critical dialogue of our time : what must we do to survive here as a species. Perhaps this community, which has so much creativity, ideas and dreams to offer, might participate more with the wider community and together a wider discussion might grow.

having a strong architectural theory which prompts action which often takes the form of interactions in space, which is a type of architecture in its own right, to

mayday 2005

mayday 2005

So architecture and dissent was what prompted this post, so it is fitting to direct you to the international DISSENT network which are busy preparing for the upcoming meeting of the G8 in Germany

Climate Justice Now!

, what could perhaps be described as, the most critical debate the human species needs to address, continually work on and with, and from that have successful sustainable architecture come from (whatever that is, we still need to find out)

and just to remind you that all this stuff is nothing new check out the film The U.S. versus John Lennon


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