paul roncken

ideas on landscape and design

Month: May, 2013

extra post May, Archiprix International 2013: environments of agreement


Archiprix International 2013

Last week the inspiringly important Architectural Design competition Archiprix International, for graduating designers was presented by a few ceremonial events. This Biennale event – of which, as a member of the board, I am partly responsible for – was hosted by Moskou as a joint venture of its two architectural institutes, the Strelka and the MARKHI. From all continents of the world, the best graduation works in Architecture, Urbanism and Landscape Architecture were presented, discussed and priced. The Archiprix formula consists of a peer reviewed competition that equalizes the different design disciplines and offers a preceding international workshop, lead by inspiring designers that know about the local conditions of the host – in this respect Moskou. In the end 25 works were short listed from initially 287 projects from 76 countries, and seven price winners stood out. Four projects from Chili (!) were priced of which a few with almost minim interventions but strong social and material implications and almost all projects revealed a tight urban/landscape/architectural integration. Material recycling, alienating mega-city environments and strong sublime landscape experiences were the themes that sifted through. It is these themes and the general notion I received from the workshop presentation, that I wish to reflect upon.

The last price winners on stage, The Tiedje sisters from Berlin, reflected on a recognizable shift in the way design is made into an instrument of use for architects. They referred to the workshop discussions where they noticed an older generation of predominant male architects who continuously bashed the results of the teams as being too benign, too little stylish and architecturally enforced and most of all, too mediocre for the heroic position of the architect. For the sake of clarity, these remarks were aimed at the group works and not the individual graduation works. This ‘older generation’ was almost embarrassed by the visibly seeking attitude within the group work. Working in a group on a project in Moskou seemed to result in a collective embrace of the gentle and generous character of a welcoming architect to facilitate what individuals and communities need, what material scarcity will enforce human societies and what sublime interaction must be confronted to deal with living landscapes.

The arising group of architects, urbanist and landscape oriented designers gathered in a new global precondition to first listen and only thereafter act to find the right claim on the space and time of a more personalized environment. I support the position of the incredibly talented – as their individual works clearly reveal – and at the same time daringly slow revolution of empathic interventions. Their statements are not as strong as the well known historic examples of earlier enigmatic proposals such as by Buckminster Fuller or Superstudio, bearing a characteristic neutral environment for impersonal collective blankness. On the contrary, there is a much less graphical and imposing trend if we compare it to the 1960/1970‘s ideologies. The now forthcoming generation does not seem to believe in strong graphical ideologies, they believe in engagement and mutual exchange. The architect is not the expert that knows, it rather it is the professional that has encouraging eyes and can sense and smell what is latently present. By first taking a step back, after a precarious attempt to map the current situation, they would rather await the response of the real owners and carriers of the problem and only then will help by creating apt and perhaps more event-like interventions that in some cases could even deny the material looks of stylishness.

I believe that I can see and encourage this attitude without any shame for the architectural tradition, because I recognize the philosophical and socio-psychological development of this position. This is – finally – the open (and willingly vulnerable) and pluriform (and willingly shared) enactment that was first described by the earlier ‘post-modernists’ such as Francois Lyotard. It has now matured because of a series of experiences and instruments that were not yet present in the decade of Lyotard. But the idea is the same. It needed to become grounded in the experience of mutual involvement. The many individuals that now study architecture and design to influence the world, have all lived the experience of mutual involvement by all the easy accessible types of communication and social engagement outside the classrooms and outside the official architectural conditioning. What they bring to the tradition of architecture and design is their own sense of place and time, as an almost de-ideologized environment. All individuals are victimized by ideologies of more dominant persons and regimes, that is no point of discussion anymore. Ideology is no problem if all agree, so what we need is an environment of agreement and that is exactly what the young architects, urbanists and landscapers wish to produce, at this moment.

The environment of agreement is not something that can be imposed by the trained designer. All the designer can do is help to map the current sphere of conditions and thereby track the lacking aspects of involvement. The mapping is needed and essential and can be done with only little involvement of local people. Yet to proceed, the real voice of the ones that need to agree cannot be absent. This may appear to be too vulnerable to the heroic position of the architect and it may even appear to kill the profession, as keynote speaker Adriaan Geuze pointed out. I can relate to those question marks because it is indeed a vulnerable stance. At the same time, there is no need to fight and suggest a more powerful and warning posture. Fighting implies warzone but there is a different need that has obviously nested in the hearts and beliefs of those that will shape the profession, the need for agreement. It is only logical that such agreement is in need of a sense of safety to be able to speak openly. Similar to the condition that children need to feed their own type of sublimity, as in my earlier post here. To admit that you do not want to be exceptional, but would rather remain who you are, instead of becoming what others project onto you, or what glossies and competitions project onto you. To enjoy your simple (perhaps even mundane) environments instead of to be enforced to live the architectural dream as in the ‘voluntary prison’ pointed out by Rem Koolhaas.

In this respect the whole scene of a competition and international workshop with celebrated masters and fashionable expressions is disruptive. It creates a paradox and characterizes a split personality. This however may be typical for a transitional period. We the former ones, organizing competitions, seek out what the youngsters desire. In this act, we must discuss and encourage, be disappointed and disagree.

So I want to challenge all my readers to do so. What is your position?

In remembrance of the Wheel of Time

fictional main character - Rand Al'Thor

fictional main character – Rand Al’Thor

Today appears to be an ordinary day, yet from an imaginative perspective it is a colossal day. Today I finished reading the last book of a long series of highly detailed landscape fantasies: The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson who took over when Jordan died in 2007). It was only in this fourteenth book that the finale was shaped into that what has been awaited by me and many other fans for over 22 years.

Imagine that! Reading a series for 22 years. Fourteen books that have been spaced apart at an average of eighteen months. As a slow and deeply engaged reader I probably spent three months of reading each book, knowing that I had to wait for more than a year before the next volume would be printed. So even though I always bought first edition copies, I still had to wait and anticipate the continuation of the plot for at least fifteen months each year. In total I have spent 42 (14 x 3) months being absorbed into a world to allow an extraordinary intimacy. To become engaged in the landscapes, the characters and the many narrative phenomena for about three and a half year – which is about the exact time of the development of the plot in the whole series; and at the same time to wait in anticipation for the rest of the story for a much larger number of seventeen years!

Those numbers are sinking in on me and they display an unprecedented imaginative involvement. The experience of reading these books is partly captured by this extraordinary time-shift. Never have I been involved with such a detailed apprehension over such a long stretch of time. Is this comparable to a meditative state of being, being aware and engaged in the moment yet somehow stretched for seventeen more years? Is it comparable to the engagement of storytelling in an Aborigines type of dream experience? A dream time experience of rich detail, provoking deep wisdom and maturation? Is it like a coma that last for almost two decades?

It feels like I have been part of family history that is told at the fires at night, to bind all those present in an encompassing experience. Three months a year, in the darkest of days, for 22 years, the story is continued and yet it only involves a maturation process of the characters of three and a half years. Such a detailed analyses and extended life lesson! As if you are allowed to consider what to do, time and again, until you get it absolutely right. Thanks to the brilliant storyteller the plot of the narrative puts every detail and side character in the right position. All the pieces are dealt with and make sense. As if you are allowed to see the fabric of life patterns forming, dissolving and reforming.

The Greek rhetorician Longinus (third century) made it very clear in his “Peri Hypsous” (on the act of great elevation), that such a story can only be great and compelling when it contains a flaw. In elevation there must be something which is waiting to be perfected by the audience. The style that enables such elevation, also necessarily includes the character of the one who performs: ‘Sublimity is the echo of a great soul’ (Longinus, p. section IX). The echo together with a trained style and skill will enable to find the right conjunction to an all inclusive nature and its mysteries. Perfection is not a perfected style of art or object alone (Longinus, p. section XXXVI). It other words, Hypsous is not an aesthetic style to create a perfect object or poem, but rather a technique to include both the one who performs and the audience in the creation of something that exceeds both, to gain both imaginative and physical elevation.

There are thus three aspects needed if you plan to perform such a compelling narrative performance:

The one that performs (a great soul)
The (flawed) style by which the performance is shaped (causing elevation)
The response of the audience (transported by the impression that what is said, is one’s own idea)

The vast timespan and intensive landscape descriptions, together with the long anticipation time in between the printing of the books, allowed me to respond to the flaws of the characters in the books. If the audience does not participate in creating the depth of the soul, it does not exist. Soul is not something outside humans, it is inside them and every soul listens to a particular call. A call that can only be uttered by the person who owns the soul.

In remembrance of all the fallen and remaining characters in the books and with deepest gratitude to Jordan and Sanderson for such a great imaginative experience.

link to landscape maps of each book:

%d bloggers like this: