extra post May, Archiprix International 2013: environments of agreement

by paulroncken

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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?