We publish some of the correspondence of Non-Professional Practice, a series which was sparked by 3 years of conversations at Harvard GSD, and by Sol’s advice to “learn to say ‘Fuck you’ to the world once in a while”. Artists, curators, writers, architects, designers, and students speaking to practice as a form of constant interrogation of the self, of failure and experimentation, of leaps and stumbles, of adaptation and restlessness.
Imagine, the revolution has broken out and architecture has nailed its colours to the mast. It has opted for change.
We’re sharing the experiences of Rodrigo Tomás and his firm RETA, the topic of Reinier de Graaf’s forthcoming novel The Masterplan, to be published in the fall of 2020.
At the 2018 Venice Biennale the Unfolding Pavilion was praised as one of the best exhibitions to visit. With one catch: the Biennale knew nothing about it. Now that they are about to launch the new exhibition on December 17th, Francesco Degl’Innocenti talks to the minds behind the initiative – Daniel Tudor Munteanu, Davide Tommaso Ferrando and Sara Favargiotti – about the genesis, the physiology and the future mutations of this curatorial parasite.
If there is a system change today, it is the way default solutions are being questioned and powers are forced to move. If not away, then at least in a direction they previously thought unthinkable.
“We need to reimagine…”, “we need to reimagine…”. How many times have we heard these 4 words in the last 1000 zoom sessions?
From coerced co-habitation to broken logistic flows, this locked-down world is neck-deep in spatial issues. Then why are architects, masters of spatial intelligence, left screaming their solutions underwater?
Eventually, Susy found a job in an industrial warehouse. The company, one of the fastest growing online supermarkets in the country. A company which of course she’d never heard of before.
In parallel to Volume #56 Playbor, we publish a series of texts exploring the different aspects of work conditions. This article focuses on the distribution, the measure and the appreciation of the leisure time, in an age where the line between work and leisure is thinning.
Can these two notions, precarity and entrepreneurialism, apparently distant, coexist? In his book Entreprecariat, Silvio Lorusso aptly addresses the uncanny coincidence of precarity and entrepreneurialism as “two sides of the same perverse coin”. Such discordance is precisely what qualifies the subject that he calls entreprecarious.
In addition to the interview published in Volume 56, we release some more material from that conversation that we couldn’t include in print. Enjoy!
For centuries, work was labor and for the larger part of society it was something you did to survive, not because you liked to. With the development of capitalism, the industrial society, and the exponential diversification in work and jobs, this gradually changed.
There once was a time when work and leisure were separate realms: you worked or you played. These days, playing is work and work demands playing. Who’s fooling who, may we ask?
How do we live forever? Cultural memory is something which binds individuals together across time and space, creating the sense that although mortal, there is a greater continuity persisting both in the pre-life and after-life.
The establishment of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in 2003 marked a profound shift in the custodial objectives of UNESCO as an organisation and the mechanisms it utilises preserve global culture. Since the introduction of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (WCH) in 1972, Unesco policy had, to that point, been driven and dominated by a single, concise, and ultimately incomplete mandate; namely, the evaluation and preservation of material structures.
One thing gentrification thrives on is heritage. Whether it is the grand redbrick houses of a run-down neighbourhood, or the rich and diverse culture of working-class areas, the middle-class drivers of gentrification are attracted by a sense of history. But as much as gentrification fetishizes heritage, it consumes it, mutates it, and sometimes destroys it.
We’re hunter gatherers by nature (yes, women too). And hoarders. We cling onto stuff. We collect during the significant moments of life, only to let go when we move house or get within eye sight of our final destination. There is a fine line between ‘to possess’ and ‘to be possessed’, but either way, there are not many of us that take pride in owning nothing. Whoever had the opportunity to visit one of the main interior lifestyle fairs in Europe or elsewhere will recognize the feeling of despair in the face of the limitless amounts and varying multitudes of ‘stuff’. And yet, we don’t seem to want to do without (anytime soon).
Discover the full Volume 55 ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ editorial.
When it comes to heritage, the material remains of our presence in the past, the max we do is to protect and preserve. Respect for what was takes over from engagement with what is, or can be.
In Volume 54 we look at what biennials promise and what we actually get; we look at who is pulling the strings and for whom they are made. But first and foremost we check what a biennial can do.
Shortly after the release of Volume 53: Civic Space, we realized that we left out a crucial group of stakeholders, animals. Starting from the ecosystem designed for the ‘Chickenville’ project, we discussed our shortcoming with SKROZ Architecture. Our conversation, informally carried out via messaging apps, shone a light on yet another sensitive term of mediation often forgotten in architecture: humour.
When dealing with public space, time is rarely considered a variable in the equation. Quick to go to the square as the place where collective political action takes place, we often forget to think when such actions happen and what strategy might support them.
Jason Adams, Seattle-based media and political theorist, argues for political action on, in and through time – what might be called kairopolitics.
Although the intrinsic immateriality of the digital realm is by nature opposed to the tangible society we live in, its architecture has been designed and shaped by humans and comes with direct consequences in user’s lives and behavioural patterns. For years, the digital space has been the topic of numerous papers and studies; to Yin Aiwen, it is now time to work on a new school of thought that would be the foundation of a wider societal reflexion on the Digital, through the discipline of ‘Cyber-urbanism’.
As the Chief Government Architect of The Netherlands Floris Alkemade is advising the cabinet on spatial quality, upon request or at his own initiative. He does so together with two other members of the Government Board of Advisors. Francesco Degl’Innocenti sat with him to discuss his ambitions in that role and the reach and limits of his arm. The conversation went from Mies to Mahler and from prisons to loneliness in the city.
Recently I had to move my books. Unavoidably one starts reading. And, as the law of serendipity predicts, what the eye meets has a direct relation to one’s own preoccupations. In this case my eye was attracted by publications on public space and the role of design from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. And it made me aware that those discussions were pretty innocent.
With a variety of authors, VOLUME #53 investigates these physical and virtual spaces –
and the kinds of agency used to negotiate them – through the lenses of Institutions and
Guus Beumer scrutinizes Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl Halftime Show and detects a new role for the audience, with far-reaching consequences for design disciplines.
Most people focus on object and form. Not Keller Easterling. She’s drawn to the in-between. Challenging the binaries of formal-informal, practical-impractical, like-dislike, right-wrong, Easterling points at extemporaneous design thinking that works with potentials and indeterminate forms. In this frame, space is an informational system where discrepancies between what an organization is saying and is actually doing open new territories for design to intervene.
Nowadays, it seems to be everywhere – the urban environment that feels smooth, polished and perfect. All buildings seem either new or renovated, and are generally in an excellent condition. Its public spaces are well-designed, well-maintained, clean and safe, if you conform to the rules. All spaces seem to be scripted according to the dominant norms and the needs of capital, and are populated by a socially, culturally and aesthetically homogenous crowd. New technologies offer seamless, on-demand services for almost everything.
Can I invite you to participate in a conversation on what’s not a concept or a clear idea, but a hunch at best? The subject is the relation between formal and informal and how this may be changing due to the introduction of new technologies and the way these are used. The bricolage of fragments this speculation is constructed of looks as follows
In occasion of Volume #52 ‘The End of Informality’, Degl’Innocenti goes back to his MA years, when the students had the widespread ambition to intervene on informality, but the process to achieve that was less straightforward than envisioned beforehand.
Informality can be interpreted as a positive quality hinting at individual freedom or even be romanticized as bottom up and empowering force. But informality as safety valve for a system that is not able to adjust to changing conditions smoothly and quickly enough is another matter.
‘Reinventing the fringe’ is a critical reconsideration of post-war urban areas on the fringe of nine European cities, viewed from the perspectives of sustainability, social cohesiveness, mobility and land use.
Jaap Bakema and the Open Society is the first extensive book publication on the Dutch architect Jaap Bakema, his ideas and ideals for society at large. Throughout the post-WWII decades Bakema was inspired to build for a democratic and open society. His body of work, his teaching and writing, and his international presence are testimony to the vicissitudes of the welfare state and the roles played by architecture and planning in its construction.
Books People Places and Archis/Volume invite you to join the conversation during the launch event of V51 Augmented Technology on January 30th at Theater O-TonArt in Berlin.
‘Space and Time’, a duet of dimensions that brings to mind David Bowie’s epic figure Major Tom. Singing and floating in space, lost in time. “Planet Earth is blue, and there is nothing I can do.” A victim of what? His own drug use? Technology?
Whatever explanation we prefer, we are gradually entering a new world of digital, or virtual reality, which is just as uncertain and fascinating. This technological revolution will also influence the architecture profession. Will it eventually render the profession completely obsolete?
People scatter heaps of data to the wind, knowingly and unknowingly, but only a few outside of tech institutions truly understand how data is being used and the simulations that it feeds. Mainly because ‘Computer Simulation’ is a tricky concept, perceived as one of two: either a practical engineering tool such as wind simulators and economic models; or as a copying tool, an agent of digital fakeness – special effects in movies, Google’s Earth and the blue-skyed images made to sell apartments before they are built.
Last year, Felix Madrazo and Adrien Ravon led the ‘Ego City’ research studio at The Why Factory at
TU Delft. It was one of a series of studios that explored the themes of density and desires. Ego City
focused on the individual and ways to claim and create space. In doing so, it questioned traditional
methods of using design to create a better future for all and probed the viability of post-design
Since its early days, the humanoid we call Homo sapiens has always been obsessed with gaining control.
Creating optimal conditions for its safety and comfort is the story of its life. The way Homo sapiens, aka ‘the
human’, confronted this self-imposed challenge was by design.
As recent technological advancement became more and more pervasive and sophisticated, its consequences became more dramatically evident. In this context, design takes on a new relevance, in organizing and managing spaces, individuals, relations and ultimately societies. But if this is clear, several questions have to be answered: Who is driving it, who are the participants, who are sitting around the table? Does spatial design currently have a say in this, and if not, how can it participate and intervene
While working on the theme of V51 we did not only learn new facts on technology, but we were also confronted by the different ways in which technology is perceived, especially from certain architectural communities.
In the last post, we stated our intention to map the field of technology and to dig deeper in certain areas. After discussing possible categories we focused on evaluating the critical tools at hand to craft V51, in particular questioning the efficacy of mapping.
Once upon a time technology was a word to define all those tools that humans used to do things, being them compasses or cranes. As technology became ubiquitous and much more complex the term acquired a much vaguer meaning: it started to indicate the very condition we live in. Perhaps the previous use was too partial, I agree. But when DNA can be edited with a software, Internet is supported by satellite infrastructure, cars can drive themselves and Google knows your routine better than your own friends; where do you start speaking about technology? and in relation to architecture?
Design is, by definition, inhuman. We humans design, yet we do not, cannot really, at least not yet, design humans. Yet the boundaries of contemporary design increasingly encroach upon the real. The design of fleshy bodies, genetics, entire species, landscapes, territories, and even planets are becoming no longer mere fantasies. But do we really know how to design, to think, to be creative, to be careful, to be responsible, to be innovative, to be progressive both at and between such scales?
While the Istanbul Biennial questions ‘Are We Human?’, Volume explores the post-human world of Artficial Intelligence and Machine Learning. It’s not about the future, not about promise, it’s very much about the here and now. Please join us coming Friday (October 28) for an informal gathering at Post Office, Rotterdam to exchange on this life changing topic.
The data-saturated environment we live in today was already there almost half a century ago; it’s just that the nature of data has changed. Data used to be much more spatial, more architectonic, and the means of locating oneself in, and navigating through, such a space could be revealed by architectural theory and critique. With data only penetrating deeper into our cognitive realm by the day, what is there for architecture to say?
To see housing as a fundamental human right is a relatively new concept with consequences for law, justice and politics. In issue 46: Shelter, Volume published Abla el Bahrawy’s quick scan of the first formulation of this universal right and its further development into an action agenda in consecutive UN-Habitat conferences to promote and secure this right globally.
Machines need to learn to be able to act on their own. It’s a debatable question whether we want, or need, machines to do so, but the trend toward automation, is undeniable. Autonomous machines are being trusted with increasing responsibility in maintaining and providing for contemporary society, and we are finally finding out what happens to the human after the machines take over.
The concept of the ‘tipping point’ is a properly Cartesian understanding of history. It not only presumes that there is such a thing as ‘before’ and ‘after’, but also that we will be able to recognize and identify its difference to a single moment in time. This used to work, when historical events were things like wars, and we could organize our collective energies to effect the course of history. But now that events take place at the speed of light and even at a quantum level, how can we know when we’re already past where?
With the rise of computational networks and power, cognitive models developed and debated over in the postwar decades have finally been able to be put to work. Back then, there was a philosophical debate raging alongside the burgeoning field of computer science theory on the nature of consciousness. Yet with the proliferation of data and the centralization of its archives, theoretical practice moved from conceptual experiments to empirical tests.
Volume #49: Hello World!, the third in our Learning series, seeks to take one small step in the direction towards understanding the contemporary relevance of machines for architecture, and one giant leap for mankind. It includes ‘In Loving Support’, a 32-page insert produced with Het Nieuwe Instituut on living and working with algorithms.
“Can contemporary architectural research learn anything from the military principle of incitatory operations?” asked Eyal Weizman in Volume #16: Engineering Society. Today, almost a decade later, with military operations taking place in the five continents and radical groups increasingly gaining power, Weizman’s inquiry still feels relevant.
Eight years ago, Volume dedicated issue 16 to Social Engineering. It was like swearing in the church, a no go zone, radioactive stuff. Would the mild form of social engineering advocated by Ernsten and Janmaat in V16 be a way to go? To mediate between global and local, between neighborhood and country, between the self and the collective?
Gaming is an interesting field of experimentation in simulating the urban environment. It also has the potential to help in the design of buildings and cities. Among the promising aspects of gaming are the decentralized and local processes that are currently applied in the latest generation of multiuser games.
As the newly crowned Architect of Change, Barack Obama must convince and inspire a wide range of groups, factions and movements. His inauguration address attempted to reunite what the preceding administration left fragmented and to address each and every group in order to underline that Obama is the president for all Americans. Brendan McGetrick dissects the wordsmith’s architecture.
Connection is a popular motif in design: all types of infrastructure – bridges, pathways, transportation, service systems and applications – wish to tie into the urban fabric to make things productive. However, there is also an opposite tendency: the act of disconnection. Amelia Borg and Timothy Moore ponder how one can physically remove themselves from the communication of things.
In April 2010 Cloud Lab visited the Asada Synergistic Intelligence Project, a part of the Japanese Science and Technology Agency’s ERATO project. In an anonymous meeting room surrounded by cubicles we met with Hiroshi Ishiguro to talk about the future of robotics, space and communications.
The conflicting processes, which can both define or change borders and which classify who is ‘inside’ of Europe or who stays ‘outside’ of Europe can be labeled with the concepts of ‘inclusion’ and ‘exclusion’. The ongoing demarcation of ‘us’ and ‘them’ characterize debates on multiple levels, such as negotiations on EU enlargement and on definitions of citizenship, immigration and participation in decision-making.
In light of recent political events and those to come in the United States and beyond, we’ve decided to dig into our archive and pull out some uncannily relevant articles. The first, originally published ten years ago in Volume #7: Power Logic (Architecture of Power, Part 3), is a reflection by Gwenda Blair on the rise of Donald Trump and cultures of salesmanship.
The Ganges River is India’s largest and most densely populated water basin. A lifeline to millions of people and carrying enormous celestial significance, the river is also severely polluted and suffers from dramatic droughts and floods. Vere van Gool spoke with Anthony Acciavatti to discuss the decade he spent navigating the Ganges and the new reading he was able to construct of this sacred river.
Volume #48: The Research Turn contains the exhibition catalogue for BLUE: The Architecture of UN Peacekeeping, the Dutch entry at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia, by Malkit Shoshan. BLUE focuses on the most prominent footprint of the United Nations’ peacekeeping operations: the compound.
Can design contribute to improving the living standards of populations in conflict zones? On Thursday 7 July, Het Nieuw Instituut organizes Thursday Night: Reflecting On Venice: Design Positions at the Front. During this event, a conversation with the curators of the Austrian, German and Dutch pavilions of the Venice Architecture Biennale takes place.
Architectural practice requires a degree of intimacy and insight into complex sets of forces. While building is architecture’s bread and butter, it’s not always the best format to make a statement. It’s sometimes not even the most appropriate language to respond to a brief. Volume spoke with Reinier de Graaf of OMA/AMO about how research and media can become a vessel for political agendas.
The political left has had a rough few decades; everything just seems to be going in the other direction. Instead of romanticizing what it would be like ‘only if’, we’d better get to work on figuring out how to turn the engine of progress around. Volume spoke with Adrian Lahoud about the stakes of architectural research within the academy today and how it might contribute to moving towards the horizons of the left.
“Today it’s not so important what you know but rather how you think. Progress, in this sense, is predicated by critical reflection on ways of knowing and disciplinary traditions of thought. This issue of Volume – the second in our series on learning – is dedicated to mapping the contemporary field of research that is pushing processes of knowledge production forward in architecture, art and the social sciences.”
During the Venice Biennale 2016, Volume organizes ‘Whose Side Are You On?’: a breakfast discussion on the possible role of architecture in UN Peacekeeping Missions. In addition, Volume #48: The Research Turn will be officially launched.
An opinion-piece by ArchDaily’s Jesse Connuck in response to Nick Axel’s essay ‘Cloud Urbanism: Towards a Redistribution of Spatial Value’ as featured in Volume #47: The System*.
Dredging is the mechanical process that keeps water, water. Yet due to natural fluid dynamics, silting is an ongoing process. So we have to continuously take subaquedous sediment from one place and move it to another, releasing a host of disruptive ecological processes along the way. The Open Workshop has developed a strategy for Toledo, Ohio to use dredged material for both extending the city’s civic space and cleaning up Lake Eerie.
The welfare state was pretty great while it lasted, wasn’t it? Yeah, those were the days, golden, even. But now, sad to say yet no point to lament times have changed; things are different. Planning used to be the way society would stay on track and moving forward. Today, for better or worse, we have the market. There are reasons why the market came to take the place of the state, but the real question is, now that we have it, how can we make the market work for us?
The central hub of the United Parcel Service (UPS) processes, on average, 1.6 million packages per day. That’s almost twenty per second. Such an intense flow forces operations to be internally consistent, but also demands an enormous amount of flexibility due to unpredictable externalities. What if a road is closed, or a machine breaks? Ghazal Jafari investigates the UPS’s contingency management system and looks at this logistical behemoth venturing into new territories.
Latin America is a place, but it’s also a project. Its history as a colonial project gave birth to a radical one of decolonization. With revoutionaries like Simón Bolívar and José de San Martin, the idea of Latin America as a collective whole emerged and has persisted up to this day. Godofredo Pereira looks at the failed proposal of a pipeline running between three countries to question whether such a mechanism can’t be used to realize such a project, that of Latin America itself.
It’s not the latest Hollywood production, the ultimate sound experience, or Apple’s next level consumer lock-in product line. And despite its ominous ring, it isn’t the enemy either, like how the NSA is framed as one. THE SYSTEM* indicates the complex interaction of the economy, professional practice and personal choice. The asterisk draws attention to the ambiguity of such a term while hinting at an intention to change ‘it’, whatever it is.
THE SYSTEM* indicates the complex interaction of the economy, professional practice and personal choice. The asterisk draws attention to the ambiguity of such a term, while hinting at an intention to change ‘it’, whatever it is. What the system does, on the other hand, is perhaps more easily understood: it organizes things. The system is a set of institutions and infrastructures that shape the contours of resource flows and modulate the rhythms of material cycles. The system doesn’t just distribute and determine availability though; it frames the imagination and conditions creative activity there within.
Two recent trends have recently emerged from the United States’ real estate market that pick up on societal transformations in the way architecture and the city is inhabited. If synchronized, they stand to alter the principles underriding contemporary logics of urban development. They do so by embodying an alternative system of values, framing its spatial articulation as a critical design project.
Life is rough in the concrete jungle; only the strongest survive. Yet when it comes to things like plants or animals, qualities of agility and dexterity trump physical size or brute force. Indeed, we like to think that the city is ours – that it belongs to us humans – but pests thrive in the city much better than us. The city can be alienating and make us feel like we are completely detached from nature, when in fact ‘nature’, the non-human, is all around us. Urban Fauna Lab reports on communities from throughout the globe who look for love in all the obvious places – so obvious we might not think to look.
Photographer Steven Wassenaar his work on Paris’ slums has been nominated for de Zilveren Camera 2015. Steven made contributions to Volume, among which his article ‘Coping with Slums and Slabs’ for Volume #16: Engineering Society, which focuses on France’s urban policy towards slum-living.
On Wednesday 27 January, The Rijksmuseum will host the launch of ‘Aldo van Eyck, Seventeen Playgrounds’. The book, by Anna van Lingen and Denisa Kollarova, highlights and discusses the seventeen remaining playgrounds in Amsterdam by Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck.
The introduction of digital technology into spatial contexts of refuge mobilizes a virtual geography of information, such as how many refugees are there, how many are HIV positive or pregnant, and where are they moving to. By inserting digital technology in the process of basic aid, human rights have been transposed to the digital sphere, yet incorporating advanced digital infrastructures in contexts where bricks and bread would be more than enough initiates a self-eliminating hoax, seeing as how, frankly, it is the exact same digital technology that keeps famines in place, targets relief-hospitals with drones and leaves migrants to drown. When we are all just one scan and click away to be saved, are we also too easily and often left to fate?
Ben Vickers – Curator of Digital at the Serpentine Galleries and initiator of unMonastery – sat down with Vinay Gupta – one of the world’s leading thinkers on infrastructure theory, state failure solutions, and managing global system risks – to speak about practices and politics of decentralization. In 2002 Gupta invented an open-source solution to ‘house the world’. The hexayurt shelter is designed to be manufactured anywhere in the world at any scale and from local materials.
It’s still one of the world’s major concerns: shelter. Last year saw a sad record in the number of people seeking shelter: fleeing violence or hopeless poverty, looking for safety, stability and perspective. This year won’t be any better. And despite its complexities, public and political discussion reduced it to the all too simple question who will be sheltered, where, and who will provide for this.
Shelter is most immediately associated today with conditions of disaster, displacement and destitution. There is an inherent urgency to the word; it is first and foremost a necessity, a human right even. Yet thought of as the absolute minimum necessary to survive, shelter is an architectural stigma. Shelter is not a thing though; shelter is a verb; if there is such a thing as shelter, it is because whatever it is, shelters. Volume #46: Shelter is dedicated to the question of how shelter can be reformulated as an architectural project.
Volume 45: Learning mainly focuses on alternative methods of learning. But what about the impressive machinery called school and education already in place? What is its presence globally and what are major developments? For his second contribution to this Volume issue, Leonardo Dellanoce dove into statistics and reports on national, regional and global education, with the intention to draft a global map. This proved far more complicated and time consuming than hoped for, yet some valuable insights were found along the journey.
Refugee camps are, by definition, meant to be temporary. Yet in Palestine refugee camps have existed for well over half a century, and architecture plays an exceptionally symbolic role. Every stone set is a representation of permanence and undermines the refugee’s political existence as such. Within these constraints, DAAR members were asked to design a girl’s school in the Shu’fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. The architectural result is a statement about life in exile and a vision beyond the tired dialectic of temporariness and permanence.
Back closer to the turn of the decade, OMA/AMO was invited to help found Strelka, a new pedagogical initiative in Moscow that sought to erase the distinction between academic and practical knowledge. The glove seemed to fit the hand perfectly, seeing as how AMO has expanded the limits of architectural practice and application of research into ever-new territories ever since it began. Now that it’s been taken off, we invited Reinier de Graaf to reflect about what it was like to actually put the glove on. What we got back was instead a high personal mediation on gloveness and the motives behind putting them on.
Radical Pedagogies is a project of collective intelligence. In that respect it is a scholarly and pedagogical experiment in its own right that questions traditional models of academic authorial production. It delves into the largely uncharted territory of extra-large collaborative projects that source expertise from a global network of scholars – a model with a large history in the academic fields of the sciences but rarely the humanities. Radical Pedagogies seeks to present a horizontal cut through architectural education throughout the second half of the twentieth century – a history of which, or multiple histories, has yet to be written.
The 2013 film The Competition follows an employee from Jean Nouvel office, a ‘head of projects’, navigating his level on the pyramidal scheme of organizing conventional contemporary architecture offices. (1) The image of this man, suffering the pressure of the genius-boss, trying to respond to deadlines with the effort of sufficiently trained and motivated young architects working behind him, neatly draws one of the professional glass ceilings that most accredited architects can expect in their working life.
It looks like all initiatives of self-reliant citizens seem to take place at the small scale of the house, the street or the neighborhood at most. But what does it mean for the larger scale of the city, the country or even transnationally? Archis Speaks Volumes #3 invites three experts to reflect on those larger scales and what kind of governing or ‘rules of the new game’ should be in place.
In 2000, the so-called ‘Millennium Development Goals’ were adopted by the UN, one of which was primary education for all. This was in the wake of the post-historical years that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall, in which a ‘Yes, we can!’ mentality was present (long before we had even heard of America’s first black president). Poverty, famine, malaria, and more – all problems that we can and should solve as global community; that was the spirit. In light of the program, this year’s results have been evaluated. Some goals prove to be tough, but education scores rather well. Not yet 100%, but if we can believe UN statistics, today 93% of all children between 6 and 12 receive primary school education.
While education is currently under financial and ideological pressure, learning is flourishing. Learning is not a self-contained period of time and place in which we magically transform into adults, but rather a life-long condition, a process that now permeates everywhere and everything at all times. For some learning is a luxury, yet for others it’s an economic necessity. Learning can be a tool of social liberation, but also one of financial subjugation and political oppression. In this issue of Volume, we’re thinking about what it means to learn: how it happens, where, by what, for whom, and why. Learning points us in a direction and gives us tools; does it also teach us how to use them and make a move?
Fabrizio Gallanti talks with Hans Ulrich Obrist for Volume #44.
Everything comes from somewhere. It’s a fact so self-evident it hardly feels worth saying. But beyond this obvious truth, provenance is a powerful industry. As a capitalist tactic, it addresses the problem of anonymous mass-production through the added-value of meaning. And it is everywhere. As such, our daily routines have fundamentally changed. No longer a simple succession of actions, they are now a complex sequence of meaningful objects, objects that reveal stories reflecting our moral and personal character. In the shower we lather with locally produced handcrafted soap. Our coffee packaging reassures us that the Ethiopian crop worker – his name is Abraham – earns a living wage. The mug we drink from, as told by the sales clerk, is a Scandinavian classic. We slice into a tomato, knowing that at the farmer’s market we shook the farmer’s hand. These things make us feel good; they reaffirm our egos, assuage our guilt, and remind us that we are interested and interesting individuals. It is 8:30 in the morning.
The Modern subject is usually defined by its epistemological capacity. Enlightened at heart, it is composed of a body and a mind evolving in an homogeneous space and time; it is mostly conscious, aware of the world to the extent of his/her knowledge. This model for subjectivity continues to produce the city both formally and as an abstraction. If this model has been under criticism since it emerged, today, the lived experience of space is being transformed more directly than before through the devices, software and networks that affect the sensing capacity of the subject. As it is possible to access quantities of information at a distance, through deserts and walls, it is also possible to be governed in the same manner. This aspect of the contemporary urban experience has notably exposed the inadequacy of the dialectical separation between spheres that have produced the modern subject and its habitat: the modern city. How to think the city when the domestic is public, the personal is political, and reproduction is production? How is the city transformed by the digital quantification of space which indexes both the living and nonliving and allows it to be managed in almost real-time? These are only partial formulations of the actual challenges brought by the heterogeneous dynamics at work today with the evolution of labor, technologies and subjectivity. A contemporary analysis of the city needs to account for the destabilization of the dichotomies that still constitute the subject at large, whether they are body or mind, human or nonhuman, and material or immaterial. In this regard, there is something actually fascinating in the fact that objects or cities are now wished with a particular personality trait, and be called smart.
One of the more recent phenomena in a city’s public space is the ‘wrap’. Passing through the city, all of a sudden a familiar face is hidden from view, covered by a mesh of steel tubes and fine-grained nets. This all has to do with scaffoldings’ safety regulations, erected for a building façade’s maintenance. The nets hung around the temporary structure hide the building from view, making one wonder what it’ll look like when the job is done.
One of architecture’s histories is that of the art of display: architecture displaying power, political ambition, economic success, social agendas, or less mundane notions like dreams, convictions and belief. These days architecture has also become subjected to display: the display of architecture — in museums and collections, and in auctions for example. That adds but also distracts meaning; not every aspect of architecture can be displayed as easy. And what does a culture of display (be seen or perish) add to this condition?
Portugal faced a dramatic housing shortage in the early 1970’s that contributed to the energies of 1974’s revolution. One of the first acts of the new government was to institute new housing policies and institutions, Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local (SAAL, Service for Local Mobile Support), that focused on promoting the right to the city through collective processes of design, construction and management. Manifesting itself differently throughout the country, SAAL was irreparably altered just a few years later due to political conflict. Since then, the fates of these architectures and their built agendas have lay uncertain. What will be the legacy of this failed proletarian utopia?
If there is a moment to test a community’s resilience, it is after disaster has struck. Such situations often show a community pulling together in a shared feeling that ‘things’ have to be done, but also ambition to be involved and participate on an individual level. Christchurch, New Zealand was no exception when the city was ruined by a series of earthquakes. Yet, it may have come as a surprise for most to see how many people felt engaged and how many (temporary) projects were being proposed and executed. Maybe less surprising was the tendency among existing structures and powers to just carry on. The self-building city was welcomed at first, or maybe just tolerated by the powers that be, provided it wasn’t in the way of business as usual. So, how fundamental a change did we actually see?
Once upon a time ‘left’ equaled ‘collective’ and ‘right’ ‘individual’. Those were the days. Today, it looks like ‘left’ adopted a rightwing agenda in its plea for individual freedom and the right to choose. In the Netherlands, social-democrat politician Adri Duivesteijn advocated a different approach in the nation’s housing program: instead of continuing with top-down provision of the housing product by commercial developers and housing associations alike, stimulate and propagate individual house building. It seemed like swearing in church when this became political in the late 90s, but upon a closer look the policy stems from a consistent analysis of the individual’s place in society. Volume sat with former alderman, currently MP, Adri Duivesteijn to learn about the difference between the right to decide and the position to do so.
Alongside luxury developments and public displays of wealth, over half of Cairo’s urban population, a megacity of over 17 million, live in unplanned and self-built communities. Massive population shifts and a lack of governmental oversight fostered a culture of collaborative urbanism, incremental architecture and entrepreneurialism. Due to the explosive growth created in the power vacuum after the 2011 revolution, the government has formally recognized this informality and services have started being provided. How will these highly nuanced building practices be brought under the remit of planning policy and urban governance? Will they change in the process to produce new forms of urbanism, or will they be accepted and become the new official standard?
There is a theory that the more organized (read: developed) a society is, the less self-sufficient it becomes. All sorts of services and amenities, from housing to energy, from culture to justice, are centrally organized and distributed. But is that necessarily so? Or are we heading for a new order in which decentralized and self-reliant become the norm?
Recently, I learned about a new research program at Utrecht University focused on cycling. It is not part of their health department, as one might expect, but of a department specialized in modeling data. The researchers want to investigate cycling in the city as a complex system and produce a model to describe its dynamics. My first response was: people take their bike and move from A to B. How complex can that be? But with a little more information I started to understand that the bicycle has a dynamic relation with its surroundings. We take it for granted that an airport is a logistically complex system and has become a city on its own. We know that the car and the highway produce new functions and organize the distribution of them. We see that gas stations turn into super markets, that football stadiums are built next to or even across motorways, and so on. But the bicycle seems to escape such interactive relations. It is a faster way of walking, not a producer of space and program. But it is. With the ongoing growth of inner-city bicycle use to the detriment of the car, a kindergarten or daycare can be located in a street without parking facilities and yet be commercially viable. A small supermarket or baker will locate itself next door, taking advantage of the flow of potential customers bringing their children. If we see the bike as the producer of such arrangements, and not just as the means to reach them, we start to understand that to promote bicycle use and eventually even to exchange cars for bicycles in the city has far-reaching implications. There is more to it than constructing bike lanes and bike sheds. It’s changing the city’s systems.
Volume’s upcoming issue addresses how people’s initiative creates the city, focusing on housing. Temporariness is one of the conditions that favors small-scale and bottom-up initiative. Martynas Mankus discusses some realities.
Bureau Europa presents the third iteration of an exhibition of the work of architect Cedric Price and the first public appearance of some of his selected projects in the Netherlands. As a satellite component tot he exhibition, a special Cedric Price insert magazine is created in collaboration with Volume. Volume readers will find the insert in the back of Volume #42.