Is architecture important?
Architecture debate - as a part of the Lower Silesian Architecture Festival organized by the Association of Polish Architects Wrocław Branch
Wednesday 05.10, 6pm
Beautiful Tube, MWW Wrocław Contemporary Museum (2a Strzegomski Square)
Bogna Świątkowska – debate participant - cultural animator, journalist, the founder and head of “Bęc Zmiana New Culture Foundation” from Warsaw, organizer of cultural events in the city space and beyond, publisher of books and “Notes.na.6.tygodni” (www.funbec.eu)
Bartek Nawrocki - debate participant - architect, co-founder of jojko+nawrocki architekci architectural studio from Katowice, co-author of the best building of the Silesian province in 2011, Poland’s representative during the last year Venice Biennale of Architecture – exhibition of the most promising young studios (www.jna.com.pl)
Zbigniew Maćków - debate participant - architect, the founder of Maćków Pracownia Projektowa architectural studio, co-author of many important buildings in Wrocław and elsewhere, nominated for major awards in the architectural world, the president of the Lower Silesian Regional Chamber of Architects (www.mackow.pl)
Roman Rutkowski – debate moderator- architect and critic of architecture, the founder of Roman Rutkowski Architekci architectural studio, lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture in Wrocław and in Bratislava, independent expert for Mies van der Rohe awards (www.rr-a.pl)
What is it about?
The United Nations has recently issued a report stating that currently, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, more than half of the world's population lives in cities. According to this report, it’s only a part of a long-term and thought-provoking process: while 100 years ago only 10% of the world population lived in cities, by 2050 this figure will reach 75%, a significant part of which will constitute agglomerations of over 20 million of inhabitants in developing countries in Asia, South America and Africa. Can we: architects and urban planners – undoubtedly involved in urban space development – observe this process indifferently? Today, do we have any impact on it? Did we have any in the past? Can we have any in the future?
The above mentioned UN report has become the main topic of the 10th International Architectural Exhibition in Venice. The event’s theme: Cities, Architecture and Society was illustrated by an exhibition completely different than the previous ones. Richard Burdett - chief curator of the exhibition, a British urban planner who consults decisions of such important European cities as London and Barcelona – didn’t approach to the biennale in the way its previous curators did. He didn’t propose such an appealing topic only to pass on, after a few wise words of introduction, to a banal presentation of hundreds of formally original, even whimsical, designs from the most famous studios of the most civilized countries in the world. Taking deeply into consideration the UN report and willing to develop it in the best possible way, he stayed consistent till the end. The purpose of the 10th International Architecture Exhibition – as the Briton wrote in the introduction to the biennale’s catalog – is to inform as well as provoke a debate on the ways we shape the future of urban communities, precisely at the moment in which they have reached such a critical mass. The exhibition is an attempt to re-unite the physical structure of cities - their buildings, spaces and streets -which are of course most interesting ones for architects and urban planners - with social, cultural and economic aspects of the urban existence. For Burdett, architecture has been far too much isolated from this multidisciplinary debate, and thanks to bringing the daily life of cities around the world in the space of Venice [...] the 10th International Architecture Exhibition should become a significant attempt to answer one of the most important social questions that the twenty-first century‘s humanity will face.
Apparently, architecture is a form of art which organizes the surrounding environment. Apparently, there is always been a distinction between construction and architecture where there is much less of the latter. At the 10th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice architecture - as promoted in glossy printed architectural magazines and filled with beautiful photographs albums - was in fact absent. The ”colossal constructional mass” creating the cities presented during the exhibition was not art, and - what is even more important – it did not arrange space, in the way we are taught in schools of architecture around the world. Instead of architecture and its surroundings: well-arranged and profitable for the residents, what was presented on the exhibition boards was a lot of poor quality buildings, numerous examples of anonymous and often devastated area, as well as spontaneous actions taken by users themselves not necessarily in line with the intentions of architects – if only the intentions were there. Of the three Vitruvius’s principles of architectural creation it was only a differently understood usability that could be noticed in Venice, and the other ones: beauty and durability were eliminated. It lacked harmony, ideas, and sound space management. Instead there was practicality, economy and a constant adaptation to the moment needs. Simply: c’est la vie.
The 10th International Architecture Exhibition was a pessimistic, even defensive, attempt to sum up what is currently happening around the globe. Burdett showed during the exhibition closing some urban projects that should improve modern cities. Though often made by well-known - thanks to aesthetic radicalism and excellent media skills - architects, the projects shown in Venice seemed to be, in a mass of numbers and charts, rather small and desperate attempts to save what is already unlikely to be saved. At the turn of the century the Briton proved that no one was able to design a city, and that apart from the centres of major European cities, there was no more control on space and aesthetics. Almost one hundred years after the time of demiurgic modernists who wanted to design and program everything right until the end, Burdett showed that what was really left for us - architects and urban planners – was only a humble analysis of what is created – in a way- on its own. Decades after the time of mindlessly dramatizing postmodernists claiming that cities are composed exclusively of beautiful facades, Briton proved that this area is in fact a huge battlefield of non-aesthetic but economic, social and political forces. Half a century after the foundation of a hyper-modernist utopia willing to change the world, the curator of the Venice Biennale stated that the scale of our activities was limited to small interventions, often temporary ones, often not satisfactory to us - advocates of architectural beauty.
According to Richard Burdett our cities don’t have to be beautiful. Our cities have to be alive and active, stimulating, providing a framework for a decent, far from passivity, life of its inhabitants. Cities remain Centres of change and innovation – he concluded in the last room of the exhibition. Their huge scale, continuous growth and social mixture are not necessarily challenges, but rather a great opportunity for designers, government leaders and residents to work together towards strengthening the relation between the existing urban space and everyday experiences. While these tasks are universal, the solutions must be local – he added. Five main Burdett’s conclusions filled the last Venetian exhibition space, not black like all the other rooms of the Arsenal, but happily celadon. Architecture and inclusion were incentives to creation of programs pacifying pathologies and opening new opportunities primarily for the young city inhabitants. Transport and social justice was a clue to eliminate the physical distance in large metropolitan areas, thereby equalizing the opportunities of access to the city facilities. Cities as models of sustainable development were a call for a prudent use of both: resources and waste. Public space and tolerance – a call for respect of differences and diligence in the organization of public life. And Cities and good governance – an obvious conclusion that without a good policy nothing will succeed even if good will is there.
Thus the following questions are simple and constantly up to date:
1. Are we - at all - able to control the development and the transformation of modern cities?
2. If we are, then who should actually do this? Do architects have sufficient knowledge to do this? And do they have sufficient power?
3. In general, is it meaningful, what architects do?
arch. Roman Rutkowski