Category Archives: all things urban

Futuro Desigual, Destino Equivalente

Enquanto Uneven Growth, Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities parece lentamente tornar-se realidade – pelo menos do ponto de vista mediático – lembrei-me de publicar aqui a versão original e completa do “white paper” onde germinaram muitas das ideias por detrás da exposição que agora se anuncia para o MoMA, em Novembro de 2014.

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Merece-me comemorar aqui o facto de a tradução portuguesa deste ensaio, que em 2011 viu a luz do dia numa publicação académica da Universidade de Gent com o curioso título de Tickle your Catastrophe, estar para breve.

Pelo menos é o que me diz um desses corajosos editores que, no meio da pantanosa crise portuguesa, ainda insiste em fazer alguma coisa.

Esta publicação junta-se assim a algumas outras, como os catálogos da conferência Once Upon a Place ou da exposição Performance Architecture, que nos últimos tempos aparecem muito a custo, a culminar os últimos projectos que levei a cabo em Portugal.

Lembrando-me desses projectos, ocorre-me quão incrível é que, em Portugal, ainda sobre gente* como a Susana – a figura tenaz por detrás da conferência sobre arquitectura e ficção, que, a propósito, tem agora a sua segunda edição já noutras paragens, infelizmente em versão um pouco mais boring.

Ainda há portugueses que, a partir do seu lugar, resistem a essa mistura de ódio entranhado e inveja encapotada pelos que querem fazer alguma coisa, que infelizmente ainda singra na sociedade portuguesa – mesmo quando a austeridade deveria sugerir maior solidariedade.

No momento em que, por outro lado, a solidariedade de gala começa, por incipiente e bacoca que seja, a substituir o Estado na manutenção do que tínhamos adquirido por básico, torna-se mais ou menos claro que estamos a bater no fundo. (Na Europa e no mundo, os outros também se estão a afundar, apenas ainda não o reconheceram.)

Talvez devêssemos começar a mostrar mais do nosso típico respeitinho por aqueles que ainda se dão ao trabalho de querer fazer – em vez de, também eles, sejam empreendedores, políticos ou agentes culturais, se dedicarem à tarefa bem mais fácil de ir para a praia

Diria com algum grau de certeza que, se há gente que ajuda a manter qualquer coisa à tona, essa é precisamente feita dos que gostam de “fazer” malgré tout.

Para dar algum alento aos que persistem, devo dizer que, como todos os projectos com alguma ambição, também Uneven Growth teve uma gestação longa e difícil – o que, de resto, continua a ser verdade mesmo após o lançamento público bem sucedido da exposição e do primeiro workshop do projecto no MoMA PS1 há duas semanas atrás.

Cohstra@MoMAPS1MoMAPS1, do modo que agora encontramos as nossas imagens… via Twiter.

Por vezes, ocorre-me que a razão essencial porque o destino me trouxe a uma instituição como o MoMA tem precisamente a ver com a necessidade inata, ou a profunda carolice, de querer levar este projecto a bom porto. (Embora, obviamente, não devesse falar antes de tempo.)

Aqui e ali e acolá e outra vez aqui, ainda sob a designação de Emergent Megalopolis, podem ainda ler-se os restos arqueológicos de um conceito nascido numa visita a Saigão há mais de dez anos atrás – num tempo da minha vida em que ainda era possível decidir, de um momento para o outro, que ia viajar durante um mês no Sudoeste Asiático.

Em Saigão, sob o efeito da percepção aguda que as viagens proporcionam, tive uma experiência decisiva e transformadora: atravessar a rua numa realidade urbana que me era inteiramente nova.

Saigon-ViaWithoutBaggageAs ruas de Saigão, a.k.a. Ho Chi Min City, via Without Baggage.

Quando se atravessa a rua em Saigão, o acto tem que ser negociado de uma forma diferente do habitual. Numa cidade sem semáforos e com milhões de scooters (como agora vim a reencontrar em Taipei) a primeira coisa que nos ensinam é que, para atravessar os antigos boulevards carregados de um fluxo de trânsito incessante, também os transeuntes não podem parar.

Quando se atravessa a rua em Saigão, temos que nos munir de coragem e avançar sempre ao mesmo passo por entre a corrente compacta de tráfego. E temos que olhar nos olhos todos aqueles que avançam para nós, para perceber se vão passar à nossa frente, ou atrás de nós.

Foi nesse momento da negociação do olhar com milhares de jovens asiáticos que nasceu a inspiração de que, mais cedo do que mais tarde, teríamos que imaginar novos modos de responder ao crescimento do urbano no século XXI.

Tal como, no inicio do séc. XX, Georg Simmel alertou para a emergência de uma nova consciência metropolitana, agora devemos preparar-nos para o estado de emergência da urbanização completa de um planeta em que os recursos, ao contrário da população, não estão propriamente a crescer de dia para dia.

E por isso vale a pena sublinhar que, depois de querer ter sido programa de televisão e documentário experimental multi-episódios, e para além do desejo de mapear de novas formas de prática arquitectónica, ou a vontade de perceber como substituir estratégias de planeamento obsoletas, este projecto é agora, apenas e só, uma investigação sobre como arquitectos e outros actores urbanos podem vir a lidar com a desigualdade e o empobrecimento progressivo de uma sociedade cada vez mais intrinsecamente global.

Turista Acidental (Dose Dupla)

Não sei bem se por preguiça (de deixar as imagens falar) ou por necessidade (de deixar o registo ficar), sempre desejei começar aqui uma espécie de travelogue que me permitisse deixar instantâneos e impressões das inúmeras viagens que tenho vindo a fazer por “obrigação profissional.”

De regresso de Zurique, acresce, senti-me inundado por uma sensação que seria arrogante, se não fosse também sinceramente humilde: reconhecer um enorme privilégio por, entre outras solicitações, poder continuar a fazer um circuito intenso e variado de conferências um pouco por todo o mundo.

Raramente vejo as conferências como um fim em si. É certo que é bom contribuir com o conhecimento que, por alguma razão, se acumulou. Mas a secreta atração das conferências sempre foi, para mim, a possibilidade de conhecer lugares, instituições e pessoas interessantes: criar redes e acolher novas perspectivas.

ZurichZurique em versão postal ilustrado.

Na ETH de Zurique, para além de estreitar laços com uma network de Arte e Arquitectura do MIT agora espalhada pelo mundo, gratificou-me poder dialogar em palco com a fabulosa Ute Meta Bauer, alguém que apenas se pode descrever como uma referência incontornável da curadoria contemporânea.

Comentámos que, curiosamente, já nos tínhamos cruzado quando há 12 anos atrás organizámos exposições que se sucederam na agora sub-utilizada galeria da Biblioteca Almeida Garrett, no Porto – obviamente por ocasião da swan’s song da cidade que foi a Capital Europeia da Cultura de 2001.

1PostR05Post-Rotterdam, uma estreia curatorial há 12 anos atrás.

(A Ute Meta Bauer no Porto, em 2001, como outros ao longo dos anos, diz algo do talento português para identificar e trazer a casa quem está prestes a explodir na cena internacional. É de relembrar que, depois do convite de um dos nossos primeiros cultural exilées, Miguel von Haffe Perez, a Ute prosseguiu para dirigir a Documenta e a Bienal de Berlim, antes de, como tantos europeus hoje em dia, ser ela própria cativada por uma instituição americana).

Em Zurique tive a oportunidade de observar como, na última verdadeira bolha de bem-estar do território europeu, a qualidade de vida continua acima de qualquer média. E as instituições como a ETH renovam-se virando-se para fora, para esse mundo em convulsão que verdadeiramente pode beneficiar da enorme acumulação de conhecimento da Europa.

Depois de conversar com Marc Angélil, o director do Master de Urban Design da ETH, e Hubert Klumpner, dos Urban Think Tank – que após o sucesso de Veneza são agora também “residentes” na Suiça – concluí que a minha intuição estava correcta quando pensei incluir a ETH no meu próximo projecto curatorial.

Com os labs de Columbia e MIT (justamente), a ETH é a outra instituição académica que, ao lado de colectivos emergentes e ateliers locais, deverá fazer parte do grupo de participantes de Uneven Growth, Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities, a exposição que, desvele-se, está prometida para suceder a Rising Currents e Foreclosed no MoMA…

Adiante, porém, ou para trás, de Zurique para Kuwait City – que, em rigor, deveria ter correspondido ao meu falhado travelogue de Março. Eis pois outra cidade imensamente afluente que me vejo revisitar amiúde, pelo menos em memória,  quando conto a quem me quer ouvir que este foi um dos mais estranhos sítios que já se me deu conhecer.

Kuwait1Room With a View #35, 2013. 

A primeira imagem que tive do Kuwait quando acordei no meu hotel foi talvez sintomática: uma paisagem lunar e desértica, que só mais tarde compreendi ser um cemitério. Decepcionado com a ausência de urbanização galopante, pedi que me mudassem de quarto.

O Kuwait é diferente do mais mediatizado Dubai por uma razão essencial: o petróleo foi descoberto mais cedo, nos anos 30. Portanto os naturais do Kuwait consideram-se naturalmente um povo à parte, obviamente muito menos nouveau riche que os seus companheiros do Golfo.

Kuwait3aRoom With a View #36, 2013

Convidado por Zahra Ali Baba, do National Council of Culture, Art and Letters, para falar sobre plataformas de divulgação e reflexão de arquitectura, esta foi uma oportunidade para conhecer um quadrante da geopolítica política totalmente novo para mim. (Como nos livros do Tintin, não deixaria porém de deparar com mais um português “na diáspora,” um jovem arquitecto com quem, por sinal, já tinha colaborado há não muito tempo.)

Num país onde a primeira Faculdade Arquitectura surgiu há pouco mais de 10 anos, a minha lecture inclinou-se a contrapor as diferenças e semelhanças entre as possibilidades de uma prática crítica da curadoria – algo sobre o qual já é tempo de partilhar aqui um velho ensaio  – quer essa seja feita em regime free-lance, quer num âmbito mais institucional.

No entanto, a conferência – e as escassas 36 horas que passei em Kuwait City –serviram também para anotar algumas impressões sobre um mundo à parte, pelo menos enquanto o petróleo durar pelos próximos 30 anos.

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As poucas décadas de avanço que o Kuwait levou sobre os seus vizinhos significaram apenas que este pequeno Emirado abraçou um modelo de re-urbanização um pouco diferente das opções mais recentes. Um modelo que, no entanto, quando olhado em retrospectiva, não parece menos duvidoso.

Até aos anos 30, Kuwait City não era mais que uma aldeia piscatória adaptada às duras condições locais – i.e., a temperaturas frequentes acima de 60o centígrados. Após a passagem da II Guerra Mundial sob protectorado inglês, porém, o Kuwait decidiu-se a comprar a receita urbanística da época e dedicou-se diligentemente a erradicar o seu próprio passado.

Perseguidos os ideais modernistas de um zonamento funcional estrito,  a cidade destruída pela opção urbanística de proceder a uma rigorosa segregação social e espacial, Kuwait City parece ter sofrido mais com as suas opções urbanísticas de então do que com a destruição proveniente da invasão pelo Iraque nos anos 90. Os edifícios reconstroem-se, as comunidades não.

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A segregação espacial proposto pelas corporações arquitectónicas inglesas tiveram efeitos estapafúrdios. O centro da cidade, esvaziado de habitação, esvaziou-se também de pessoas. Encheu-se, no entanto, de automóveis que – como na Islândia, mas por razões climáticas inversas – funcionam perfeitamente como uma extensão MacLuhaniana do corpo e da roupa.

Quando a minoria da população natural do Kuwait não se encontra no ambiente climatizado do seu automóvel topo-de-marca ou do seu escritório 8-to-1, é mais que certo que se encontra num centro comercial. Parte do roteiro turístico obrigatório, em particular quando nos encontramos no paraíso da cultura franchise, os grandes shoppings de Kuwait City constituem obviamente o tipo de espaços que fazem o Colombo empalidecer para a escala das Amoreiras.

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Se o centro comercial que visitei me impressionou pela escala de cidade, logo viria a descobrir que os focos de inovação urbana de Kuwait City estavam, como seria de esperar, elsewhere. Depois de comprovado que as leis secas levam sempre ao seu oposto, seria apenas a altas horas da noite que, graças ao olhar informado do Ricardo, viria a desvendar o ‘outro lado’ do Kuwait.

Como sucede quase sempre, seria no lado mais informal da cidade, neste caso no anel urbano destinado aos imigrantes e aos expatriados, que surgiriam as mais inéditas tipologias urbanas. Num lugar onde o dia é insuportável a partir da Primavera, não deveria afinal constituir surpresa que fosse do lado da noite que surgisse a realidade urbana mais exuberante.

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Por entre a necessidade, o empreendedorismo e as típicas subversões da lei – numa cidade em que, como em Zurique, o controlo parece absoluto – a ocupação dos interstícios entre edifícios levaria a uma proliferação de pequenas unidades comerciais que, com as suas variações festivas e a distância à cultura climatizada do franchise, parecem ser a única coisa que devolve a vida a Kuwait City.

The Stone Raft

Incognito in Lisbon, I happened to pick a strange day to again visit the streets that, no more than six months ago, I used to walk two or three times a week. As it was, I soon realized that Lisbon’s downtown was unexpectedly packed due to a bizarre event in the city’s most prized praça.

Praça do Comércio, a.k.a. Terreiro do Paço, is like a Spanish plaza mayor but with a twist: one side opened onto a wide, sumptuous river.

This is the kind of small, but generous spatial detail that has always made the difference between nuestros hermanos’ obstinate colonial urbanism – which led to grid-locked cities like México City – and the sensous, easy-going Portuguese city-making, which gave the world its most beautiful city: Rio de Janeiro.

During some of its many lives, Terreiro do Paço was a carpark during the Seventies and got polemically redesigned two years ago – when it also received alternative visions such as the one below, by this humble servant of yours.

Nonetheless, as a part of the larger Enlightnment plan that allowed for the reconstruction of Lisbon after the infamous 1755 earthquake, this truly royal amphiteater was conceived as a welcome space for incoming imbarcations – a maritime entrance to the city at the vaguely fabulous time when airports had not yet transformed traveling into a sucession of non-places.

This peculiar weekend, however, the magnificent Baroque setting where once the King had offered river fireworks* to the people – became the rental venue for a populist mega-picnic. In essence, as Lampedusa would say, nothing changed.

Terreiro do Paço, 1650, Dirk Stoop, via Wikipedia.

At this time, one of the richest men in Portugal, a supergrocer, offered the people cattle in corralspimba singers and five tons of food (being that the latter was, at least, providentially channeled to increasingly demanded-upon charities.)

This was not a case of pearls (or brioches) to pigs – which sounds too much like the kind of elitist afterthought that the politically-correct elites have learned to avoid – but one of pigs to peasants, which, carefully considered, is also somewhat of a less cynical statement.

A huge marketing operation for Portugal’s biggest chain of hypermarkets (and their anchored jumbo shopping centres), the event certainly deserves a short description beyond the praise offered on national TV by a former representative of the Portuguese gauche-caviar, now a most active representative of the city.

Imagine an historical, symbolically charged public space taken over by a highly-organized guerrilla urban farming, and you’ll start to get the picture.

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The corrals were actually well designed, a cornfield surrounded the statue of King José I, and the smell of coriander was in the air. And, cast against a giant stage for the endless procession of local kitsch, there it was: a megashow of the glorious produce sold by Portugal’s most beloved entrepeneurial empire.

For the first time in their suburban lives, children marveled at cows in their natural habitat – i.e. piles of hay –, while flocks of seventy year olds were dragged in from the countryside in Toyota coaches and acted as self-appointed tour-guides of a rural world made utterly obsolete by European bureaucrats.

I couldn’t but smile in a stupedified state of candor when I realized why the crowds gathered around one of the impromptu pavilions from which techno-folk emanated. If this had been Northern Europe, in similar context I would expect sculptural Russian whores dancing atop the sound-system. Here, it was only an old guy in checquered swim trunks who danced his spirits away behind the beer barrels, drawing a sort of neo-realist laughter from the exurban mob.

The most interesting outcome of the mega-event was, however, how its mega-audience quickly spilled to the nearby city centre. Hundreds of thousands of people – what the absentee Lisboetas would poetically call the ‘país real’ – rummaged through the last remnants of an ultimately sold-out city centre. Some of them would half-proudly, half-ashamedly, proclaim aloud how they had not set foot in Lisbon’s downtown in the previous two decades.

They cheerfully joined the hordes of tourists who had already realized that, in the midst of accelerated impoverishment, Lisbon quickly became the cheapest capital city in Europe. Besides beach and good food, one can buy exquisite antiques, fine leather shoes, top clothing and whatever else for a tiny fraction of their price anywhere else. And all of this without the annoying street riots of Athens, of course.

Rather, as I walked around, I noticed there were no signs of anarchy or unrest in sight; everybody was orderly and happy. Even if the masses carried with them the usual riff-raff of petty criminals, fake pot gypsy sellers, and the odd surviving heroin addict, all of these seemed to content themselves with only intensely eying the beef chicks (or, as the local slang goes, the bifas.)

Only as one would flow away from the epicenter of the megapop picnic, would Lisbon reveal more of itself, like in that lively corner of Rossio in which ginginha-drinking backpackers and black immigrants get together by the Wall of Tolerance and the bankrupt National Theatre.

This corner suddenly felt like an island of cosmopolitanism. There is definitely a sort of lost elegance in meeting in the streets to just talk. Not to smoke like an outcast, nor to binge-drink like an idiot, but just to talk. Small groups of Africans debated European politics, as if to better report back home.

As I myself made my way back home, I still had the chance to see a band of Spanish cokehead pijos laughing and shouting hysterically at the bewildered peasants in an open mini van. Like so many of their Portuguese counterparts, they looked and dressed like advertising people out of the Nineties.

They had rented a tour minibus and were being loud around town, possibly commemorating the eminent bailout of Spain – or, as one could put it in literary gist, rejoicing the very last acts of the Iberian empire.

After weeks of paradoxically uninspiring travels to so many challenging cities – from startling Medellín to unreal Los Angeles, from puzzling Santiago de Chile to spooky Philadelphia – those guys’ shouts in my old neighborhood seemed to have woken me up from a prolonged dormant state.

Aspleep in Niagara, © P. Gadanho. From an upcoming travelogue series.

The fleeting and noisy impression of that rattling minibus in the middle of the overheated, overpopulated Lisbon downtown finally instigated me to write again. And it also gave me the title for this post, after a great novel by the Portuguese Nobel prize, José Saramago.

As for that particular old favorite, The Stone Raft tells the wonderful and frightening story of how, most suddenly, the Iberian landmass gets severed from Europe and becomes a wandering jutland. If you are truly following European events you will know how this has again become a suitable metaphor for more than one of the Old Continent’s southern peninsulas.

Beam me up, Scotty! (Os Idos de Março)

This was a banal industrial corner under Williamsburg Bridge. Many would be disencouraged to walk the lesser-seen parts of Brooklyn’s hippest hood to reach the place from the nearest subway station. Particularly on a wet, gray afternoon like that of the last Saturday of March.*

© Pedro Gadanho, Untitled (Williamsburg), 2012.

We carried through, though. My friend’s iPhone GPS device eventually designated a low and anonymous building as our destiny. Across the stained translucent glass, one could already sense a bustle. A muffled, yet promising clamor leaked to the quiet, empty streets.

After we negotiated our entrance with the guardian of the door, we finally crossed the threshold onto a sweaty, noisy, vibrant atmosphere. And we faced it: an excerpt of Rio de Janeiro had made its way to New York. Complete with the samba band, the dancing crowd, and the hyperrealist slum-like ambiance.

By crossing that thin treshold, we had jumped through a loophole and were instantly teleported to a place that stands resolutely 8000km away. Which means that we were thrust farer than Scotty ever beamed up Captain Kirk…

Beam me Up, Scotty! Image hacked via Of Woods and Words.

Contrary to the huge efforts of scientists intent on achieving our teenage dreams – and only managing to teleport miniscule quantities of atoms across their lab – the fact is cosmopolitan cities like New York are already full of highly efficient, low-tech loophole teleporters.

What Michel Foucault called heterotopias – a concept I recently enjoyed revisiting in a text I’ve just added to this blog’s archive – is no longer only about top-down institutions and somber architectural typologies.

Bottom-up, pop-up space-time machines such as Williamsburg’s Miss Favela botequim – with their exquisitely shabby architectural interiors, their thriving imported props and their own immigrant micropopulations – are now much livelier and exhilarating heterotopias.

In New York, I’ve also found small Mexican groceries that may transport you to Oaxaca frozen in the mid-eighties, Chinese kitchens that set you in ever-present Shanghai, or even that Synagogue where on the very same Sabbath I attended my first Bat Mitzvah – one which, as I read familiar names in the walls, and listened to a choir that somehow reminded me of Ivan, the Terrible, inevitably teleported me to New Amsterdam in 1654.

Perhaps this is indeed what makes an exciting and desirable city – as indeed a good piece of architecture: its capacity to project us outside of itself by making us dive deep into its most hidden layers.

What Used to be Called Public Space

As I delivered my nominations for the 2012 European Prize for Public Space, and as the classic thinker of the corresponding sphere was suddenly raging, I felt the urge to go back to a book that reassesses, if not indeed upturns, the fashion in which architects and planners regard urban space and its public dimensions.

It’s only in appearance that the recently published Urban Maps is about establishing a cartography of the city. Unless, of course, one considers that the practice of mapping the city is nowadays becoming itself highly performative.

The investigation’s subtitle is eventually more enlightening: Instruments of Narrative and Interpretation in the City. Even so, the academic overtones hide the fact that this exciting read is all about grafitti and street art, film and underground flâneurs, pixadores and new modes of psychogeography – as practices that should now be taken as referentials to occupying architecture.

As my own endorsment prints in the back cover:

Fifty years ago, Kevin Lynch offered us a classical reading of ‘the image of the city’ based on a waning ideal of clear built landmarks and distinct urban signs. Now, through inspired insights and an in-depth inquiry into a vast array of contemporary urban practices, the authors of Urban Maps reveal us how the complex narratives currently converging in the appropriation and redefinition of an eroded urban space require a totally revamped cognitive mapping… From the readings of cinema to the interventions of street art, from the markings of graffiti to the identities of brandscapes, and from the wanderings of contemporary art to the fictional drives of theory, architecture is confronted with the need to review the cartography of its references when facing the ascendancy of the urban condition – and the prominence of new networked, information-augmented realities – as substituting for previous conceptions of the city.

Like the most interesting charts of new territories, Richard Brook and Nick Dunn’s publication presents us with insights into the least seen spots of the current urban condition, into the borders and hidden spaces of varied forms of intervention within the city landscape.

As an appropriate side dish, we are ultimately offered a thorough reflection on how architecture now competes for an expressive space in this sign-invaded, market-dominated, narrative-filled urbanscape.

Image by RE_MAP, Manchester School of Architecture’s design research lab

After we turn these pages and practice stories we’re left with the pertinent and resilient concern on how “a critical understanding of the evolution of art in the environment can be translated to a discourse concerning the production of architecture.” And the more we take to the streets,* the more such concerns are to overcome any remaining delusion of architecture’s conventional autonomy.

Autonomy should still be there, yes. But, if you want, in a kind of Hal Foster version in which culture practice is still able to relate to social and political reality, while it manages to sustain its ability to be critical and somewhat exempt from the demeaning effects of external (and peer) pressure.

Performance Towards Participation

This week I take part in the El Arte és Ación/Performance & Arquitectura multifaceted event in Madrid. With an amazing array of participants, this will present, instill and again put to discussion the emergent connections between current practices of architecture of engagement and Performance Art.

After one or two posts on this, the event impels me to finally announce here that the international open call for Performance Architecture within the 2012 European Capital of Culture is now up and about, ready to be propagated like a benign virus to whoever might feel challenged to set out ideas, programs and architectural concepts that may win the streets back to the people.*

This open call for five temporary urban interventions in the city of Guimarães will offer kick-start prizes of 12.000€ to concepts that are able to promote the appropriation (or occupation?) of controversial public spaces by city inhabitants. Proposals are to be submitted online until January 6th 2012.

Implying that anyone who wants to contribute to the reconstruction of current notions of public space has to somehow become a full cultural producer, the competition invites multidisciplinary teams of artists, architects, designers, etc., to send out ideas that can reactivate performance strategies and simultaneously (re)invent participative architectures in the urban realm.

A one-day seminar on the theme will follow on the 25th February 2012, involving members of the juri Santiago Cirugeda, Didier Fiuza Faustino, A77, Raumlabor, and Office for Subversive Architecture, inbetween other special guests. At that occasion, the five lucky winners – who may be entitled to a one month residency in situ – will also be publicly announced, together with further 25 proposals selected for a small exhibition and catalogue.

Two or Three Things I Learned From Her

Recently I went to the city where the International Court of Justice has its seat. At breakfast I mused at the unexpected juxtaposition of an early Rem Koolhaas, an outmoded Richard Meier and a bunch of slumlike shelters put up overnight by architecture students who were actually not indignados. Yet.

Apart from the surrealistic memento, what did I learn from Den Haag, one could ask? Visiting the administrative capital of the supposed richest country in Europe always ought to taught you something. So, let me briefly debrief you.

Unfortunately, and first of all, I didn’t learn what Luomo is up to these days. Given the sudden need to include a trip to Paris inside my trip to Den Haag, I ended up arriving quite late for my one-nighter in Den Haag.

Due to a badly signed, unfinished highway I  actually got lost in the port of Antwerpen, had to ask directions from a Polish truck driver in a deserted gas station… and payed a toll on it too.

Nevertheless, because of the happenstance, I did see the new Rotterdam skyline, did my beauty sleep and kept my usual 6am schedule, something highly improbable if I had attended Todays Festival exciting nighttime programme.

Thus I lost both the dark side and the cultural plus Den Haag might have offered and had only what they call the city’s tunnel visionIn this instance, you are lucky if you have half an hour to walk up and down a highly commercial high street that could belong anywhere in small-town Europe. Same brands, same suburban feel.

No Trust No City © Designboys, via Designboys.

Ultimately, I did do my thing and learned that Raumlabor’s inflatable BXL at the festival grounds hadn’t the most perfect acoustics in the world. Still, it allowed for a decent, intimate conversation, especially if you would sit on the floor of the Ant Farm inspired bubble in a circle like Indians did ages ago. By then, however, you could imagine a neo-hippie conspiration was taking place. Which would sound* perfectly ridiculous, anyway. Even in the present circumstance.

Secondly, I also learned that Metropolis M magazine carried eloquent protest editorials in a moment in which severe budget cuts are undermining the acknowledged potential of Dutch intelligence.

If no other impression comes to mind concerning the whole of Europe at this moment in time, such protests should at least be read as generous warnings regarding the destruction of a nice funding system.

This grant system was what eventually allowed for successful Dutch cultural exports in areas such as graphic design, product design, fashion, and architecture. Even I was twice the benefiary of that system, although I’m positively no flying Dutchman. Its demise illustrates the bigger picture and a gloomier outcome for what is touristy Europe’s major asset: its culture.

Finally, some friends would also ask what did I learn from my brisk visit to Paris? The only thing I can reveal is that I had a not too bright glimpse of her becoming a second Lagos. As fascinating as the African megalopolis, certainly more attractive to the naked eye, Paris felt as irrational to use in a car. Unless, of course, this was carefully planned in view of a fictional scenario in which the city officials are preparing to ban cars totally and forever.

Another Boring Postcard, #31 (Paris), hacked image via Stephy’s in Paris

Crossing Paris by car reminded me of a huge traffic jam I was once in, in Morocco. On a holiday trip, cast against a rural landscape, the thing felt delicious and exotic. In compact Paris, slowly zooming in and out of the city centre felt only stressful and shocking. Even if on Friday everybody is frantic to escape the city, there were behaviours and time loss rates I would expect in places like Luanda. But then, Angola’s capital is now the most expensive city in the world.

Which reminds me of a time when the most expensive cities in the world were also the most attractive to live in. Now, particularly in Europe, it seems like the once expensive are turning into a bad Mad Max version of an unwanted future. Considering its undesirable political, social costs, what was once highly priced is now indeed becoming strangely unappealing.

Given this curious inversion, I can only doubt if we are at a period when, of all things, “the luxury retail store has become a crucial forum for architecture,” as Mohsen Mostafavi has  recently sold it ouhmm… I mean, put forward.

Pondering such epicurean statements from the dean of one of the most acclaimed architecture schools, should we be still surprised or sad when claims regularly have it that “architects are not the solution to urbanisation“?

Cities for the Future

The other day, as I was flying from Tallinn to London over the Baltic sea, with Scientific American’s excelling special issue on Better, Greener, Smarter Cities sitting on my lap, I couldn’t stop* weaving together some wild cards that came under my urban radar over the last few weeks.

For one, I attended the International Federation for Housing and Planning 55th World Congress to be in a panel that summarized some reflections from the potentially ongoing Another Urban Future think tank.

While I was at it, I felt overused buzzwords like sustainability were still fully around, performing as ideological clutches – as political, marketing tools – for planner corporations and institutional decision-makers. But the fact that we’ve more or less globally committed to implement sustainable processes, lower carbon-emission and greener cities in the near future is bringing new notions to the agenda, with retrofitting positively being my favorite.

As William Gibson has just put it in terms of fictional technique, retrofitting is all about reverse-engineering exiting cities – including what we call slums, favelas or shadow towns – so as to reduce the consumption of vanishing resources. What in other times we would call survival. And what we now strangely label as business opportunities.

To the distaste of some sections of our pragmatic, Western-oriented audience, the panel proposed as an alternative that we should stress and face up to notions such as contextual complexity, intense livability and community-oriented bottom up approaches, being that these are merely considered as conceptual apparatuses to help cities grow better. Because, as one knows, many of them will grow independently of any planning…

Those ideas were also convened with the precise intention of defying dodgy political habits and unadventurous  top-down behaviours. The discussion was a means of presenting problems, more than ready-made answers. And, in my case, it served to again call to mind the oddly forgotten, and yet overwhelming global dilemmas posed by emergent megalopolises, right as we speak.

On my way in to Estonia’s capital, I had seen the last of four documentaries included in the very interesting Cities on Speed series, and was driven to acknowledge that the current growth of megacities defies both traditional  and modern planning strategies. And thus we have to look at things very differently if indeed we – all of us – want to prevent scenarios like those of Cairo slowly but surely choking on its own garbage.

Garbage City, Cairo, via Inhabitat.

Following on the perception that telecommunications have already outcomed long-established needs for conventional infrastructure, maybe developing compact metropolises have to step directly onto robotized garbage collection, drilling new tunnels or retrofitting abandoned subterranean sewage systems so as to implement trash conveyer belts or computorised junk vacuum systems that can directly receive, select and process human debris into energy production.

Likewise, any other notion of traditional, heavy infrastructure probably has to be re-imagined so as to be substituted for cheaper, self-maintaining urban systems that recur to smart combinations of hi- and lo-tech, while fundamentally catering for the participation and involvment of local communities.

In face of such challenges, while our panel’s invitation to think out of the box might have been somewhat philosophical in tone, it slightly worried me that thinking – and namely anticipating the broader consequences of current decision-making – wasn’t on the memos of those who are indeed in charge of responding to the problems of contemporary cities.

The Rise of Performance Architecture

In the last decade, ephemeral architecture practices of numerous architects and artists collectives have been developing as a critical answer to the results of growing mobility in the recent neo-liberal context, using various performative tactics for “activation” of the local potentialities for social change. The most interesting ephemeral architecture projects are fast-statement critical practices, collective actions towards the creation of temporary places for encounters in an ever-changing urban environment.
 But, because these actions have to be strongly connected to longer-term local actions, they must assume a transitory nature that calls for a social transformation, for a next step. This is very performative. And this is where the performative action becomes a radical social gesture that goes far beyond the production of an aesthetic object.

In TodaysArt Festival Brussels 

Sometimes one gets the funny idea that a certain trend is gathering memento. One thinks about it and presents the notion to a couple of friends. Given the opportunity, one writes an article about it. And then one organizes it as a proposal for a potential exhibition that will allow for further research.

With the notion of Performance Architecture most of these steps took place around 2006. My first article on it came out in a student archizine in 2007. The “exhibition” was first suggested to Mirko Zardini at the CCA, just before the 2008 finantial crash put an halt to all the institution’s external projects. And then it was again proposed to Laboral, and the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, and the Barbican. However, it seemed to be too soon* to all of them.

Finally, a few weeks ago I’ve signed the contract that signals the idea found its first partners at the Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture. As such an international competition is to be launched in October for five ephemeral interventions in the Portuguese “cradle city.” Look forward to it.

At the same time, events coincidentally started to pop-up across Europe suggesting that the unexpected relationship between Performance Art and Architecture is now something to watch for.

In fact, while Madrid-based Ariadna Cantis curated an event along similar lines in 2009, it seems that it is only this year that the notion is being more amply recognized and debated – when some of its noteworthy protagonists have reached already more than a decade of consistent urban interventions .

After the unexpected, yet historical and festive gathering of some relevant protagonists of this tendency at the disPlace conference, as organized by Dédalo magazine in Porto, new conference events around the theme will now take place in Den Hague and Brussels, at the TodaysArt Festival, and later this year again in Madrid, at the IV Encuentro Internacional El Arte Es Acción.

It might take a few years for certain tendencies to become clear. But when they do, they do. Or they will. Specially when they are coming from the streets. And this is not a bonfire of vanities. It is a matter of both emergency and urgency.

Terrifying beauty

Today, my wife and me will be presenting a few ideas for Lisbon on behalf of CUC, at MUDE museum, 7pm, within a quite packed panel that intends to publicize the city council’s participative budget.

There are 5 million euros to be applied in ideas presented by the people, and an apparent willingness to have citizens participating in city decisions. However, people seem to have lost faith in institutions, politicians and bureaucrats to such a degree that they simply don’t bother to contribute, thus leading some brave young people to devise a way to call attention upon this program.

One of the ideas we are introducing in the debate is deliberately utopian, moreover if one considers the economic pressure we’re currently under. It can be described, in a deceivingly simple way, as the making of longitudinal car parks along Lisbon’s downtown two main arteries, Rua do Ouro e Rua da Prata.

However simple an idea, this may represent one of the major engineering challenges that this urban core requires in the future – if it really wants to accommodate new inhabitants and, simultaneously, rehabilitate from the underground one of the first comprehensive structural systems in the world ever to respond to earthquake situations.

The other ideas, the immediately feasible ones, are children’s parks, small green spaces, health care centers, the reboot of existing underused cultural facilities, and other similar amenities that may make the city centre where we live friendlier to residents, rather than only to hordes of tourists – in what could be dubbed the current barcelonization of Lisbon.

For me, this act of participation is also an inward attempt to fight a pessimism that I’ve felt growing over the course of my latest posts. One thing is to be critical of a given situation; the other is to become acid to a point in which you start melting from within…

Just last week, for example, while I was strolling through central Lisbon and observed the physical degradation of the city I was just about to start a photographic series on urban decay.

I guess the way some decaying buildings generate a sort of miserable charm is what sometimes entitles Lisbon to the dubious status of Europe’s Habana.


The fact is that, after years of destroying this country’s ultimate resource – its landscapes and geographical diversity – only now the proud local construction industry is looking at building renovation as its emergency exit.

And given the economical recession, they were lucky enough to have some mysterious, unheard-of real-estate investment companies immediately popping up to give them a hand. It seems like it is now safe to release the piles of eurocash some people have hoarded during the pre-crisis years.

To be fair, a lot of renovation happened during the last decades in central Lisbon, even if the Portuguese capital has also turned out to be a shrinking city and many of its buildings remain empty. But, of course, there’s still a lot to be done.

As it is, I started thinking that austerity would be nice, if only it had anything to do with Paul Auster. Now that people were finally heading for urban rehabilitation, it’s also probable that many investments come to an halt.

So, as poverty and inequality kicks in – and as one slowly fights the devastation brought upon us by our political “elite” – one can indeed resort to artistic observations on how the subtle alterations of dilapidation produce a certain aesthetical frisson.

One should, for example, take a positive lesson from street artists like Eltono, who registers with deserved satisfaction the way that, in spite of everything else, the city transforms itself around his fragile inscriptions.

This is perhaps one of the most amazing human survival tools still around from primeval times: the perverse, but essential ability to turn either tiny or wide catastrophes into what some call a terrifying beauty.

Jetlag Bliss – A Travelogue

A stranger in a strange place, you land on a snow-covered city and this suddenly feels as refreshing as being slapped without warning. Like sleep deprivation, you remember you need these abrupt changes to take you out of a lukewarm, pleasing state of hibernation. You feel privileged. You are part of an apparently disappearing sect: travelers of rare bliss, exchangers of precisely located, yet homeless knowledges – those yesteryear voyagers who have been slowly, but surely, substituted by passive tourists and predatory traders.

Anri Sala, Long Sorrow, 2005. Via Mousse Magazine.

Like if entering a proper nuit blanche, as soon as you arrive to the core of this city you find yourself visiting a contemporary art museum at 1.00 am – this hour still being your unquestionable biological time. And this museum is full of people, and you enjoyably rediscover the powerful work of Anri Sala, or come across artists like Young & Giroux. Mostly, you take in pieces that you’ve never seen before, and yet feel pleasantly close to home. A satisfying cultural acclimation, as it would be.

A few hours later, you will remember being in Tokyo on a reverse timetable. You will remember assaulting the streets for food at around 4.00 am, a harmless vampire looking out for the nearest 24/7. You will recall feeling sleepy at 7.00 pm and abandoning yourself to the same chronological cycle, over and over again. As it were, in this unexpected enclave of French language in America you find yourself reading Barthes between 4.00 and 8.00 am. You register the light coming in. Then you write. Just another way of getting lost – and found – in the delights of translation.

© Pedro Gadanho, “5.00 am (Hotel room with a view, #12)”, 2011

This one time you refuse to change the hour in you mobile phone. You stubbornly stick with your time zone. You will experience four days of a slightly dislocated timetable. As such, your panel conversation takes place at 11.00 pm, and by 1.30 am you are still discussing if and why architectural writing is undergoing a fictional turn. (A member of the audience suggests that maybe we are no longer interested in the truth. You counter that we may solely be bored or, even worse, giving in to the perverse logic that entertainment must take the lead in even pedagogical and disciplinary matters.) Dinner finishes at 5.00 am.

Two days after, you are still waking up at 4.00 am, local time. It is Saturday and four hours until breakfast. You make the usual morning skype call to your family. Then you head for Stereo, like a 12 year-old who skips Sunday school to join the after hours crowd. It turns out that Montreal has an interesting electronic scene and is twinned to your own city by a legendary sound system. And as they used to say, M.A.N.D.Y and Troy Pierce are in the house.

It’s a long time since you’ve been clubbing on your own. In this dance floor sunglasses after dark are obviously fashionable. A guy wears a T-shirt that says: “Egypt woke me up.” Did it really? Fortunately, at this stage social interaction is no longer required. As ever in the past, you are here exclusively for the acoustic engineering. As the sound involves you, your mind fills with words you will eventually write down. You reflect that bad techno is like any other form of porn, too lastingly engaged in some basic arrangement. Then again, the most layered electronica of post-Reich crop is the be-bop of our era.

Music is probably the clearest way to understand the fundamental play of novelty and obsolescence in our mental life. Novelty is an addiction. Even if it would be repetition that, as Barthes put it, “engendrerait elle-même la jouissance.” As architects like to believe in durability, they mostly reject novelty as a motor of their own doings. Nonetheless, architecture too is subject to rules of cultural consumption. And those dictate that we want our brain cells constantly rearranged by new arrangements of old and new fragments.

Three hours listening to music that you had never heard before and you are ready for the last, long day you will spend in town. The hypnotic beats have made you strangely apt to appreciate Buckminster Fuller’s Biosphere and Moshe Safdie’s still surprising Habitat 67 – even if you are walking from one to the other alone under a severe snow blizzard. The trance-like quality of those “rythmes obsessionels” have opened your mind to the Mile End’s graphic novel stores and the weird and wonderful ephemera shops of Boulevard St. Laurent – even if you are long past your regular dinnertime.

© Pedro Gadanho, “Ruins of the Future (Habitat 67)”, 2011

The morning you leave town you are woken up by the alarm clock at 5.30 am. Local time is catching up with your body. It is forcing you to conform. You timely escape into the airport. By 10.00 am you are in New York. One of those places, if not the place, which crisply illuminates how precious it is to breathe the air of the city. A few hours are enough.

Just before you definitely head home, five hours is what it takes to once again verify how a city can remain itself and yet retain an ever-unbelievable degree of new stimuli. Indeed, what Georg Simmel has once dubbed the mental life of the metropolis here translates in the peculiar feeling that the spur of the new it too can be enduringly inscribed into the flesh of stones.

Other little magazines #13 – Other city visions

Architects gaze at the urban landscape in a rather specialized way – often forgetting that there are other ways of looking at the city. Three magazines recently added to my still inexplicably growing collection of new periodicals suggest three peculiar ways to engage with the contemporary urbe.

As the name suggests, Grey looks at the urban as grey matter. Not the brainy stuff, but the concrete one. And even if one short story in the first issue of the little free mag is called The Brutalist, concrete isn’t here because of a particular infatuation with the modernist building material with which politicians, contractors and most architects would love to dress up every bit of our cities.

Grey is grey because this is the colour of the roadway. And the urban pavement is the terrain in which skaters dwell. Which means that Grey comes out for the love of skateboarding through the metropolis. It shows us a city in which the essential psycho-geography is defined by “spots,” “obstacles,” “ledges,” and “road gaps.”

Boneshaker mag, on the other foot, looks at the city through its “bumps” and “jolts”, its “rides” and “routes”, its “flows” and “lanes.” In this case the protagonist is the bicycle, and the new pro-sustainable, politicized leisure culture, and all other cycling trivialities that surround this old smooth operator.

Boneshaker is a quarterly coming from Bristol, and its first issue certainly aimed at producing enlightenment on every aspect of bicycology – from the story of your local repair workshop to rallies in L.A., from H.G. Wells or Conan Doyle two-wheeled quotes to a touching story on how to take your turns in an aggressive urban environment such as Guatemala City.

As for Car Park, you would by now expect that it too would be dedicated to all-democratically celebrate car culture and the way we look at cities from behind the wheel rather than on top of them. But nope.

Here, finally, the title is misleading and we are rather looking at a more traditional publication that carries the sort of black-and-white photos of gritty-looking cityscapes that have always made the joys of so many filmmakers.

Suddenly and weirdly, however, it’s the nice, grainy, and sharp avant-garde gaze that comes across as old-fashioned and slightly out of place in regards to the prosaic metropolitan reality of today’s new city cultures.