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“?