Category Archives: conferencing

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.

Kuwait9

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.

Kuwait5

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.

Kuwait12

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.

kuwait

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 Performative Turn

In the world of art, as in literary studies or the social sciences, one has got used to successive turns* by which tendencies metamorphose into one another.

Over the last decades there were the linguistic turn, the cultural turn, and, of course, also the performative turn, by the likes of which the influence of performance over other artistic media was somehow extended and confirmed.

Now, apparently also architecture has its performative turn. The prevalence of diagram or program in recent design approaches to all things architectural, like once of the principle of autonomy or the spirit of place, now gives place to every possible aspect of the performative in architecture.

Beyond the activation of program’s abstractions, and behind such a turn lies, as it would be expected, one relevant paradigm shift. And here we may speak of a return of the user – not to say simply the return of the repressed – to the troubled horizon of current architectural concerns.

After the delusions of grandeur of the recent architectural self, the ever-cyclic return to the needs of the end-user of architecture now takes place by integrating use narratives into conceptual strategies of design, but also by introducing expressions of these concerns into the very shaping of built forms.

Didier Fiuza Faustino, Opus Incertum, 2008, shown at the 11th Venice Biennial.

Thus one discovers the very imprints of bodies blooming in recent projects – reconnecting architecture with traditions of performance art –, just as one recognizes the performatic aspects of participation and self-building as instrumental in reconnecting architecture’s profession of faith with local communities and broader urban audiences.

These and similar reflections are bound to kick off the discussion on the performative in architecture that will take place this Saturday at 3pm, at the newly open, Exyzt designed Curator’s Lab, within the Art & Architecture programme of the ongoing Guimarães European Capital of Culture.

The panel is also a crucial moment of the multi-stage event and urban intervention competition Performance Architecture, which I’m curating as a last remnant of my previous free-lance livelihood in Portugal.

While key-note speaker Isabel Carlos will present her views on Performance Art and its potencial re-enactings in the contemporary urban field,  jury members Didier Fiuza Faustino, Raumlabor, A77 and Office for Subversive Architecture will show their own takes and ideas on performative architecture and the city.

The talk promises insights into some potential futures and options of a wide-spreading mode of architectural practice – while also giving way to the announcement of the Performance Architecture competition winners, who will get to build their own proposals in the public space of Guimarães.

Useless Architecture?

The name of this talk evokes the title of a recent conference given by Peter Eisenman. In Wither Architecture? the gentle and mature starchitect situated his recent practice within a double condition of lateness: a late work in the career of his author, and also an inevitable expression of the often called late capitalism. A charming weakness emerged from the almost anxious, if self-ironic, attempt to inscribe his work in the flow of architectural history. Eisenman’s obsessive use of fictional, historical or topographical grids to intellectualize and justify the form of his buildings came about as a means to achieve disciplinary legitimation. However, this was also a Piranesian prison that kept the creator from the pure creative act. Uttering a kind of last will, the architect aspired to one of the most useless and unreachable aspects of architecture: everlasting recognition. So as to produce relevant architecture, do we really need the various legitimations of visibility? Is architectural culture utterly useless or is it’s thinking strictly necessary to reiterate again and again the ultimate, unobvious usefulness of buildings?

This is the concept I’ve presented to ExperimentaDesign when invited to host one of their 2011 OpenTalks. With talk hosts such as curators Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Zoe Ryan, this promises to be one of the biennial’s Opening Week highlights, taking place as from today at 11am  in another amazingly empty heritage building in Lisbon’s historical core, until recently the home to the Boa Hora Law-Court.

.. At Trial in Boa-Hora Court, 1980. Via Memoriando.

So, this is the weird setting in which tomorrow at 11am invited ladies Alexandra Lange, architecture critic at the Design Observer, Folke Koebberling, from Koebberling & Kaltwasser, and Gretchen Mokry, from Architecture for Humanity will take architecture culture to martial enquiry…

The issue here is not really if buildings and shelter are useful, which they obviously are, but more if we may dismiss architecture thinking and its (dis)contents as distant and useless – as so many seem to assume too quickly.

Sit Down and Enjoy the Flow

While finishing classes for the academic year of 2010-11 and already preparing to join the Realdania/IFHP/DAC  “Another Urban Future” think-tank in Copenhagen – to again visit the Danish capital for the first time in 20 years – I couldn’t but think of just sitting down and enjoying the flow of information that one has to suspend if one wants to carry with business as usual.

In this case, going back to the dark side of your email inbox is quite enough to delight in immediate possibilities for reflection. With our focusing on communication tools such as Facebook or Twitter, we constantly overlook how the much humbler email has changed our lifes – and our possibilities of (net)working internationally at considerable low cost…

This is not only about the instanteinity of communication across the globe, or the innumerous newsletters updates one consumes at daily rate and absurd speed. This is also about how painful – and deadening on a one person-structure – it would be to print, fold, envelope, lick, stamp, and take 20, 30, 40 letters a day to the nearest post office. Unconceivable and yet only 30 years distant.

Indeed, if I would have to consider what was the electronic tool that has brought us to our current state of affairs after the invention of personal computers, I would have to state that this was the email.

And this small digression is only to start telling you about two or three things on my inbox that tickled my curiosity enormously over the last weeks – before I archive them into an almost inevitable oblivion.

The first are news on an intriguing project sent in by Beyond #01 contributor Antonio Scarponi, the bright mind behind Conceptual Devices.

I think my enthusiasm for Malthus, A Meal a Day was triggered because it reaches into that dominion of design fiction that, parallel to architecture fiction, very effectively feeds our imagination of the future ever since Anthony Dune and Fiona Raby started to devise weird scenarios to explain their startling objects.

But I also got carried away because of its connection to a text that impressed me earlier on. In the unexpected context – or not so much – of an architecture magazine, “L’Agriculture en Ville” by Etienne Chobaux simply explores the current possibilities of hidroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics and shows us how the future of food may be about to change oh so drastically.

This sort of future visions is the thing that ultimately prevents me from being a depressed pessimist on account of the information I access every day: they reveal the incredible but proven potential of the human mind to permanently (re)create, (re)think, (re)improve and transform its technologies and inventions.

Socially, or in terms of the current history of our democracy, we seem to be placidly looking at the decline of another roman empire from the very comfort of our living rooms. We seem indecided to muse on revolt or to just remain indifferent vis-a-vis the spectacle of luscious greed merrily overcoming any possible rationale of well-distributed progress.

The possibility of sanity then probably arises from the lone fact that we secretly know – or want to believe – that some people out there are still diligently blinding themselves to the reality around them and just moving on with their own doings – and with their own micro-narratives of possible progress.  We somehow expect those people to be our guarantee for ‘another future.’

And while I’m pretty sure Antonio Scarponi does his best day-to-day efforts to prevent himself from considering that Silvio Berlsconi’s really exists, all of this pretty well relates to another blog feed that just landed on my personal email from DPR Barcelona.

DPR’s quote of Zizek provides an excellent opener for a peculiar reflection on how again, and as we are one,* architecture can be political, even if also assumedly withdrawing from the violent assaults of current reality.

Curiously, Ethel Baraona and César Reyes’ contribution to a larger blogiscussion reflects upon the project of a Greek architect, Aristide Antonas, featured above. And, as their text eventually suggests, this is not an unrelated happenstance.

Coincidently, my forthcoming claim that architects must go back to the streets – an op-ed for Domus that states that… they are already doing it – also inevitably echoes the violence that, while munching dinner with our small children, we sense rising daily in the very same cities that more than two thousand years ago saw the unconscious, mythological birth of Western democracy.

FORM FOLLOWS F®ICTION

This week, I’m going to Paris* to kick off my participation as a guest tutor at the ESA’s Studio 3X, where I follow after Peter Zellner and Enric Ruiz-Geli during this last semester of 2010-11 –  while Fernando Menis, Riyaz Tayyibji and Alexander Brodsky took care of the first half of the year.

At this instance I’m also delivering a conference, this Friday at 7pm, on the theme of dis_placing the architect. While again playing with the idea of becoming a one-man band, I’ll focus the presentation on some of my curatorial projects that tackle changes in the nature of the profession today.

As for the one-month course itself, I proposed the theme of Form Follows Fiction. Focusing on the project of a community centre in a socially problematic urban enclave, the exercise intends to explore how the teachings of fiction can translate back into spatial production, and how the exploration of life-stories can translate into relevant experimentation with program.

At this instance, I’ll propose that one may depart from two different aspects of fiction taken as a critical tool: the reconstruction of reality’s spatial and social network through narrative (and architectural) devices, and the devising of future scenarios (and architectures) from symptoms and tensions which are present both in context and fictional texts.


Just think of the conflation of the intricate spatiality of Georges Perec’s La Vie Mode d’Emploi with the plausible futurity of Bruce Sterling’s White Fungus and you’ll start to get the idea(s) where we will be departing from.

*The asterisk signals the post’s soundtrack!

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.

Mis-Takes

Talking about bebop, after my participation this Saturday at the Beauty of Error conference, at Lisbon’s MUDE museum, I can’t but share what I thought was the most exciting presentation of them all – and there were designers, artists, photographers and even a chef discussing their trial and errors…

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. The video is somehow remnant of an era of which we may start being nostalgic, as it speaks of the access of the previously excluded to cultural production, and the vibrancy and quality that such access brought to society in general. It was made and presented by Johnny, a funktastic DJ from Lisbon.

It also said a lot about the many-sided abilities that today artists carry with them besides the main skill people usually recognize in them, which is somewhat close to what I intend to explore in my presentation at the disPlace conference this coming weekend in Porto – while addressing recurrent preoccupations on what the architect’s role vis-à-vis contemporary society may be these days.

In a weird chain of thought, however, this accumulation of skills by today’s most successful practitioners also reminded me of what someone was recently saying about the increasing problem of Western democracies regarding the re-distribution of (all types of) wealth within the scope of a crumbling social state.

As political oligarchies put down roots, as the richer get richer, and the poorer get poorer, the day seems to not so far in which the economically wealthy are defined as the only ones that have the means to produce anything – from new products to new ideas, from more money to more culture.

Want to be an artist? Want to do architecture, build beautiful structures? Sorry, you better be rich. But if you are already rich enough to maintain the activity, then you will have more chances than ever to get wildly richer…

As the middle class slowly asphyxiates, similarly to what happened in pre-modern societies the new unemployed proletariat will be enslaved to consume only the most basic products in a state of dormant obedience – these products now ranging from basic junk food to basic junk TV, if not the straightforward means to maintain a slightly schizophrenic level of quiescent euphoria.

……..Image from Zombie Apocalypse videogame.

And as apparently peaceful revolutions take on the streets to express their confused uneasiness about the situation – just before London, in Lisbon there were two hundred thousand people in the streets, a fact not necessarily connected by local media to the demise of the government – such uneasiness also clarifies why, as Lars Bang Larsen brilliantly put it, zombie stories are again replacing vampiresque tales in the wider collective unconscious.

Fiction is always trying to tell you some uneasy truth.