Back to Life, Back to Reality: The ‘New Normal’



As I get back to Lisbon and Europe,* it would seem almost inevitable that this blog returns to its mother tongue. Now that new challenges take flight, time may prove scarce for the pleasures of the text, but the willingness is certainly here.

A good way to guarantee a certain flow, it dawned on me after my last, distant post, may precisely lie in offering sneak previews — or retrospective extracts — of contributions that I will try to continue providing for different publications around the globe.

As such, the following preview is from“Uprooting Urban Design as We Knew It: The ‘New Normal’ and the Return of Utopia,” a text that I have just delivered for the Shenzhen Biennale.

See you there (and discover the remainder of the essay) in December.


The ‘new normal’ has been diversely portrayed by various sectors of current thinking. In economic terms, it relates to the potential advent of a ‘secular stagnation,’ as former US Secretary of State Larry Summers has put it. The implication is that constant economical growth is no longer the macro-economic rule. In political terms this has translated —and will continue to translate—  into the imperative to impose austerity as a permanent norm. This imposition, on the other hand, represents nothing but a compulsory anticipation of the need to rethink the use and consumption of our resources, soon clearly insufficient to sustain a world population that is growing both in absolute numbers and relative affluence. This being said, we won’t even address the ‘new normal’ of the increasing number of scientists who report the numbers  of a steady progression towards the eventual mass-extinction of the human race.

The field of architecture and urban planning has done little to accommodate and reflect such notions. The majority of the field is still clinging to traditional notions of practice, thus blindfolding itself to violent massive change. In its mainstream version, it takes refuge in the lack of responsibility that comes with its willing transformation into an obedient, acritical service industry. In its intellectual sectors, it still finds it possible to hide behind the bubble of disciplinary autonomy, including both the infantile embrace of parametricism, or the stubborn clasp of a vaguely minimal and conceptual formalism. 

The ‘new normal,’ however, demands a radical transformation of practice. And the radical practice means a fundamental uprooting of the meaning of architecture as we used to know it, not to mention the faster mutation of the role of design thinking itself. This is where an utopian drive that was dormant during some decades of post-critical numbness kicks back in.


8 responses to “Back to Life, Back to Reality: The ‘New Normal’

  1. Joao Silverio

    Wellcome back Shrapnel.


    João João Silvério


  2. Parabens Pedro! Nao sabia desta nova Aventura do MAAT! Fico contente que vas agitar o panorama Portugues. Significa que abandonas NY? Gostava de te convidar para uma apresentacao (CASE, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) Cumprimentos Nancy

  3. rob voerman

    Hi Pedro,

    I am sp glad to have read what wrote in the newsletter! It is so alienating that hardly any realizes that we need to make radical changes. That;’s exactly what I am focussing on in my new utopical work, But also in a large project in public space next year in the Netherlands in which I will research a possible new relationship between currency/finance and ecological resources. Anyway, I just want to respond to that as I think its so necesary to focus on that now instead of dealing with the more superficial approach architecture is mainly tackeling.. I hope there will be a movement working towards more radical ideas like you mentioned in your text..

    I am looking forward to catch up in Shenzhen.

    Greetings from Shenzhen, China


    Op 7 nov. 2015, om 19:04 heeft shrapnel contemporary het volgende geschreven:

    > >

  4. Rob Voerman

    The most relevant text I have read by a curator in the last 20 years… Thanks for this and I’m looking forward to the text for Shenzhen…

  5. Welcome back Pedro! The very best to the new challenge!

  6. Não vejo a hora do museu abrir. Estive em Veneza neste outubro e soube do projeto do MAAT e achei incrível a iniciativa. Fiquei muito feliz de ver um espaço assim acontecendo em Lisboa, num lugar lusofônico. Parabéns pelo desafio. Tenho certeza de que será interessante a experiência.

    Sou brasileira e sempre fico dividida se devo escrever do meu site em português ou em inglês. Por um lado estaria estimulando mais a produção cultural na minha língua, por outro, teria mais visibilidade. É sempre uma escolha difícil. De toda forma fico feliz de ler seus textos.

  7. Pingback: Lisboa 2.0 | shrapnel contemporary

  8. Pingback: No Country for Young People | shrapnel contemporary

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s