Sunday, June 20, 2010

More for Less: Congress on the State of Architecture

The debate on the post-crisis future of architecture was given an official forum in the Congress Mas por Menos (More for Less) held in Pamplona this month.

The occasion has served as an excuse for some journalists in the Spanish national press to join the campaign, launched several years ago by William J. Curtis, against the excesses of architecture over the past decade -- as usual, kicking the horse when its down. But this time the loudest and most strident voices have not prevailed over more serious reflections on the possible future of architecture offered during the congress and in the commentaries of its many observers.

Just for the record, a summary of the Congress: it was organized by the Fundación Arquitectura y Sociedad (Foundation Architecture and Society), founded by the Pamplona architect Francisco Mangado and with an ample list of national figures on its Board of Directors, including architects, politicians, journalists, and a variety of figures from other fields of study and other professions.

Four or five hundred architects and students gathered in the Baluarte, the auditorium designed by Mangado, to listen to three days of presentations and debates. Jacques Herzog and Renzo Piano presented their work under the theme "The Power of Architecture," followed by a debate between the two and Glenn Murcutt moderated by Luis Fernández-Galiano, one of the organizers of the Congress. In the afternoon, the former union leader José Maria Fidalgo presented the architects Rahul Mehrotra (India), Alejandro Arevano (Chile) and Giancarlo Mazanti (Colombia), whose work was grouped around the theme "Architecture and Shelter: Materials, Construction and Costs".

The second day included presentations by Anne Lacaton, Matthias Sauerbruch, Carlos Jiménez (Houston) and Victor López Cotelo (Madrid), on the theme "Architecture and Efficiency. New Programs and Sustainability". In the afternoon, Mark Wigley, Mohsen Mostafavi and the philosopher Slavoj Zizek debated the theme "Architecture and Pleasure: From the Aesthetic of the Icon to the Common Beauty".

On the last day, David Chipperfield presented his work at the Neues Museum in Berlin, and the architect Diébédo Francis Kéré of Burkina Faso presented some of his African projects (the architect is featured in the May issue of Architectural Record's GreenSource magazine). The Congress closed with a lecture by Glenn Murcutt and a debate between Fernández Galiano, Vicente Verdú of El País, Llàtzer Moix, the architecture critic of Barcelona's La Vanguardia, and the art critic Estrella de Diego.

Reports in Spanish on the Congress can be found on the webpages of Arquitectura Viva, Scalae. by Llàtzer Moix in La Vanguardia and by Antón García-Abril en El Mundo.

A sampling of quotes from commentaries on the Congress and the state of architecture:

Luis Fernández Galiano, interviewed in the business newspaper Expansión:
  • Real estate promoters have been mean-spirited in their urban vision.
  • The most important resource in architecture isn't money or recognition. It's talent, which multiplies the value of what is done by ten.
Vicente Verdú in El País, June 17. 2010:
  • ...architecture has won protagonism for its extravagances, its gigantic spectacles, and, if that were not enough, for the fetid stink of its bubble.
  • ...the congress ... concluded with this diagnosis: the crisis has demolished the star building, and on its site modesty and shame are beginning to grow. A regression? An anti-mediatic destiny? A sacrificial maneuver?
And finally, Llàtzer Moix, in the epilogue of his recent book Arquitectura milagrosa. Hazañas de los arquitectos estrella en la España del Guggenheim (Miracles in Architecture: Feats of Star Architects in the Spain of the Guggenheim, Anagrama. Barcelona, 2010):
  • In Bilbao we learned that architectural success can emerge where one least expects it and from extremely risky propositions. In Valencia and Santiago, that the combination of inexperienced clients and incontinent architects leads to excess and the waste of public money. In Zaragoza [Expo 2008], that the time factor only increases these effects. In Barcelona, that even cities wise in urbanism and architecture can catch star fever. In Madrid, that the epidemic is still not under control. In L'Hospitaket [outside Barcelona], that brand-name architectural is now not only a privilege of the villas of the rich, but also a weapon used by the historically marginalized in their struggle for emancipation....
Translations by DC