Towards an informed democracy: doubt, think, choose

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 13:18

Posted by Gricelys Rosario

(This article is also available in Italian, please click on italian in the menu bar)

Lecture Review: Rem Koolhaas “Architecture and democracy”
2011 Democracy Biennial l Teatro Carignano l April 15th, 2011
Sponsored by Turin’s Architect Association Foundation (Fondazione OAT)

© Jana Sebestova, photo courtesy of Fondazione OAT

One might have expected an acknowledgement of the ‘unquestionable’ benefits of democracy in the creation of quality spaces in our cities. Instead, Koolhaas account of the relationship between architecture and democracy takes a new direction in identifying the essential role politics and market economy have played in the definition of this liaison. To trace this idea, he presented a rich succession of words, images and projects, in a guided reflection of the fragility of democratic systems, a condition that easily made room to economic speculation and the establishment of false utopias. [See below some of the projects shown on this lecture]

1934 Frank Lloyd Wright – Broadacre city © Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Given the indisputable degree of consensus on democracy’s virtues, architects have constructed a vocabulary and articulated a shape to talk about it, using a deliberately biased language, as they have become the commentators of their own buildings. Architecture dressed as “green spaces, middle height and a tree on top” as the Vancouver model reveals –an example made to avoid mentioning once again the word sustainability– have produced a skyline of unmerciful icons that do nothing but to enhance uniqueness as a value, sacrificing not only the quality of architecture but leaving little space for spontaneity, the very essence of democratic places.

Les Espaces d’Abraxas, Marne-la-Vallée, by Ricardo Bofill, 1978-83.

Guggenheim Bilbao, Frank Gehry ©

The lecture clearly brings to the table an interesting series of issues, which have informed the shift of collective values in contemporary society, and therefore conditioned the perception and creation of the built environment: the predominance of the “¥€$ regime” and its responsibility in the definition of living standards and changing ideals of validation of the architectural language and public space interventions; the coexistence of opposing political systems, marked by unsuccessful initiatives to acknowledge the need of an informed critical approach regarding authoritarian regimes and the dynamics within it; the current extreme political mediocrity that has transformed everything besides democracy into ‘evil’, encouraging indifference and acceptance of a hostile attitude, so that their criticism could be legitimized as aimed at other populations, as people living in this contexts are treated as ‘others’; the devastating effects of market economy on accumulated knowledge, social disparity, architecture and urban life; the invasion of shopping on every environment and its consolidation as the only form of public space; the stagnation of architectural discourse and the need for a code of responsible behaviour; the public disapproval of the commitment with non democratic regimes and the Arab world made by some architects (including himself), based on the lack of knowledge in their “effort to understand its significance and potential values to reinvent immutable assumptions, to use architecture to find a way to destruction of their existing landscape, and to step out of the European moralism that will lead only to its own isolation”.

Parthenon: Foto by Danov

Time Magazine Front Cover: in order – Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, Le Corbusier, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama

Koolhaas’ keynote, presented through an intentionally controversial template, leads us to explore some of the contemporary meanings of being architects -shifting from the original definition of mere usufructuaries of their jus aedificandi towards a role of social, political and economical mediators- but most importantly, he emphasized our duty as advocators of democracy, to question the established truths and widely accepted systems, inadvertently referring to the values set by one of the main Italian figures that informed the consolidation of democracy when stating “Every mission constitutes a pledge of duty. Every man is bound to consecrate his every faculty to its fulfillment. He will derive his rule of action from the profound conviction of that duty” (Giuseppe Mazzini).

This review will be followed by an interview with Rem Koolhaas

Article translated by Alessandra Pellicanò

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2 Responses to “Towards an informed democracy: doubt, think, choose”

  1. Heather Fenyk says:

    April 26th, 2011 at %I:%M %p

    Cluster | City reviews a Rem Koolhaas lecture: Towards an informed democracy: doubt, think, choose

  2. Marcia Caines says:

    April 26th, 2011 at %I:%M %p

    Towards an informed democracy: doubt, think, choose: A

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