Michel de Klerk - Spaarndammerplantsoen

While I always felt archi­tec­ture should sur­pass the purely func­tional and aes­thetic, this idea became stronger over the years. At this moment in time, I can’t even imag­ine myself work­ing in a ‘tra­di­tional’ (con­tem­po­rary) archi­tec­ture office where a lot of the work focuses on the looks of the build­ing. The socio-political com­po­nent that in my view is an essen­tial part of the set of tasks soci­ety could expect archi­tects and urban plan­ners to work on, seems lack­ing, if not com­pletely absent. Debates within the field are about para­met­ric design, big data, sus­tain­abil­ity and self-building, but nobody seems to ask the real ques­tions. The fun­da­men­tals are not dis­cussed. And if these are dis­cussed, the fun­da­men­tals are under­stood as the actual fun­da­men­tal phys­i­cal com­po­nents that we work with: floor, door, wall, ceil­ing et cetera.

On the one hand, this is a clear End of His­tory atti­tude and as such not lim­ited to archi­tec­ture. On the other, it’s just sad. But instead of allow­ing our­selves to become all cyn­i­cal, I pro­pose to view the cur­rent state of the pro­fes­sion as an oppor­tu­nity. Because, if things are not going the way you want them to go, there is poten­tial for change. Read­ing an essay by Peer Ill­ner in Real Estates: Life With­out Debt pro­vided me with both a back­ground and argu­ments to what so far has only been a feel­ing. The essay starts from an brief analy­sis of both the hous­ing cri­sis in the 1980s and the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of cri­sis, con­clud­ing that archi­tects have seen their social sta­tus dimin­ished to that of the pro­le­tar­ian. “Both eras reveal a story of the increas­ing inte­gra­tion of the archi­tect into the hordes of pre­car­i­ous ser­vice works — a ‘pro­le­ta­tian­ista­tion’ of the archi­tect that cre­ates the con­di­tions for a polit­i­cal recon­sid­er­a­tion of archi­tec­tural prac­tice (build­ing) as essen­tially con­nected to dwelling.” (p.52). So while the peo­ple you talk to at a birth­day party, pub­lic event, or at your local bak­ery still think you’re that mas­ter archi­tect with the per­fect job and above aver­age wage, the real­ity is we’re just ordi­nary peo­ple with under­paid jobs that are forced to work way more than is healthy. “It is now the archi­tect her­self who, under con­stant threat of pau­peri­sa­tion, will most likely qual­ify for social hous­ing at some point in her career.” (p.53). Funny and sad at the same time.

The impor­tant thought here is that this sit­u­a­tion of cri­sis is to be viewed as an oppor­tu­nity. Because we, the peo­ple think­ing about build­ings and cities, become part of the under­priv­iliged, it allows us to change our per­spec­tive and focus our atten­tion to the things that actu­ally mat­ter. Yes, we want build­ings to be beau­ti­ful. And yes, we want to use the lat­est tech­nol­ogy in our designs. And indeed, some of us still hope to be famous one day. But all of this should be sec­ondary to the real pur­pose of spa­tial think­ing: how to shape our phys­i­cal world to allow for a dig­ni­fied life. “Today’s archi­tec­tural labour cri­sis might sow the seeds for such a col­lec­tive eman­ci­pa­tion pre­cisely where build­ing is taught and takes place, in the pro­fes­sion of archi­tec­ture itself.” (p.55).

While some work­ing within the field are chang­ing their per­spec­tive, in the edu­ca­tional insti­tu­tions this shift has not hap­pened (yet). For instance, the newly oppointed dean of the Fac­ulty of Archi­tec­ture at the TUD has a back­ground in the tech­ni­cal num­bers based approach to spa­tial design that I tried to debunk above. “Peter Rus­sell is cur­rently Pro­fes­sor of Com­puter Sup­ported Plan­ning in Archi­tec­ture (CAAD) at the RWTH Aachen Uni­ver­sity. […] His research encom­passes Build­ing Infor­ma­tion Mod­el­ling, Intel­li­gent Build­ings and Ambi­ent Assisted Liv­ing.” This doesn’t promise much good for the next gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents grad­u­at­ing in Delft.

The image fea­tured with this post is an his­tor­i­cal exam­ple (Het Schip by Michel de Klerk, 1914 – 1921, Ams­ter­dam) of a project focused on improv­ing liv­ing con­di­tions for the impov­er­ished work­ing class of the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury. For those who want to read up on exam­ples of a dif­fer­ent approach to city-making, this arti­cle in Jacobin mag­a­zine might be worth a read.

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on Contact

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on Survey

2015-04-01 13:27:31

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Conrad Newel

on 12+ h. a day, 6/7 days a week

2015-03-23 18:10:56

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Colt Sievers

on 12+ h. a day, 6/7 days a week

2015-03-23 16:58:10

@Conrad having worked in one of those offices that you mention, I have found your post as much provocative as naive and simplistic. I should make an entire post to explain why... will leave that for later. Thanks, anyway, to keep the discussion alive