Conceptual Cluster 1: Relations and Agency

by sepidehkarami

photo-171 copy

“Flowerbox Architecture”? “Picnic Architecture”? No, thanks!

Why have we -architects- withdrawn to the other extreme end? All these transformations of the role of architects from “designing the objects” to “designing the agencies” is initiated with good intentions indeed. It has started from the exhaustion of being the slave of huge capitals and the good intentions of producing sociability, involving different actors and encouraging inhabitants to participate in producing the space and its politics. But isn’t it withdrawing too much from our role towards a sort of “social worker” and loose our ability and attention to the aesthetics paradigm of space? Is the working as a social worker or diminishing the space production to what I would like to call “flowerbox architecture” or “picnic architecture” the destiny of our profession? Isn’t it only being involved in activities that hardly even touch the powerful narratives of our cities?

There is nothing problematic of playing the role of social worker but it should go one step further and be involved in the aesthetic value of space. As David Harvey writes in his The Right to the City: “the question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyle, technologies and aesthetic values we desire.” And “the right to the city is the right to change ourselves by changing the city”. Hence I believe the right to city is also the right to make the image of the city. At the end we should have the right to imagine the aesthetics of our cities beyond what we are urged to accept and to consume as the dominant image.

Many practices of architecture that defines their role as “spatial agencies” such as the ones of “aaa” that starts with new dreams and the beautiful ideas of defining architecture as “shared activity and a relational practice” operate mainly in the margin of the mainstream reality. Clinging into vacant spaces, acting in spaces where power is absent (De Certeau’s term) and “to encourage inhabitants to re-appropriate vacant land in the city and transform it into self-managed space” through everyday activity has the potential of bringing people together and the possibility to take action. But at the same time it is to take refuge in the safe islands of the city and urban spaces without entering into the conflict with power. Then I am afraid all these efforts become “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”. I believe “urban tactics” should be where the power is present, and then the real art is how to find opportunities and take micro-actions to question the power. It is about de-territorialization of the already occupied lands rather than re-appropriation of vacant lands. This is where the political falls into the place. There is no “surprise” in action and in space when power is absent. It is about the courage of taking risk, operating and taking action in where it is risky, the risk of being destroyed, of being blocked, of being confronted and of being failed.

Together with ‘where to act’, ‘how to act’ is also coming into importance. The activity of everyday life such as gardening and cooking, although bring people together, but to a considerable extent, lacks the characteristics of surprise, chance encounter and probable conflict. I believe the activities used as “tactical tools” should be of unfamiliar characteristics and lead to a kind of creativity, curiosity and new imagination. The question is that how architecture as agency or “agancement” can create situations that provoke new activities, through new encounters?

The whole discussion is about this image: When “new architects” are chanting their songs, gardening cute flowerboxes, drunk in the celebration of differences and biodiversity, capitalism, yes that familiar giant, is standing in her elegant silk frock, enjoying the spectacle of cranes and scaffolds building up the amazing city of commerce, joy and light; she turns her magic wand in the air and within a blink many spectacular buildings mushroom from the ground and here is how our city is built up. To act is just to confront “her” in a smart way. It is to create new imagination different from what we are fed with on everyday basis. Architecture is able to create this counter-image! How? There is a long way to go!