Radical Locality: Actual Potential is an exhibition about the changing role of architects in modern society. The exhibition was organized by Bureau Europa, a regional architecture centre based in Maastricht.5 major themes provided the backbone of the exhibition. They were ideas and concepts that I recognized from projects that I had read about, but having them structured in themes allowed me to see the bigger picture.
tradition and the new
Cultural nostalgia is seen as a reaction to the increasing detachment from place. The architectural reaction to this is an increasing hankering towards craftsmanship and the values that are associated with it: self-expression, geographical connections and identity. In this vein traditional building methods and ideas in architecture are re-considered. The challenge facing architects is to envision how traditional buildings and ideas can be combined in a fresh way that suits the modern lifestyle
For me, cultural heritage and landmarks provide a sense of familiarity. Craftmanship is about more than creating something with your hands – it is also about the passion for creating a product (in the broadest sense of the word). Society’s increasing value of craftmanship is clear in the increase of things such as micro-brewers and artistry products. This theme summarizes that this trend is taken place on multiple levels in society.
cycles and time
The general public is increasingly aware of the environmental and social problems that are taking place globally: a population growth, scarcity in natural resources and an earth that already has some major pollution problems. The architectural world has also become aware of this problem. Its reaction? Recycling waste material for new concepts so that they become part of a sustainable cycle. The existing materials are also being re-used by creating (temporary) projects in old buildings or vacant lots.
The ‘cycles and time’ as title for the theme of re-use in architecture aptly summarizes that recycling is not just about recycling materials but also about adjusting time frames in which projects occur. Parks can be temporary nature solutions to vacant plots. For me, paradoxically, this theme emphasized the importance of ‘now’: looking at which materials and spaces are available in your direct surroundings and being flexible enough to create something from there.
The results of the economic crises has meant that ‘star architecture’ (creating multi-million dollar icons) has become more rare – simply due to monetary restraints and risks. Architecture has responded to this by using alternative business models such as crowd-funding, collective commissioning and self-developing such as pre-fab homes. One of the examples cited was the crowd-funded walkway in Rotterdam, which I also wrote about here.
The economic crises has encouraged a new type of creativity. Concepts such as pre-fab, that previously felt tacky, are reconsidered due to their economic and environmental efficiency. The re-evaluating of value showed that different economic models need not be constraining as long as critical design aesthetics are retained.
The concept of a new collectivity stems from the changing connections that technology provides us and the increasing mental and physical mobility related to it. Improved access to information and ideas mean that the amateur can become an expert. Knowledge networks are created with open-source thinking – everyone can add to an idea and help transform it. In terms of architecture, this social trend means that ad hoc (pop-up) architecture and projects featuring social participation are becoming increasingly popular
The information paradigm of the internet is structured around a network, rather than a hierachrical, linear narrative. This section of the exhibition nicely illustrated how this paradigm shift is affecting different aspects of society – how we live mentally but also physically.
The importance of re-activating landscapes stems from the increasing participation of stakeholders and decentralization of government involvement with special planning. Open plan processes (allowing for intermediate changes) and performative planning (where the plan is partly created during the process) allow for greater input from the stakeholders that will ultimately interact with the landscapes. Rules and regulations regarding the environment can also be changed to match current norms and values. A clear example of re-activating landscapes was the ‘Werk aan het Spoel project, where fortress ruins from 1794 were re-designed as a modern park and amphitheatre.
When reading about the concept of re-activating landscapes it struck me that architecture is about more than design buildings or public spaces. The regulation of the city also plays a role in transforming cities into landscapes that function environmentally and socially. Perhaps the decentralization of certain projects from a national level to a local level can allow for more creativity and more attention to the needs of specific places.