In September 2015 Campo is launched.
Campo is a space for Architecture in Rome, the first exhibition is a declaration of intent, The Supreme Achievement. The gallery doesn’t only organize architectural exhibitions it’s also a place to celebrate architecture, a location to discuss on architectural subjects. The first action was a workshop where students and architects confront each other on a very important text the 12 ideals cities of Superstudio. This text is seen as a project and its interpretation produced other projects. From this first event start the cooperation with a young publishing house http://www.black-square.eu/publications/.
But let’s go in order to tell this story, first the work description then the introduction of Davide Sacconi and Maria S. Giudici on the book, edited by them, which after 8 months describe this experience.
The book will be lauched in London at the AA bookshop on june 23 at 6.pm.
In 1971, Superstudio published their twelve Ideal Cities, “the supreme achievement of twenty thousand years of civilization, blood, sweat and tears”. After 44 years, CAMPO and Black Square Press ask twelve groups of architects to give their own answer to the original brief.
The Superstudio piece was less about imagining the Future than it was about re-imagining Architecture as a form of knowledge and as a platform for thinking rather than mere practice.
The format itself – one image and one text for each of the twelve cities –implies a project of an Archetype rather than a pragmatic solution to a problem.
In fact, these visions of ‘supreme achievement’ are not answers, but open questions.
Perfect and dystopian urban mechanisms where any incoherence is eliminated, they challenge the idea that space and bodily presence might not matter anymore in the future, while at the same time they provide an ironic commentary on the architect’s curse: that we have to be projective and optimistic by default, even (or maybe especially) when civilization seems in fact to have come to an end.
While Superstudio’s response was intentionally dystopian, there might be other ways to interpret today the same brief. We still need architecture to put forward not only ideas for new forms of life, but also new possibilities for our political imagination to go beyond the current conventional models.
CAMPO and Black Square invite twelve radical practices and thinkers to propose their own cautionary tale to be featured in a publication as well as an exhibition opening in Rome in the fall 2015.
The twelve proposals will become the starting point for a one-week workshop during which architecture students will try to develop, for each of the cities, a prototype of the space of the self in a 1:20 plaster model.
Featuring proposals by: Amid/Cero9, Dogma, Microcities, Behemoth, MapOffice,
Didier Fiuza Faustino, Philippe Morel, Aristide Antonas, For-a+Beth Hughes + more
CAMPO is space to debate, study and celebrate Architecture founded in Rome by Gianfranco Bombaci, Matteo Costanzo, Luca Galofaro and Davide Sacconi in 2015. www.campo.space
BLACK SQUARE is a London-based publishing and educational platform founded by Maria S. Giudici, diploma unit master of Unit 14 at the Architectural Association. www.black-square.eu
THE SUPREME ACHIEVEMENT
edited by Maria S. Giudici e Davide Sacconi
BLACK SQUARE PRESS 2016
Tales from a present future
by Maria Shéhérazade Giudici and Davide Sacconi
In 1971 Superstudio published in Architectural Design Twelve Cautionary Tales for Christmas, twelve short stories illustrated with their own drawings, which put forward a critique of the role of architecture in the making of the city. The twelve stories illustrate what Superstudio defines as “premonitions of the mystical rebirth of urbanism”, that is to say, a condition in which architecture takes command and becomes, in a very explicit way, a tool for the construction of subjects. As such the Cautionary Tales are not projections of a desirable future but rather exaggerated portraits of the present condition. The science fiction character of the narrative, juxtaposed with the technical precision and evocative dimension of the drawings, constructs a detachment from reality that is the key to a ruthless and powerful critique. The chosen format itself is the device through which the authors target precisely the relationship between space and government, form and modern politics, without either seeking refuge in academic theories or falling into naïve utopias.
The Tales, at their root, address the relationship between the project of governance, the project of the city, and the project of our domestic space. This relationship is not a new thing. For example, ancient Chinese cities, founded on the logic described in the Rites of Zhou, already present a sophisticated translation of ethical hierarchies in built form, as did the Roman colonial grid. However, in these cases, the symbolic and military ambitions at stake are always laid out in a way that includes a clear form of self-representation. In other words, these traditional cities were always legible as projects. Moreover, the idea of power and authority in pre-modern times conceptually predated the making of the city, which then became the fit receptacle and embodiment of that power. However, from the 1700s onwards, the system shifted: it is the urban space itself that constructs the very possibility of government, it is the ordering of the city that builds the consensus, which any power needs to exist. Abraham Bosse’s famous frontispiece for Hobbes’ Leviathan already brings to the foreground this need to root power in the calculated composition of a mass of bodies into an orderly people. In this shift, the built form ceases to be a representation and becomes, as Le Corbusier would say, a machine. As architects, this condition forces us to ask ourselves: have we yielded all of our imaginative and disruptive power by accepting this role, or on the contrary have we become all the more powerful, yet questionable, by becoming not only the accomplices but the very enablers of government? This conundrum is well expressed in the clinical, relentless descriptions of the original Superstudio Tales as well as in the illustrations which portray an architecture which is at the same time both absolutely generic and rarefied, but also monumental by virtue of its sheer scale.
These considerations of Superstudio’s critical approach and their reflections on the role of architecture were the starting point of The Supreme Achievement, a project born out of the collaboration of CAMPO and Black Square – respectively, a space for architecture in Rome and a Milan-based publishing and educational platform.
In the summer of 2015 we invited twelve architects and collective practices to give their own interpretation of Superstudio’s Cautionary Tales in relationship to the contemporary condition, respecting the original format of one text and one image. We assembled a fairly heterogeneous group of contributors; architects and collectives with different backgrounds, experiences and positions, coming from three different continents and belonging to different generations. In spite of the differences, a common thread can be identified among the participants; on the one hand, a shared interest in the relationship between the city and power while on the other hand, a particular relevance is given to architectural representation. They all use drawing as a heuristic device – that is to say, as a form of knowledge in its own right – rather than as a mere way to explain a project: for them the drawing itself is the project.
To further elaborate and open up a discussion on these contributions, we organised a one-week workshop at CAMPO during which a group of students, speculated on the space of the self within the framework proposed by the twelve visions. Departing from the images and texts as a brief, the students elaborated architectural devices that respond to the original contribution as mechanisms triggering an experiential dimension of the cities. The devices, through their material presence as plaster models, oppose the character of the urban visions by adding a formal and spatial level of reflection that complements or twists the original propositions. The models, juxtaposed and considered as a whole, become fragments of a possible analogous city to come.
The work, a result of this process of exchange, was exhibited at CAMPO in September 2015. The entire process involved architects, students and guest critics who are all engaged in an ongoing debate around the question first put forward by Superstudio: is architecture condemned to become a machine of government?
The results have been quite extraordinary and surprising in many respects. The restraints and the consequent clarity found in the Cautionary Tales format revealed not only its enduring validity but, if possible, an even increased power vis-à-vis the contemporary reality and the variety of invited contributors. The material as a whole has a visual and conceptual clarity, but at the same time, once we enter into the depths of the narratives and details of the designs, one is able to produce countless possibilities of cross references. The images and the texts offer themselves to the viewer as a living matter, where each contribution can be read against the others in an endless play of elective affinities and conflicts. Thus, the framework of the Tales engenders a tension among the projects where the differences are neither recomposed nor irreconcilable, producing an understanding of the whole that is greater than the single parts. Each contribution insists on distinct attitudes that span from acceleration to opposition, from the poetic to the technological, from the ironically disenchanted to the resolutely pragmatic, giving form to a mosaic of visions and tools. Nevertheless, we can clearly read a common concern with the (im)possibility to investigate and represent the current transformations of the city, its dissolution in a system of norms defining behaviors, where architecture seems to be progressively absorbed into a productive machine. The physical and mental acceleration is produced and at the same time produces the endless condition of urbanization.
An interesting edge seems to materialize from this common ground when it comes to defining a possible role of architecture within the condition of urbanization. For example, Philippe Morel’s Last Earth brings the possibilities offered by mathematics and computational tools to their most extreme consequences. Thus uncovering the irresolvable internal contradictions brought about by the progressive naturalization of capital as an endless process of accumulation. In a city on a planetary scale where everything is immediately and intrinsically available thanks to the computational management of a ‘state of statistical chaos’, architecture, the city and man are reduced to irrelevant numbers subordinate to ‘an ideal gas law’.
On a similar path, but possibly a few centuries earlier, Raumlabor speculates on the technical and cultural possibilities offered by 3d printing technology applied to the urban scale. The mechanical precision of the drawings and the tech-journalist like style of the text of Stadtfresser City have an evocative quality that instrumentalises the technical issues to open a more profound question of globalization, erasure of cultural differences and ultimately on the dissolution of architecture as language and knowledge. Precisely the relationship between knowledge production and life is at the center of the vision constructed by Behemoth, the Italian-Iranian Holland-based trio. Produced by their sharply critical and ironic gaze, Penelope or the Endless Loom materializes in an absurdly low-tech but highly sophisticated machine, an allegory of the actual condition of labour within university campuses. Similarly to Morel’s proposal, the relationship between architecture and the city or between matter and man, are completely dissolved and substituted by the management of feedback loops, an ‘endless loom’ of economic, intellectual and affective relationships efficiently serving the machine.
The same planetary gaze from Morel’s proposal is seen from a different perspective in the collaboration between FORA and Beth Hughes. The Assembly, at once a post-apocalyptic and very actual scenario, where in a process of ‘metropolitan autopoiesis,’ the territory is continuously reorganized by infrastructural systems that leave behind a landscape of obsolete technology. A glimpse of hope seems to reside in the possibility to ‘re-appropriate and co-opt’ these ‘wrecks of physical surplus,’ in ‘extraterritorial exemptions’ where a new relationship with space might emerge; a very tight space for architecture to maneuver.
Similarly architecture plays the role of found opportunity within a larger system in, The Warehouse City, the poetic vision by Aristides Antonas. The collage, to a certain extent, could be read together with The Assembly – here it is no coincidence that both projects use collage – as a representation of the ‘inhabitation of the invisible flows,’ of time, space and the relationships that connective infrastructure produces between humans. The city is the endless interior of an ‘abstract warehouse’ where everything is represented and where the new potential resides, more than in the architecture, in the possibility to instrumentalise the ‘infrastructure protocols’ to construct new forms of co-existence. The recapture of the interior through a collective organization becomes the central theme of The City Within, the tale imagined by Microcities (in collaboration with Giacomo Nanni, Cristina Crippa, Raffaele Alberto Ventura and Francesca Guidoni), where a ‘slow and secret invasion’ from within is able to regain control of a city now turned into a desert by private interests and technocratic control. The project exposes the blurring of private and public space, domestic and working condition, political and the economic sphere, that is at the core of the contemporary condition. The detailed precision of the account, the choice of the section as a tool for representation and the happy ending betray an optimistic vein to which architecture seems to be inevitably condemned. As a sort of counterpart, the project Master and Slave by Didier Fiuza Faustino relies on a much more ambiguous and dystopian atmosphere. The city, or possibly the entire civilization, is condensed in an inhabited Moloch that is eroded from the inside, a conflict of devotion and domination, dependence, and fulfillment that masters and slaves are obliged to play in an uncanny and open-ended perversion.
An estrangement of a different nature is provoked by the cyclic conception of time in the City without a Monument by the Brazilian duo Miniatura, where the city is a cycle that transforms the relationships between itself, man and architecture in an endless time-space loop. A process, more than an architectural form, that, containing ‘the repertoire of everything that was and has to be done’ breaks with the idea of modernity based on progress and memory.
The theme of memory finds its most poetic moment in the visionary tale narrated by MAP Office. The French duo, based in Hong Kong, speculates on the relationship between the nature of a person and their technological extension, between the volatile character of information and the permanence of matter, the inevitability of death and the construction of memory. The record of each life, one chip after the other, gives form to The Island of Memories, at once a cemetery and archive of the population’s entire collective knowledge. The tale can be read both as a subtle critique of the technological faith and as a light-hearted journey into the abyss of human nature, where the role of architecture is dissolved into a direct projection of ourselves in the infrastructure of the landscape.
A step before death, Nocturnalia by Cero9/Amid put forward the possibility of collective sleeping as the last and paradoxical frontier of wakefulness, as a form of ‘resistance to a life exposed to a machinic process of exploitation’. Civilization without homes surrounded by the endless productive field of work where architecture celebrates and gives form to the ultimate public space; an enormous dome with a golden ceiling beneath which the whole population sleeps together in the attempt to escape the nightmare of uniformity. Endlessly monotonous walls, an ‘absolute homogeneity and sameness’ that continues unabated, is the theme of Alex Maymind’s The City of Walls, a direct reinterpretation of Superstudio’s First City. The walls construct a background condition, ‘a quality with no quality that has a quality of its own’, against which the unbridled nature of the city can materialize. Thus, the city is paradoxically conceived of as a subtraction that constructs and as the gesture that carves a political space out of the infinite, straight stubbornness of the walls.
Finally, Dogma proposes The Block, a straightforward reinterpretation of what was once the basic unit of the city, now condensed in a single monumental space. Architecture takes command over the city as an archetype that, through the precise articulation of its form can organize the relationship between ‘the two extremes of the human condition: solitude and togetherness’. The sheer scale of the artifact imposes a presence that nevertheless can be either rejected or eroded through inhabitation, opening up the possibility of a political dimension of co-existence by means of architecture.
These twelve cities are not mutually exclusive; after all they are all happening, right here, right now, with their conflicts and their ambitions. Ultimately what emerges out of this complex mosaic of ideas is, against all odds, faith in architecture, in the possibility for architecture to exist perhaps beyond architects and against all the constraints of politics. A golden dome, a basement that becomes a city, the white noise of machines whose intricate construction doesn’t cease to fascinate us: the real Supreme Achievement resides in the capability to recognize the potential of space, and to turn it from an instrument of power into a weapon that may return some sense of awareness, agency, and perhaps beauty to us.
to order the book : aabookshop.net