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Reporting from Venice - The Recap

21 july 2016

While in Venice the Architecture Biennale 2016 is in full swing, the Creative Industries Fund organised an afternoon to reflect on its theme 'Reporting from the Front'. In the dance studios of the HipHopHuis in Rotterdam, a group of 60 attendees got together and shared experiences on working and designing in the field of engaged architecture. The main question on how to develop a practise at the front, based on a personal, societal or humanitarian agenda, was explored in two sessions by means of several cases and during the keynote by Kunlé Adeyemi.

Can you feel it?
Joost Emmerik shared his reflections on the Architecture Biennale through a spoken column. He states that this year's Biennale shows signs of a new Renaissance in the avalanche of material from all over the world. Read his reflections here.

  • Working at the Front
    In the session Working at the Front, the discussion focussed on the various ways in which architects work in extreme conditions to address urgent issues that face our cities and to foster positive change. Marieke Kums (MAKS) showed the complexity of stakeholders within the urban lab of the Philippines: a collaboration between UNHabitat, municipality of Tacloban, the regional and national government, local inhabitants and the Creative Industries Fund. She shared her insights and experiences working in the post-disaster struck environment and elaborated on the contribution by the various parties setting the complex brief. Marieke articulated the challenging process to ensure that all stakeholders are part of the climate resilient development.

    On and off site
    Martin Sobota (Cityförster) is part of the UN-Habitat team that works in Gaza. He showed the arguably remarkable engagement of the local community and municipality in urban planning. His presentation also addressed the difficulties faced making a site visit or simply moving around in Gaza city in order to conduct work. In the Black Friday report, Forensic Architecture collaborated with Amnesty International to reconstruct the events in Rafah, Gaza, from 1 – 4 august in 2014. Since the team was denied access to Gaza, Forensic Architecture created a reconstruction of the events from images and videos recorded by professional and citizen-journalists. The team used its highly analytical spatial skills – and understanding of architecture and the city – to cross-reference different data and identify patterns.

  • Making impact
    During the discussion, it became clear that strong spatial compositions of evidence base material – models, proposals and strategies – can instil important changes. Although (cross-disciplinary) design is a good instrument to structure information, producing a plan or design does not necessarily deliver the impact desired. The urban labs and Forensic Architecture are both searching for ways to insure impact in different domains – politics, policy, human rights – through the logic of architecture and close collaborations.

    Designing beyond the Nation State
    Contributions to the Architecture Biennale in Venice show various reinterpretations of utopia. The session on desiging beyond the nation state explored how artistic-driven and speculative design research can contribute to building a new political, economic and social unity. Ali Karimi and Hamed Bukhamseen, curators of the Kuwaiti Pavilion, revealed their unlikely proposal for the piecemeal masterplan for the Gulf as a region. In their (speculative) plan for a united Gulf, it would be the first time in history for Persian and Arabic islands to create an archipelago beyond the nation states. Researchers of Behemoth Press delved deeper into a possible future of the region through a poetic manifesto for two islands: one reconnecting with the ancient ruins, the other cyber-tapping on the underwater data cable.

  • Pushing boundaries
    Stephan Petermann (AMO) pointed out how relevant and urgent it is to keep on thinking beyond nations and to reflect on it; to see how utopian thoughts can become operational or to learn from places that turned out to be dystopian. Stephan stated that architects should push their boundaries and enter the domain of politics. The discussion focussed on the possible role of the architect in co-creating new visions and on the way in which projects based on utopian thoughts can be realized. The speculative proposal for A Gulf saw the light of day at the Venice Biennial - a cultural manifestation. This made it possible to question issues and make proposals which otherwise, due to political tension, would be censored.

    Learning from Makoko Floating School
    Kunlé Adeyemi, founder of the architectural office NLÉ, reflected on the experiences of working on the Makoko Floating School (MFS) in a conversation with Afaina de Jong. They discussed the premise, process and the impact of the project and the possible next steps – considering the fact the structure collapsed recently. MFS is a prototype structure that was realized in 2013 in the context of responding to urgent situations due to a physical and social challenge. Physical in terms of urbanisation and climate change, social because of the status, existence and development of the Makoko floating community: a settlement on the Lagoon in the heart of Lagos. The project is an example on how to catalyse change.

  • First do it
    To the question about how embedded Kunlé had to be to actually realize it, he explained that it took one and a half year of intense contact with the community to gain trust and knowledge. He explained that the purpose was to do it first, to start building it as a prototype. To do that takes a lot of effort and learning about the local logics and ways of living. In the 2 years after completion, the team monitored the structure and its usage to understand its function and possible impact. The impact of the project continues, also after the collapse. It left a certain mark and state of mind, gave a second life of impact to the situation and raised the question of responsibility and the way to move on. The team is committed to learn from this process and take it to the next level. Besides keeping in contact with relevant stakeholders, NLÉ took the Biennale as an opportunity to enhance the building structure. On the water at the Arsenale quayside, the team built a replica of the Makoko Floating School. The replica – MFS II - also stages an exhibition about the changing relationship between water and rapidly expanding cities.

    Cultivating a new kind of architecture
    To the question whether a building at the frontline needs to be photogenic to have an impact in this image driven world of fast media, Kunlé stated that it is more important to make it meaningful. Even so, if beauty is powerful and has an impact, then it should be employed. We should build our most beautiful buildings for the most needy in this world. In that sense, we should cultivate a new kind of architecture that is super sexy and super serious at the same time.