Austerity Chic, cosmopolitical, technocratics
Now that the party is over, an important strand of resistance— and perhaps survival— against the neoliberal shock doctrine and its penchant for the spectacular can be seen in a series of practices that are reversing economic performance and using austerity as an expressive trait that defies yet-rampant neo-capitalist excess. A revival of ‘povera’ aesthetics has become de rigueur amongst self-conscious practices, and despite accusations of ‘austerity chic’ as the ultimate neo-capitalist aesthetic device during the crisis, it has continued beyond the crisis into the post-crisis, so-called recovery, as a kind of ‘malingering’ and fashionable discontent.
There are a number of strategies that are now flourishing amongst a series of practices that have combined, if not fused political and aesthetic dimensions. There is a series of practices associ-ated to their approach, members of which are focusing on ecological concerns; that is to say, a cosmopolitical architecture, or one in which the architectural object, which was subject of cult and desire during the neo-capitalist era, begins to dissolve in multiple material ecologies, connected in turn to planetary ecologies. Rather than an iconic architecture of objects, an architecture that dissolves into processes and ecologies becomes a new center for a micro-cosmos, which reconfigures and distorts conventional building ecologies. In the age of the Late Anthropocene, the most critical resistance may be precisely to resolve in architectural terms the conflict between the eternal growth inherent to capitalism and the Earth’s limited resources. This is an architecture that often operates as a Trojan Horse, far from strident and spectacular parametrics, but also far from the programmatic activist loudness. Resistance here is exerted against the spectacle of star-architecture by a kind of silent performance, where material and social ecologies are mobilized against architecture as object or commodity, while engag-ing performatively in a semi-nihilistic aesthetic of becoming imperceptible— a deliberately impossible-to-identify architecture after the neoliberal shock.
Instead of design overstatements or political maximalism, these architectures deploy a sort of assemblage aesthetics, where the elements that constitute the architecture are deliberately kept raw, in order to preserve the connection between the buildings and larger, material or cultural ecologies. Assembling in a deliberately crude fashion, that connect with ecological and economical systems, suddenly made explicit: sun-shading, insulation, water management, enclosure, greenhouse effects, economies, etc... each and every element is treated with an ad-hoc aesthetics of assemblage, a practice that resists the specular attempts of neoliberalism to make everything consistent and unified – that is, architecture polished into subjection (often as iconic vessel for capital 'at rest').
A deliberate aesthetics of the unfinished pervades the work, they share a bricolage aesthetic, and a deliberately unfinished quality.
AWP office for territorial reconfiguration
Anfres Jaque Office for Political Innovation
Assemble Carl Turner Architects
There are now quite a few practices where the rejection of the customary processes of architectural procurement is driving a return to development, self-building, or community-building as an act of resistance against the rote commodification of architecture. Drawing resources sometimes from arts grants, academic research, community funding, and, on occasion, entrepreneurial devices, some of these practices have become engaged with direct-action practices formerly associated with political agitation, while occupying a space between social activism, art installation, and architecture.
These practices bypass traditional forms of commissioning buildings through direct engagement with the community and the construction process, as collective acts of resistance to the reduction of architecture to ‘rentable’ commodity. On the other hand, there are also groups who operate largely within the academic environment, where political engagement occurs on a more theoretical level through competitions, publications, exhibitions, and lectures. For these practices, the discipline itself becomes the crucial tool for resistance.
Made in Earth
Urban Think Tank
Mass Design Group
Hollmen Reuter Sandman
People's Architecture Office
One of the emergent tendencies in the current work is precisely the re-materialization of architecture as a strategy of resistance against the spectacular parametric— based provocatively on immaterial and hyper-real scenarios formulated against anything resembling old- school constructivism. This re-materializing tendency can be observed in different modes through which the materiality of the project becomes intensified so as to resist its commodification.
One of the indices of this might be called ‘material fundamentalism’. In architecture, it connotes a set of technologies aimed at using the materialization of the project as an argument for resistance to neoliberal lique- faction. New practitioners of material fundamentalism have radicalized the approach and have become a popular trend amongst the emerging practices aiming to exit the neoliberal mode. To different degrees, these architects advocate for a hands-on engagement with the materialization of the architectural object, from the direct mediation between the final user to the literal assembly of the project.
Vo Trong Nghia
Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury / Urbana
Jose Maria Shanchez Garcia
Gabinete de Arquitectura
CC arquitectos manuel cervantes cespedes
Pezo Von Ellrichshausen
Christ & Gantebein
New historicists. revisionists, constitutionalists
If one of the defining pieces of neoliberal propaganda was Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’,8 one of the mainstream strategies for the post-neoliberal era is the return to history as a crucial referent for the work of many of the new practices, and, to some degree, a return to the necessity of avant-garde architectural production, which had been abandoned in recent years in favor of ‘surfing’ markets as a more contemporary and more productive or immediate means to ends. The nominal return to a historically constructed and historically determined discipline implies, to a degree, a reaffirmation of disciplinary autonomy, which seems to be another common trend in emergent practices.
There is, today, a group of architects on both sides of the Atlantic exploring the discipline proper as a source for strictly architectural concerns, with such grounds orchestrated and defined as means to resist the pressures of the market and the industry. In Northern Europe, there is a growing group of practices which often resort to tropes of architectural and art history: images from Aldo Rossi, Venturi & Scott Brown, Mies van der Rohe, or Richard Neutra, but also Giorgio de Chirico, David Hockney, or Henri Rousseau, are often invoked in the projects and exquisitely drawn and assimilated with a wide range of concerns that shift from politically driven references —for example, Ludwig Hilberseimer to an openly hedonistic intent— for example citations of Neutra or Venturi & Scott Brown.
Adam Kahn architects
DeVylder Vinck Taillieu
Menos es Mais
Joan Mendes Riberio
An existential dilemma seems to have eroded the very basis of the rationale of the system, and there is a substantial number of architects who have begun exploring the dysfunctional, the playful, and the contingent as a critical position toward the former bullish confidence of neoliberal pragmatism. This is something that we have not seen since the ‘de-constructivist’ episode of the 1980s, when a whole generation of architects indulged in shifting volumes and grids randomly for the sake of being subversive, all the while representing the contradictory and incommensurable nature of the postmodern world. A growing numbers of architects have even lost the desire to remain in the economic mainstream: cities in China and towers in Dubai? Not cool. A whole generation is again happy to seek solace in the virtuosism of drawing and even pass on the former ‘sine qua non’ need to build.
In some respects, the return to postmodern critical discourse, as typified by Eisenman, Hejduk, Libeskind, Tschumi et al., or to the ‘pop’ paper architectures of the 1960s, appears to be very attractive to a generation lost or stranded between hyper- and post-capitalism. Within this new existentialist background, playfulness, dysfunctionality, and the deliberate exploration of contingency have become common qualities for many of the emergent practices, reviving some of the traditions of radical architectures past, all the while suggesting the alternative may be total despair. Hazard and randomness have replaced the pragmatic/positivist discourse of need and a certain return to the critical, existential avant-garde is perpetually on the horizon anyway. Gifted with a tremendous capacity to draw, these practices have developed a language that is based on the use of artificial materials and distorted and contingent geometries rather than being scientifically dictated by precise rules and programs and delivered through complex algorithms or NURBS. To their disciplinary credit, the contingency of the forms appears tentatively as a positive social value in these otherwise neo-existentialist architectures.
Tham and Videgard
Besler & Sons
SMAR architecture studio
El Equipo de Mazzanti
Cadaval & Sola-Morales
Hiroshi Nakamurs & NAP
Against the cold, technocratic neoliberal style, best represented in architecture by parametricism, a new generation of critical architects is embracing populism in order to mobilize architecture’s political powers. Not that parametricism did not have its very own forms of populism —which it did and still does— but that the populist mode has now (once again) invaded the discourse of architects.
These practices —who are often criticized as a continuation of the neoliberal project— have instead adopted a low-threshold discourse that seems aimed at newspaper or new-media headlines, or to play to the one-liners, talking points, and the sound bites of a politician’s made-to-order speech. There are no mysterious theories or complex paradigms that underpin the projects; the ambiguities which were integral to parametricism and the neoliberal world have been eliminated to set certainties instead. In a sort of comic-book-like directness, the projects are presented with a deadpan, oversimplified diagrammatic logic, a sort of caricature of the design process.
Even in those architectural practices that have remained attached to the idea of technology as the primary focus of their design research. There is a deliberate attempt to move away from any notion of optimization or even functionality of the parametric. If the coupling between the earlier architectural avant-garde and technological innovation gave rise to the development of a series of practices embedded within larger practices, developing the knowledge to build increasingly complex building geometries (for example, Gehry Technologies, the 'wework4her' group in Zaha Hadid’s office, the Advanced Geometry Unit at Arup, the Specialist Modelling Group in Foster and Partners, or KieranTimberlake Research Group), it appears that the promises of the computational world never developed into full-fledged architectural practices becoming instead subject to wider architectural agendas that subsumed technical innovation as a desirable, yet sublimated value. It might also be an automatic reaction to what Mario Carpo regards as the emergence of a new inexact, rough computing paradigm, the result of Big Data and Web 2.0.
The techniques —and the sensibilities— of the early parametric have become, at once, intensified and somewhat exiled in new critical practices, no longer fully marginal, but only partly mainstream. Some believe that architects are so good at doing so many interesting and relevant things to the contemporary world that we should not be wasting time building actual buildings. But even if these speculative practices have not yet reached a position where they may become capable of effecting radical transformations of the real —with a couple paradoxical exceptions—.