The Architectural Guerrilla
Este artículo, cuyo titulo original es el que leen ustedes “ The Architectural Guerrilla”, fue originalmente escrito para WANT Magazine, publicación digital con la que Maria Granados y un servidor colaboran. Se publica aquí dado que fue escrito hace algun tiempo y el paso de los meses va mellando su actualidad hasta el peligroso limite entre lo interesante y lo “so last season” y porque leídos los debates que se han originado en otras paginas (Aquí, aquí y aquí) parece el momento mas indicado de mostrarlo y quizá recrearlo después en una versión 2.0 a partir del debate que genere, que espero sea mucho y efervescente.
Esta en ingles (WANT se publica en la lengua de Chaucer), lo que les vendrá muy bien para practicar. Tómenselo, sino como otra cosa, como un cuadernillo Santillana de su niñez.
This article was edited and shaped thanks to the great work and wisdom of Ken Grobe, editor extraordinaire, to whom I am so thankful for all his help and encouraging. Read, enjoy and comment.
THE ARCHITECTURAL GUERRILLA
Survival In The Times Of Spectacle Architecture.
“Make Me a Guggenheim”
In1997,a new headquarters for the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao turned a tired grey small town in the north of Spain into a global destination. A titanium-covered and (at the time) almost impossible-to-build extravaganza, the Guggenheim Bilbao set a precedent for the use of spectacle in architecture.
Ever since, the main objective requested to architects has been to duplicate the so-called “Guggenheim Effect:” to design something that looks jaw-dropping on the tourist brochures. Its watchwords: Do it. Do not even dream of considering if it is logical, technically admissible or even affordable…Just do it. Spectacle became king.
Architecture became a product for show, despite the cost or the almost unbearable technical difficulties–just so long as it looked cool. Inevitably, a generation of architects evolved closer to moody show-biz gurus than to technical experts, ready to develop their magic trademarked and signed icon buildings at skyrocketing prices.
To those in our business, these spectacle gurus are called starchitects. For almost a decade, they have been the raising stars and guides of architecture. For them creativity meant absolute freedom; like a Ferrari with no brakes.
The Flowers In The Rocks
The “starchitectural” system left little, air for any other professionals to breathe. If you weren’t part of the “big mythical surname” club, it seemed impossible to withstand political pressure, tampered competitions and biased press. But within these dire conditions is where the most beautiful flowers grow (or so say the industrious Chinese). A small number of practices–coming mostly from the geographical and architectural periphery–have stepped up to fight the battle against spectacle architecture. If the starchitects and their huge offices are the armies of icon, these committed brave little studios are Architecture Guerrillas (AGs).
Managing creativity, guerrilla style.
The military comparison is not casual, but you don’t need to be Sun Tzu to get the idea.When fighting a much larger opponent, a range of wise and unexpected strategies are required to level the conflict. One must take advantage of every opportunity (And every single one of said rival’s weaknesses). To wit:
Those firms dedicated to iconic architecture are enormous organizations that require a huge infrastructure to react. Their size involves too much energy to embrace small projects, and their chronic tendency to over-budget makes it impossible to scale down. If they can’t shine at the usual fee, they lose interest.
It is in the harsh territories of small and medium projects that our AGs can actively develop their work. Small sports pavilions and health centers, like those developed by ELAP Architects in south Spain, the committed suburban dwellings developed by Laura Alvarez in Groningen (Holland), the budget-concerned and amazingly spatial houses by Brijuni Architects in Jaen, a true example of real sustainability free from clichés and phoney archi-blabbing, the Sport Enhancenment Center By J.M. Sanchez… all are excellent, dynamic projects. Each of them came from small commissions or competitions not tampered by the presence of the usual “Guest star” ready to greedily take the lot.
It is not difficult to nail a target with a cannon, and the big budget and long schedules given to starchitects make for a lot of chances. Admittedly, while the results achieved by the starchitect firms are often impressive, the means by which they arrived there are at often questionable. But with an average 300%-over-budget-excess as a common issue, icon architects represent too much firepower for any public budget. Their usual 20% fee (On projects usually over 100K€) is a hard pill to swallow as well. For a profession that is supposed to involve some degree of control, The starchitect is even at his/her best, expensive and unpredictable.
An AG, lacking a famous surname to hide budget chaos and schedule-lag, is forced to nail it every single time–on-budget, on-schedule. Accuracy supplants brute force. Even more important, they have to do it for far less money, and be precise as an English archer running late for tea. AGs realized long ago that when your profession involves developing a single, expensive prototype (i.e. a building), some level of certainty is appreciated.
Moreover, hiring a starchitect (even at those prices) doesn’t guarantee that the person behind the name is going to be personally involved in the process—no more than buying a Lagerfeld T-Shirt guarantees that Karl himself is going to fit it for you. AGs are always ready, always there, always ensuring that a great deal of the work comes from listening and understanding your client. Personally.
Behemoth-like firms are notoriously jealous of the sanctity of their ongoing projects and procedures, reluctant to share any kind of data or information–or even to collaborate–lest they lose their “fashion firm exclusiveness” status. They are eager to accuse each other of piracy for the slightest resemblance. In 2006 a dispute between two of the biggest architectural firms in the world was raised over a design based on the use of the “grid plan” or Hippodamian plan, created by Hippodamus of Miletus circa 549 BC. Classy.
Architecture Guerrillas are willing to share experiences and research. They take full advantage of a 21st century support net run with terabytes of information and social networking. If their size is manageable (i.e. small), they are able to overcome it by establishing a free, open-source knowledge database–accessible to everyone willing to contribute–and in which creativity and even full projects are common ground to experiment and develop new solutions. It is Creative Commons architecture. It means crowdsourcing. I means collectives, those whose work I may sometimes not agree at all with while acknowledging that their basis as a new way of confronting architecture is so interesting.
Joining the Cause
A Guerrilla is usually (often quite romantically) associated to a cause—and a person who fights for a cause is much more dangerous than one who fights just for money. While the huge goliaths of architecture devote their enormous capabilities to spectacle and icons, AG’s have made a commitment to recover a cause architects should never have lost from sight: Architecture involves a huge social compromise.
Buildings can make a great photo-op, but after the inauguration party is over, they have to be used, maintained, repaired, and taken care of. For starchitects, once the ribbon is cut, their focus tends to move on to media coverage. For the AG, there is follow-up: are people using their work? Are people being helped by it at any possible level?
This is the basic principle of this social contract: building for society, not for show. It is a humble, conscious step back to a balance between creativity, design and social responsibility. It represents creation for the people, not for the press. It means having a conscience about the impact and presence of architecture in our cities, our lives and our environment. It’s an admission of the fact that, merely because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should.
For the AG, this responsibility comes first.
It’s the End of the World As We Know It
While starchitects enjoyed their unprecedented success, in 2008, the global financial crisis brought everything crumbling down. In the blink of an eye, icon architecture died. The brakeless Ferrari found an abrupt stop on Wall Street.
The trade media reacted by creating a new pre-cooked recipe for mass consumption: The classic Mies Van Der Rohe line “Less is more” was bastardized into the more fashionable “More with less.”
Predictably, that aphorism has been embraced by the (former) starchitects with the fanaticism of the newly converted—at least, on the surface. Their change of attitude smacks of a shallow attempt to modify their tune, simply in order to keep playing. If Mies was to know that his line was going to become such a nice alibi cliché, he would have kept it to himself.
Those architects who remember that our main responsibility is serving society (not becoming rock stars) will find AG and its methods to be a more promising path to the future. It’s a path set to regain architecture for an involved society by running and managing creativity in a responsible, checked and socially committed environment, allowing technique and reason to intervene and balance its free uncontrolled power.
It’s a path worth following, and fighting for.
To the barricades!!!