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So, It’s been half a year since I posted anything here. I’m not going to promise things will be different from now on, because it wouldn’t be the first (or nth) time I fail to keep that promise. In any case, for those who have stopped by here faithfully these last 6 months just to find there was nothing new, let’s dust off an old piece, published some time ago in A10 magazine.

As those among you who know me already know, I’m partially skeptical about the ‘new architectural collectives’ scene that has emerged with renewed strength in the last years, fueled by the crisis. Not that I have any problem with the concept per se, mind you: I am among those who think that the profession is in desperate need of change and diversification, on the one hand. We are not in Le Corbusier’s times anymore, and -maybe sadly, maybe fortunately- few of us will have the chance to be that kind of architect. Also, I certainly find it worthy that architects climb down from their ivory towers and talk face to face -and hopefully in the same language- to real people. You know, the ones who will use the buildings we design. More on this later.

However, even if I’m happy to see this change, I feel a little less enthused when I see it becoming just a trend, and when the much needed diversification of architectural practice(s) is substituted by a sameness of hipster poses. I’m all in for an putting an end to the ‘starchitect wannabe’ era. Let’s just not substitute it for a New Establishment of allegedly ‘committed’ architects… whose ultimate goal is, again, become famous in the architectural scene, just by using different means.

Amongst the maremagnum of ‘cool’ collectives, there are of course those who are genuinely interested in giving response to the architectural needs of today, and truly believe in collaborating with the public -or, what’s even better, in accepting members who are not architects themselves. Withing this last group, British collective Assemble has become a referent in its own right, even winning the Turner Prize in the process. The fact that some have declared the death of the famous award because of this only underscores that they’re doing the right thing.

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The Power of Many

Assemble are probably one of the most prolific and influential collective architecture practices nowadays in UK. Working on very different scale projects from public realm improvement strategies to building renovations or exhibition designs, their 18 members have a shared interest to create projects of real social value. They don’t usually self-start their own projects instead of waiting for commissions to come to them. The collective jointly work with communities, institutions and other clients to make projects happen, what in many cases means to build them in case it is necessary by themselves, learning as they go. From their working space SugarhHouse in London they are shaking up the architecture panorama in UK.

How did it all start?

It was in 2009 when the majority of people that later became Assemble were doing Part I architecture jobs working on small part of big projects, we all had some kind of collective desire to understand projects in a more holistic way and have hands on role and experiment and try things. There was a collective dissatisfaction. (…)

What is the leitmotiv for all your projects?

First that we all really want to do them. Secondly, Assemble is a broad church and people act here in many different ways and for many different reasons. We don’t try to push a manifesto but to give people as much freedom, resources and critical support to do the work that they want to do in the best way that they can and in the ways that this is necessarily possible within a traditional practice. It’s very important in Assemble that works as a horizontal structure where everyone’s got their responsibility for what they do and think. (…)

Do you think there is any shared philosophy in the collective practices?

From our experience talking to other practices or groups that are in a similar position and make similar things, we see that there’s a shared ambition and dissatisfaction that can probably be related with a lack of opportunities. When you talk to people they seem fairly to turn on innovation, they have a shared interest in making things differently, mixing life and work in a different way and have the control of your own and your projects. (…)

The project that encouraged your nomination is a project in collaboration with the residents of a rundown council housing estate. Can you explain this project into further detail?

The Granby Four Streets in Liverpool is a refurbishing project of a row of derelict terrace houses. These spaces have been abandoned for a number of years but used to be the nicest waterfront houses in the area. The council wanted to demolish them and build new ones from scratch, so we proposed to keep them and do them up. There we did design work but we mainly set up the conditions which enable design work to be done. We didn’t create a design brief with just drawings but designed a delivery method, closely working with the project manager, being on site every week and taking on an active role in the project. This also carried on hand-producing a lot of things working on very detailed scale. Our role there was not a traditional design role, it was a more expanded role, and we guess this is what is more interesting about this project and we guess this is also what the Turner Prize were interested in.

How do you see the architectural training scene?

It is worth to say that in Assemble we are not all architects and none of us is officially qualified as an architect and some of the people in the practice are teaching one to two days a week. We are very active and engaged with schools, many of us are currently teaching. The way we see the current training in UK is really good in preparing students for traditional practice. But in some way the training may be also limiting because this is a difficult job. The thing is that right now architecture schools have a much wider infrastructure and there are lots of people there doing a great job and finding pretty active back tools but only a few people are investing in what it means to teach, less concerned about re-examining this and make things better.

Excerpts* from: Gonzalo Herrero Delicado: The Power of Many– An Interview with Assemble.  A10 Magazine #66. Dec 2015

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(*) If you are interested in reading more, you’ll have to buy the magazine. They have bills to pay, too.

NK 23 -Pritzker 2015

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Back in March The Pritzker Award Committee announced that this year’s laureate would be Frei Otto. This was excellent news, especially for all megastructural-age nostalgics such as myself… if not for the unfortunate coincidence that Mr. Otto had sadly passed away a coupla days before that. Michael Graves, who passed away almost simultaneously, was not so lucky (I felt dirty I had done this some years earlier). Now, I’m not saying that Mr. (excuse me: Lord) Palumbo & friends changed their minds and tried to fix the mistake not to have awarded him a Pritzker in all these past occasions where they chose to reward today’s more popular and ‘kewl’ megastars… (I’m not saying it because I had actually drawn another cartoon just doing that -don’t look for it, it rests in one of my drawers). However, it would be nice if the Pritzker committee avoided pulling a Spencer Tracy and rushed a little to distribute those ones still missing. You’re running out of time, guys.

Here you have a few comments from other laureates praising Frei Otto. Please, try not to laugh at some of them.

Of course, the title is a pun on this.

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #33: Frei Otto, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al. Worth checking, really.

NK 22 blog

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So, yes, my dear(s). The basic gag is exactly the same as the one in the previous post, only reversed this time. Anyone who’s been following this blog, read a few of my texts or just within a few kilometer-radius of me knows what I think about the late-90s-2000s fever with starchitecture and the effects it has had on the urban scene around the globe. Mostly, the post-Guggenheim re-discovery of architecture as a marketing device, fueled by politicians and entrepeneurs alike, and invaluably helped by (star)chitect’s egos has resulted into the transformation of much -not a grammatical error- of our cities into Architectural Theme Parks. Even Bilbao, which stands as the epytome of success in urban renewal, has performed its renovation in a bleak post-industrial scenario with some casualties: namely, a big chunk of its own personality.

So, when Sophie Lovell e-mailed me to remind me that I had completely forgotten I had a deadline for their issue on Universal Exhibitions, I did the obvious and wondered what flashy architecture would look like in a few decades’ time. In retrospect, this was maybe not the funniest out of the different ideas I considered for this issue, but, hey, it looks kinda cute, doesn’t it?

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #32: Expotecture, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al.

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(*) Yes, ‘Hanna’ is Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Warsaw’s current mayor. If you live in Poland and you don’t think Warsaw is suffering from a case of  major -and pretty late- Bilbao-itis, drop me a line.

The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #31: Poland, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al.

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So, after last year’s relative silence, 2015 is featuring an also relative back to business in terms of exhibition-related events, with a couple of cameos in bigger exhibitions, and maybe something else a little later. -Of course, all of them happen because there are extremely kind people out there who decide to take the time and effort necessary to put these things together. If it depended on me, then it would have been total silence all these years.

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The first of these events is taking place within the Chatter: Architecture Talks Back exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Curated by Karen Kice, the exhibition states that ‘Architecture is a perpetual conversation between the present and the past, knowing full well that the future is listening. So what happens when this dialogue is influenced by contemporary modes of communication such as texting, Twitter, and Instagram? Chatter happens: ideas are developed, produced, and presented as open-ended or fragmented conversations and cohere through the aggregation of materials. Chatter:’ Thus, Architecture Talks Back ‘looks at the diverse contemporary methods and approaches wielded by five emerging architects: Bureau Spectacular, Erin Besler, Fake Industries Architectural Agonism, Formlessfinder, and John Szot Studio.

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copyright Mas Context

Within this main exhibition, the rear gallery features an installation by Iker Gil, director –and longtime partner in crime– of Mas Context, journal ‘, which offers visitors a chance to explore the multitude of ways in which architecture can be communicated.’ Iker ‘conceived this section [as a way] to look at the active qualities of chatter-from being constant to satirical-to spark conversations about the field of architecture, our cities, and their citizens.

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copyright David Schalliol

Walking this section you will meet projects by Ecosistema Urbano; Over, Under and Pinkcomma; Mimi Zeiger and Neil Donnelly with the School of Visual Arts Summer Design Writing and Research Intensive; “Project_” with Sarah Hirschman; 300.000km/s with Àrea Metropolitana de Barcelona; Luis Urculo; and Christopher Baker, and a selection of cartoons by yours truly. All the works are exhibited under a series of labels: ‘Challenging’, ‘Collective’, ‘Diagnostic’, ‘Empowering’, ‘Interpretive’, ‘Constant’, ‘Revealing’, and -inevitably- ‘Satirical’.

 Chatter_Collective_01_david_schalliol Chatter_Revealing_01_david_schalliol Chatter_Diagnostic_01_david_schalliol

Along with the exhibition, several events have been organized within this space: Chatter Chat: Talking Back (April 11, 2015), a roundtable discussion moderated by Kelly Bair, Director, Central Standard Office of Design, Chatter Chat: Communication (May 16, 2015), moderated by Iker Gil, and a tour through the exhibition (Tuesday, June 16, 2015) led by Iker Gil and Karen Kice.

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For more information about the exhibition, please visit the official website, MAS Context’s page, or the different reviews on the show that can be found online. For past exhibits on this very blog, click hereAs usual, a big thank you to Iker and the chief curator.

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ALA is one of Finland’s success stories, winning a major competition at the age of 30, heading a 40+ employees’ office at 40 and now looking abroad for new opportunities. Besides redoing the Finnish embassy in New Delhi they are also working on the high profile new library in Helsinki. Still, they participate in both open and invited competitions. And now there looking for opportunities in America. But did they enter the Guggenheim competition? ‘That one did not meet our standards.’’

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Mahlamäki said that he appreciates the echo of Finnish Modernism in your work “with a touch of internationalism, mixing the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas with the Finnish Design-orientated approach.” Sounds like Kilden?

 We certainly like to rigorously analyze every situation we’re thrown into, still leaving room for intuitive results.

You have won several important commissions after Kilden, like Kuopio (A10#61) and the Helsinki New Library. Competitions are still an important part of your business strategy. How do you decide which competitions to take on and which you don’t?

We like competitions, both invited and open, that keep our minds and our presentational skills sharp. We set tight criteria as to which competitions to enter and which not (…).

Did you enter the Guggenheim competition?

No, it didn’t meet our criteria. […]

Mahlamäki also said, when I asked him: “I believe their skills and their ambition will carry them far. The Finns are normally shy, but ALA is not – they boldly show their passion and goals.” Do you?

I think we couldn’t possibly hide them if we tried.

What do you think about the younger generation of architects?

We are in a way old fashioned and middle aged. Who designs an opera building today or a metro station like we did? There are still competitions in Finland and abroad that can shape new offices. But the collaborative non-permanent approach of the younger generation is at odds with the more master plan-like projects coming up. We’ll see if it’s the architects shaping the system, or the other way around. Soon a competition for a large school will open and the winner will start a new office from that for sure, if they don’t already have it. It will be interesting to see whether it will be won by architects from a younger generation or by the older guys.

Excerpts* from: Indira van ‘t Klooster: Competitive spirit An Interview with ALA. A10 Magazine #62. March-April 2015

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(*) They aren’t really that laconic, these guys, as I made them look here. So, if you want to get a sense of what they sound like, I guess you’ll have no other option but buying the magazine (or googling other online interviews with them).

They still owe me a photo, though.

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Yes, unfortunately, this year’s scholarly life and my increasing committments with real publishing (aaahhh… money…) and its dreadful deadlines (ahhh…. my weekends…) has resulted in an almost total neglection of the blog. So, in order to catch up a little, let’s move on with the series of illustrations I’ve been doing for A10 magazine (@A10magazine) this past year. All of them were done to illustrate a still ongoing series of interviews with ‘young’ architects or architectural teams (because if you’re an architect under 40, you’re still young, you know? -suck that up, engineers!) conducted by A10’s editor, Indira van ‘t Klooster (@IndiraS). This one, from December 2014, featured NY-based firm SO-IL, run by Florian Idenburg, Jing Liu, and an old colleague from my Cambridge days, Ilias Papageorgoulias Papageorgiou. Dang, has it been so long already??

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Unlike most architects in Europe, you mainly work for private clients. Why is that?

In Europe, one thinks that governments take care of public space, but outside Europe it’s usually different. (…) It’s very usual for an architect there to be part of the funding efforts for his own design. To arrange for your own fee calls for a different mentality. (…) Personal contact with your client is more important, mutual appreciation is crucial. Also, with public funding, the most important thing is to deliver a building on time and within budget. Once those demands are secured, there is little debate about the design any longer. 

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What do you think would have happened if you had stayed in Europe?

My career would have been entirely different. It would have been harder, I believe, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. I learned the most by leaving the Netherlands, but I never intended to ‘escape’. We seek commissions in Europe (…).As an office, we are much more European than an average American practice, for example, when it comes to our attitude toward public space.

What would be your advice for young architects?

We are six years old now and have set the office on a track that currently allows us to work on a range of exciting projects around the world that engage culture and the public realm. The path of an architecture firm is inherently rocky. The people in our office are even younger than us. The new generation is much more flexible; it’s a more fluid generation. Traditional buildings will always be needed, but I think architects will find a wide range of new fields in which to work. Their skill set is ultimately suited for the demands of our time. Americans are unbeatable in their knowledge of computer coding, which is essential if you want to remain in control of your design. That’s something European architects should be concerned about—they know how to make a model, but very few have a clue about writing computer scripts.

Excerpts* from: Indira van ‘t Klooster: Reflections from overseas An Interview with SO-IL. A10 MAgazine #61. Jan-Feb 2015

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(*) For the rest you’ll have to buy the magazine. That’s the way it works. Toughen up.

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