Dark Side Club - a salon for conversation

Individual Evenings' Themes

The first evening, 25th May 2016, curated by Friedrich Ludewig

‘Front, Front, Front (Battle Strategies)”

...reconnaissance, ambush, guerrilla, double envelopment, feigned retreat, indirect approach, peaceful penetration, rapid dominance, blitzkrieg, carpet bombing, frontal assault, pincer movement, siege, counter attack, fortification, protection, deception, perfidy, false flag, stealth technology, disinformation, feint attacks, use of surprise, hit-and-run tactics ...

Architecture is seldom pure. Rather, it is often a carefully negotiated compromise between form and function, public and private powers, meaning and money.

The role of the architect has shifted over time, and in most cultures today, the role of the architect is smaller now then it has ever been.

From a position of enlightened master builder, visionary or enlightened philosopher, the architect has retreated from this. Have they become too much the tools of the money men and the politicians? Has their vision and their aspirations become buried in the concrete of their buildings?

As the role of the architect shrinks from visionary and master to servant and tool of others, should he or she start assert himself? If so, what strategies should be used to do this?

8000 years of architectural history have been shaped by architects operating on very clear lines. Rulers wanted buildings to reflect their power and belief system, and architectural style and meaning was understood by all. Architectural style was rooted in the prevailing culture and philosophy and the visions of kings and queens. It was shaped by then but in the process, shaped their subjects. It was meant to last and provoke awe, wonder and admiration.
Can architecture still do this in an individualistic society where boundaries are blurring and there exists a prevailing culture of money, greed and need?

Is mankind interested in architecture leading from the front as an ambassador of style, philosophy and culture? And if so, is there any consensus any more on what to express?

Nowadays, architects work less and less for kings, queens and dictators who had their own visions of what their countries’ architecture should be? Even if one works for a king, they rarely have an enlightened vision for their country that looks forward rather than back.

Can one work in a democracy in the same way as one used to under an opinionated monarchy? Are modern-day democracies which reflect rather than lead their people capable of having a vision? Has the god of money reduced architecture to being the handmaiden of plutocrats? Even bad dictators had a vision of both monuments and everyday architecture. Even where there are cultural ambassadors such as Prince Charles, they propose a return to the past rather than advocating an architectural vision for the 21st century.

Where does this all leave architects today? Should they stand up to the clients who are interested
primarily in making profit and not leaving an architectural legacy for future generations? Do architects need new strategies to fight their battles for a better, new or equal form of architecture, in the face of overwhelming apathy, disillusion and disinterest.

The Biennale exhibitions and pavilions illustrate, in many diverse ways, how architects not shackled to the money men, can create buildings and ideas that promote the common good over individual gain. On show, there are buildings of sublime beauty and rough opportunity, which invite the common user to imbue them with personality and individuality. These buildings represent the final results of past battles waged, of elaborate strategies tested, employed and implemented. Should we not take this opportunity to fight on a wider front?

The evening's round table is not concerned with final results, but with the live dispatch from the front lines, a mid-battle picnic by the side of the Grand Canal to converse as to where the front is moving, to compare strategies, to exchange the latest intelligence on enemy positions behind the lines and to debate the results from the last few battles fought.

 The second evening, 26th May 2016, curated by Patrik Schumacher

‘Architecture and Politics’

The relationship between architecture and politics demands clarification, now that political and moral issues increasingly feature in our debates at architectural conferences, schools and biennials. Political and moral issues have started to dominate architectural criticism as well as the awarding of architecture prizes.

Is the intrusion of politics into architecture a problem? Does it stop us from fulfilling architecture’s social responsibility? Or is it instead giving us a new energy and lease of life to a discipline which is in danger of being superficial and irrelevant? These are questions that have been raised and discussed within architecture in recent years.

The historical background for this increasing politicisation of our discipline is twofold: First we have been witnessing a long term secular politicisation of all aspects of society, in the context of an ever increasing capacity for society-wide communication. Secondly, we are witnessing a marked acceleration of society’s politicisation since the 2008 financial crisis, the ensuing great recession and the European sovereign debt crisis and related austerity programs. These events have had various political repercussions like the occupy movement, the ‘Arab spring’, and the upheavals in Europe’s political landscape.
Is the politicisation of architecture inevitable? Even if one accepts the politicisation of architecture, should architects be able to discuss and evaluate the best architectural solutions to society’s requirements without fear of political criticism?. 

This evening’s conversation will explore the question of architecture’s relation to politics. The question raises the issue as to how these two relate to and affect each other. Should architecture engage with politics and political issues? Does politics’ involvement in architecture give rise to moral issues or should architecture accept it as a necessary intrusion.

The following questions will be posed:

Are issues like social justice, income inequality, poverty, and social exclusion appropriate concerns for architects or should these issues only be tackled by the political and economic decision makers?
Can architecture contribute to politics and the political culture of a society? Can and should architectural design be a form of political activism, or would such an ambition be a form of hubris and overreach?

Should architects, architectural critics and architectural theoreticians become involved in political debates and controversies and bring these controversies into the discipline or is this a step too far ? Is it appropriate or unprofessional for an architect to bring his/her political opinion into the design work for clients?
Are architectural projects inherently more political than e.g. product or fashion design projects due to their long term nature and public presence in the city?
 Should architects reject or engage with projects in the developing world where many of the standards - in terms of political culture, democratic government, human rights, health and safety, working conditions, environmental protection – that we expect in advanced countries are not or cannot be met?
Should architecture awards consider the moral standing and humanitarian effort of candidates or must design innovation and excellence alone be decisive?

The third evening, 27th May 2016, curated by Ma Yansong,

Architecture as Second Nature

In recent years, we have witnessed an alignment of views among several architects born post-1970. Each of these figures have actively been involved in international projects and employ landscape, nature, humanity and emotion to create a formless architecture that merges with context. This contextual approach contrasts the formalist approach of the early Starchitects;; a building is no longer an object or product of a purely formal process.

Instead, it is focussed on the humanity of architecture and reducing architectural expression to a human scale. The new generation of architects share an attitude, namely to give voice to our humanity and our place in nature. Their interpretation of nature reveals a common thread and yet also shows them as individually creative spirits. Landscape, nature and greenery are easy ways to make architecture comfortable and socially friendly.However, few architects today go beyond a simple greenwashed design to create architecture that echoes and is intimately linked with nature. One where there is no clear divide between nature and the nature of humans.

MoMA curator, Philip Johnson, announced a new generation of architects in the 1988 “Deconstructivist Architecture” exhibition. While they had completely different architectural languages, the Deconstructivist architects cultivated new horizons for a global architecture in their shared fundamental attitude and anti-modernist pragmatism. The beginning of the Information Age has allowed this new generation of architects to emerge as worldwide icons and assume the title of “Starchitect.” What started as a counter-cultural movement against Modernism and Post-Modernist movements 30 years prior, has now entered mainstream culture and defines a global architecture movement.

In 2016, the emerging trend—to treat architecture as second nature—is fuelled by globalisation rather than the industrialisation of Modernism, and it embodies a civilization in which our human nature and nature itself takes centre stage.

Why Nature?

The first topic for the night is to identify this common attitude among the new generation who treat architecture as second nature. As we enter a new era, one which is supported and created by information technology and borderfree communications via the Internet, this allows all to have limitless access to information. This generates an unprecedented evolution in personal expression and identity. Nature is employed by those architects as a conceptual device to insert their own personality into various projects at different scales. What latent qualities comprise nature according to these architects who employ it in their projects? What kind of cultural meaning or aesthetic value does nature bring to their projects?

Beyond West/East in Nature

Western and Eastern landscape design has been historically different in both its approach to formal design and their philosophies. As the world has “flattened” in the post-globalized society, the understanding of time and distance has changed. In the new world map, architecture is everywhere and yet philosophically, nowhere. The boundary between West and East has dissolved and thus created a “one world” of many different countries and cultures. If nature reflects our own personality and their culture, is there any significant difference in our understanding of nature? How does our contextual understanding of nature affect the design of architectural projects and the vision for cities?