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Global Architecture Platform

Architecture's Collective Awareness

Conversation with Jaume Prat

How does the coronavirus crisis question the current form of globalization?

Independently of political boundaries and the diverse forms of management they imply, what defines our current condition is flow, movement. This flow of information and human beings cannot be interrupted without the loss of our personal and collective freedoms and an economic, political and cultural impoverishment in exchange for a short-sighted, false sense of safety. I think that the critical mass needed to question globalization is surprisingly low. If the economic crash associated with confinement encourages it, there could be a different critical mass within a given territory that requires a guarantee of safety, promoting a change that, paradoxically, will affect not globalization, impossible to stop right now, but the degree of democracy of that territory. The future evolution of this crisis is unpredictable. Democracy stands out as the most fragile, precarious form of social organization in this state of affairs, as its first potential victim.

Could this pause be an opportunity to question the mechanisms of the neoliberal economy?

Although I am far from being an expert in economics—a subject that has had a decisive influence on many other branches of thought that have been able to dialogue with it in hindsight—I would venture a twofold answer. First, the term neoliberal economy itself indicates that it comes after a liberal economy that had meaning, committed excesses, entered into crisis and had to be corrected. The liberal economy, from a historical perspective, has been decisive in ensuring that a worker in any industrial belt of a European city enjoys higher quality of life and longer life expectancy than, say, Louis XIV himself, who, as the most powerful man of his time, lived in permanent fear of gout, appendicitis or even a simple hip fracture, in a climate of violence and instability far greater than today’s. With all its excesses, liberalism created the state of thought and the flow of knowledge that has brought us to our present standard of living. It also created its own correction mechanisms. The question is whether neoliberalism will have been able to create them, too, so that they can be applied in the least traumatic way possible. Secondly, on the consequences of neoliberalism and the pandemic. The pause that it has represented may serve to incorporate certain intangible values into this correction: social, cultural and spatial values with regard to how we understand life and our relationship with others. If we succeed in this, the stoppage will have achieved something.

How has the confinement impacted our physical relationship with space?

The confinement has taken place inside our homes. The direct experience of their spatial conditions will have given rise to a collective awareness (more than reflection) about the elements on which the architectural discipline has traditionally placed most emphasis. That is, the things that define spaces: their perimeter and their relationships, expressed mainly as the possibility of privatizing the different parts of our homes by means of filters between them. This collective awareness will extend to the relationship with the exterior, to filter spaces such as hallways, terraces, balconies, porches, to the thickness of the façade and perhaps even the outdoor private spaces associated with them.

The organization of dwellings will also be questioned at all scales: from the size of a single residential building to the streets, squares and, then, the distance of these dwellings from a decent breathing—and green—space. Society will have become aware of the home environment, and how the home and its surroundings interrelate. It will also be better able to define the vocabulary of these articulations and it will be demanding for them. Then, the most important question is: who is to manage and regulate this new understanding of spatial conditions and make it possible? Which brings me back to the last point of my answer to the first question: how do you create, reform or maintain a democratic regime, the only one capable of remodelling, recreating and building homes that meet these new requirements?

How can architecture meet these requirements in a housing market highly influenced by investment criteria?

Architecture alone cannot change the market’s investment criteria. The ability of architects to propose, manage and build innovative projects at any scale has been tried and tested. Regardless of whether a certain published opinion presents only excesses or vulgar proposals, the realistic and quality ones are there, too. However, the published opinion is decisive in guiding the architectural response, which is determined both by the public’s demand capacity and by the politicians who regulate it in order to create a standard. It is this demand capacity that will require architecture to produce appropriate solutions to modify investment criteria in a positive way, both for the built stock of housing and facilities, and for the urban fabric that is to accommodate them. It’s all about education.

How will the sudden acceleration of the virtual in all private and public spheres impact the way of envisioning housing and collective spaces?

The virtual has invaded our public spaces, gaining a foothold in the private sphere that it will be impossible to repel. The depth of the relationship of the virtual with the private and, ultimately, with the intimate, is, for the moment, our choice. And this brings us to space from the point of view of typology. The human being is a social animal who relates, shows and represents itself. We do not precisely live in spaces adapted to our uses. We live in representative spaces. We live in stage sets. The most public private spaces have always been defined scenographically, from an organizing centre that was initially the fire, the hearth or the source of heat, since replaced by the television. Now this centre will be interactive and will incorporate a camera, if it hasn’t already. This has already begun to alter the typology of these spaces. The scope of this interaction will remain optional for some time and, therefore, subject to discussion.

I would say that this will impact our way of envisioning housing in two ways. First, by becoming more aware of the spaces of relationship, both of personal and of house-exterior relationship. Emphasising the intermediate spaces—the filters, the veils, ways of being without seeing, the possibility of the intimate in the public. Secondly, by becoming aware that, from now on, there will be two types of openings. On the one hand, windows, filters, means of relationship that are open to the environment, to the urban, to what surrounds us physically. And, on the other, those that are open to the virtual. How they interrelate, is what will define the typology of homes, and of public spaces and facilities in the future.

18.Jun.2020 1229 views
Jaume Prat Jaume Prat

Jaume Prat (Barcelona, 1975) is an architect and curator. He studied at the School of Architecture of Barcelona (2002), where he is now a professor. He is the author of the blog  Architecture, among other solutions and collaborator of several architectural magazines. He has given lectures in several universities, and has collaborated with several architecture offices such as Josep Lluís Mateo and Enric Massip, and at the RCR arquitectes summer workshop for five years. Together with Jelena Prokopljevic and Isaki Lacuesta, he was the curator of the Catalan Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. He is also co-author of Escala Humana, a Spanish public television series about architecture.

The stopped present could be a good place from which to look at the near past and, most of all, the future.

TRANSFER NEXT aims to invite shared reflections on the new scene that coronavirus will probably usher in.

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