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Global Architecture Platform

Clouds of Architects

by Lluís Ortega

The various forms of crisis that we are experiencing—financial, environmental, health—are symptoms of a change in the cycle that is causing double stress on existing power structures. On the one hand, it is becoming increasingly clear that certain global threats are beyond the power of weakened political entities. It seems obvious that the planet-scale condition of the new challenges calls for more powerful alliances and the constitution of instruments of organization and global governance. These changes will involve concatenated transfers of sovereignty and expanded collaboration systems to adjust the strength of the resulting agencies to the scale of the challenges. On the other hand, due to the fear inoculated by these larger-scale forces, an opposite movement is arising, tending towards protectionism. In this context, as a cultural and material practice that is highly sensitive to changes in political and economic structures, architecture needs to reinforce and expand its operational capacities to be able to work outside its comfort zone. This is necessary not only because of the readjustment of the agents involved in political decision-making but also due to the rapid evolution of the models and categories used to address the built environment.

In my fast-tracked reading around virology during the days of confinement, there is one article that I find especially thought-provoking. Virologist Esteban Domingo explains that his main contribution to research on viruses was to turn from a conception of the virus linked to the idea of stability and uniqueness with immutable genetic material towards a model where a virus is “a cloud of mutants”, different but groupable in “viral quasi-species”.(1) This turn from oneness to a changing multiplicity is radical. It allows the mutant cloud to resist specific attacks, as some will fall, but others will follow their course. The mutant cloud is diverse in nature, with local variants still maintaining a certain group coherence. The implications of this model are enormous. As Esteban Domingo explains: “… the virus is diverse and is prepared to respond to various environments that may arise. In other words, a virus is not only adapted at any given time to an environment, be it a cell or a person, but, since it is a cloud of mutants, it has the potential to look for other places to multiply and adapt. Mutation is not an extraordinary event. Mutation is its modus vivendi. It is its way of working.”

If for a moment—no offence intended—we think of architects in these terms, architecture goes from being a discipline that tends to consider itself as unique and genetically stable to one that sees itself as “a cloud of mutants”. We no longer think of architecture but of architectures, different but groupable into quasi-architectural disciplines. In fact, this change in the figure of the architect is already happening as a process of professional survival, but it would be smarter if it were designed consciously. Promote a mutating ability of the discipline to approach a quasi-architectural state with the ability to adjust quickly. It is not a question of substituting one model for another, which is how the historiography of the discipline has traditionally been organized, but of expanding from a singular model to a model that operates as a cloud of adaptable architects.

It is not a question of substituting one model for another but of expanding from a singular model to a model that operates as a cloud of adaptable architects

The diversity of architectural practices we have seen timidly emerge in recent years due to globalization will be reinforced with emerging figures as architects participate in an expanded field of operations. New architects would benefit from thinking in terms of the specificities of our intelligence linked to design methodologies, but with an eye on multiple fronts that go beyond the built environment. In changing scenarios, opportunities for architects will be based on their ability to mutate and work within a highly digitized world from a relational, multi-scale and general viewpoint—mutant figures capable of designing a multidisciplinary choreography that integrates multiple systems into more complex models.

To enhance these capacities, some of the particularities of our knowledge should be cultivated. Architecture is evolving into a multiplied discipline that operates in a tension between technology and culture, with an increasing capacity to develop valid design methodologies desired by other disciplines. Architects can position themselves as specialists in projects involving processes that shape and integrate systems based on relational logics, constituting a powerful technical and political platform. As powerful mutant clouds we must maintain a disciplinary orbit while adjusting our techniques and our mental frameworks. This designed mutability will allow us to resituate the architect on the map that emerges as a result of the changes being speeded up by each of the crises in which we are immersed and those that are to come.

This designed mutability will allow us to resituate the architect on the map that emerges as a result of the changes being speeded up by each of the crises in which we are immersed and those that are to come

The global trends of multidirectional political reorganization and the economic activities that these changes involve will be calibrated by a much more careful assessment of social, environmental, cultural and health impacts. Few disciplines have to be as prepared to deal with multiple and often irreconcilable interests as architecture. The last twenty years have seen a constant debate—in some cases fratricidal—between global architects and the need to rethink the challenges posed by emerging crises in a way that is sensitive to what is different and local. This debate has in many cases been absurdly ideological and sterile, instead of emphasizing the architectural potential of dealing with complex negotiation processes, of integrating plural sensitivities with multiple technologies and of unleashing hybrid productive dynamics: a technological enhancement of their mutant capacity.

Environmental emergencies, financial crashes and the current health crisis are not opportunities; they are disasters, they are forces that oblige us to rethink the way we work, but also to value our best capabilities. Architecture, as a cultural material practice, shows itself, as has always been the case, to be a territory of reflection and opportunity to reinvent our societies and their built environments. These emerging complex realities require an augmented figure of the architect; to achieve this, an updated, deeply systemic, consistently ecological model of architectural education is needed—an education designed to form a cloud of mutant architects with the capacity to deploy a multiplicity of intelligences.

04.Jun.2020 1464 views
Lluís Ortega

Lluís Ortega is a PHD Architect by the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), MA in Philosophy by the Universitat de Barcelona, and Master of Science (AAD) degree from Columbia University. At present, he is Distinguished Research Professor Beatriz Galindo at UPC, Associate Professor at IIT in Chicago (on leave) and Visiting Professor at the Universidad Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires. Previously, he taught at UIC (Chicago), Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Universidad de Alicante, Harvard University and Akademie der Bildenden Künste Wien. He is principal of JL Office together with Julia Capomaggi. He was the editor of several publications, including Quaderns d’Arquitectura i Urbanisme (2003–05). In 2013, he was awarded a Graham Foundation grant for his work with Ciro Najle, Atlas of Suprarural Architecture (Actar, 2016) and in 2015, for The Total Designer: Authorship in Architecture in the Postdigital Age (Spanish Edition, Puente Editores, 2017; English Edition, Actar, 2017).

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