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Global Architecture Platform

Maybe it's Time...

by Camilo Restrepo

Perhaps we need to make a distinction between globalization and global.

We might say that when we talk about globalization, we mean market-driven economy, liberalization of capitals, privatization by means of complex network operations involving global financial services and operators, referring mainly to the suppression of territorial barriers to economic exchange, currencies and financial operations. In other words, globalization is capitalism itself and its operations to create constant infinite value. Globalization is about goods, services and transactions, and is seldom related to humanitarian issues or the construction of equality.

Most countries and the most vulnerable parts of society are scorched by globalization as we know it. We have seen it recently with social protests in South America, the rise of populism under the fake banner of national identity and ancient local heroic ideals that never existed, and with ghostly market decisions none can explain but many suffer when the loss of jobs happens unexpectedly, prioritizing numbers over labour or social conditions to correct projected results on spreadsheets. But definitely its most democratic—in that it is for everybody, with no distinctions—and tangible surplus is climate change, inequity and environmental crisis, despite our blindness, denial or alienation.

Globalization has never been equal. Globalization has to date been an operation and a display of power, mainly economic, based on the idea and objective of growth, mostly by sacrificing many for the benefit of a few. Globalization as we know it is mainly selfish, and it is a self-feeding loop. The more capital you insert, the more resources you have; more resources secure greater advantages; greater advantages means competing, and, when everyone competes, you need to grow. Private funds, governments, NGOs and almost all organizations have prioritized quantity over quality. How much did we grow this year? It has become typical and even natural to quantify visitors to a museum, sales, earnings, or passengers on a bus. But how much is enough? Are we capable of stepping back and rethinking what figures mean to us under this umbrella of infinite growth, when our planet and resources are limited?

Globalization has turned value into waste by converting things and experiences into economic terms, reducing the beauty and potential generosity of globality as solidarity. Perhaps the beautiful idea of globality has been distorted by a few politicians, trade organizations, and our lack of political participation and representation. Can we remain politically apathetic as our needs and challenges are redefined, but still feel unrepresented?

We see a new definition of globalization arising from globality. For Bruno Latour in his book Down to Earth (1), global means moving from a univocal, uniform approach to a wider view of things, phenomena, organisms, to a variety of living creatures, and thereby to a richer world made up of differences rather than homogeneity. Now that the bubble of hyperlocal protection has burst, globalization could acquire a new meaning. Now, what happens everywhere matters. It is a question of luck that a health crisis of this kind has not happened before. This is an unprecedented opportunity for the whole world to understand that everything affects us all, irrespective of our ideology, race, political beliefs, territorial boundaries or social systems.

Globalization could mean a new world consciousness, a new attitude: globalization as understanding and solidarity; globalization as the acceptance and awareness of globality. The new globalization is cooperation instead of competition. A new common horizon will be needed in order to redefine globalization; a new ethos that places value on difference would be a good starting point and, with it, more points of view to offer a better understanding of reality—a shared global reality. Could it lead to a new ethic of solidarity beyond moralism and nostalgia? Do we have the right politicians? Are they real leaders? Are we represented?

We feel obliged to think about what kind of world we want to live in after this crisis, including, perhaps, what the role of architects will be. Our idea of space will never be the same. The implications of COVID-19, beyond public health and political turns, also affect space. It is very likely that space-related disciplines will be partially or totally reshaped by a new package of codes and conditions, offering new insights to deal with a new reality and prepared to give form to a global new order, maybe not only politically but also, most of all, spatially.

It may be helpful to place architecture and design at the centre of new social demands that will soon emerge, and question ourselves about our relation with others and with things, privately and as social agents. It may be useful to use architecture as a material indicator of how we take care of others, but also how the political state regards us and what we demand of it, and how the state offers us a certain type and quality of health care and social infrastructure, expressed as architecture or public space.

Domestic space needs to be redefined as much as communal space, be it public or private. This new condition affects both sides, behind our door and in front of it, including the door itself! Perhaps a new materiality will also emerge.

We will need a new idea of time and society. After this quarantine we will view time differently, even in productive terms. How we want to spend our days? What are loneliness and community life, and what does this mean in terms of design? How do public and domestic space interrelate under the prohibition of being outside and with others? New approaches to health care and housing typologies in this kind of situation will certainly be needed. What do architecture and design need to exist and cope with this new reality? What forces have shaped our cities until today? What will change? Where do we place the role of architecture and design amid this reset?

It may be helpful to place architecture and design at the centre of new social demands that will soon emerge, and question ourselves about our relation with others and with things, privately and as social agents

Now it is time to relieve architecture from its self-appointed, unnecessary role of trying to operate in alien fields with too many good intentions that were insufficient to make quality, appropriate and responsible architecture. This is a chance to stop making fools of ourselves, stop delivering inappropriate responses like misunderstood artists calling for sorrow, misplaced sociologists determining lightly what is good or bad, self-proclaimed fake community leaders with aesthetic claims as to style and opportunistic social recognition. Maybe we were in the wrong place.

Perhaps architecture can occupy a role that is no more and absolutely nothing less than a comprehensive material means to help redefine social relationships and interaction, be it collective or individual, commonly known as social space, and the dignity of daily life, mostly underestimated by political leaders, often overvalued by dogmatics and mostly ignored with disdain by real-estate corporations. COVID-19 may be the first tangible, undeniable global event in a new post-globalization era. What is certain is that we will live differently, and architecture will need to change, too, or disappear.

Maybe we could claim this as a unique opportunity to place architecture in an ambiguous position of convergence and divergence for reality and utopias, but in any case, as a discipline that cares for others, irrespective of the idea of growth. Architecture as a meeting point for knowledge and comprehension of territory and geography, technical issues and available resources, new globality—and new globalization as mentioned above—and local needs and expectations. Maybe it’s time to be nodes rather than ends. To create new networks between real needs and disciplinary questions, between imagination and opportunities, by accepting and engaging in a role of performative social accelerators of change and amplifiers of new organizations of space as built form, ethical, pertinent and responsible. Maybe it’s time to connect first-rate and other, less qualified schools of architecture to exchange experiences and thoughts about what it means to be global, looking at it from different perspectives. Maybe it’s time to re-engage with the city, the territory and rurality not by means of separate disciplines such as landscape design, urbanism and architecture, but as one, strong and more holistic one. Perhaps spatial disciplines can create a bypass to build a new globality and its globalization, making use of the qualities of space itself as a meeting place and as a biological barrier when needed; able to exchange experiences and thoughts, material developments and applications. Architecture as research into social interactions and their possible outcomes.

The challenge is clear: how to make ourselves necessary as architects and as world citizens, at the same time making our disciplinary values evolve to attend to new global, social and environmental demands

History will tell if we were to embrace globality as a new, more generous and solidary globalization. Our cities, territories and private spaces will soon adapt post-quarantine thoughts and constraints as a new vector for briefs and commissions, remodelling spatial and social order, and architecture and we as architects will soon react to it in disciplinary terms. The challenge is clear: how to make ourselves necessary as architects and as world citizens, at the same time making our disciplinary values evolve to attend to new global, social and environmental demands as we participate in the creation of a new set of human and non-human values and conditions, never seen before, for these remarkable times of a languishing post-COVID-19 economic order. Now maybe it’s time…Or may it be no time.

(1)

Latour, Bruno, Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime (Polity Press, 2018)

Posted
21.May.2020 423 views
Author
Camilo Restrepo Camilo Restrepo

Camilo Restrepo (Medellín, 1974) is the founder, together with Juliana Gallego, of AGENdA, an optimistic architecture agency to create cultural and social value through site specific urban and rural projects. He graduated from the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (1998) and holds a master’s degree by the Universidad Politécnica de Catalunya. He is guest professor for sustainability at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires since 2017, and was a guest professor at Harvard GSD (2013-2016). He has been nominated to the Mies Crown Hall Architecture Prize 2014 and was one of the finalists of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé 2012. He has been invited to international exhibitions such as the Chicago Architectural Biennial and the Bienal de Arquitectura de Chile in 2017, and his work has been published in international magazines such as Abitare and Arquine. In 2020 AGENdA has been selected as one of the world’s 50 emerging architecture practices by Domus magazine.

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