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Global Architecture Platform

The Tremor of Architecture

by Gabriel Magalhães

All human beings feel architecture. This feeling—a veritable drive—is part of our nature. We are dealing with the same instinct that animals have when they discover their cave or dig their burrow and shelter in them. The same emotion, too, of a bird building its nest. Basically, our DNA seeks out that second skin that we call home. This article, written by someone who is not an architect, is based much more on this human feeling than on a theoretical knowledge of these themes.

The twenty-first century has started with the West in a state of trembling. We cannot quite seem to shake off this tremor. We have become citizens of uncertainty and, in a way, of discouragement. Everything around us, even the most basic, is becoming a problem: demography, economic development, even nature itself. Nothing is certain anymore—not even the sun or the rain of each season.

And, curiously, on this horizon of almost permanent crisis, architectural elements, works of architecture, have been present, as protagonists, in the evolution of events. It all began with the fall of a wall, in Berlin, in 1989. That gave the world a new turn. The tension between the capitalist West and the communist East evaporated, and the planet opened up to new directions.

We might have thought that the West had emerged victorious, but some years later we realized that the sense of history was taking another direction. In the attacks of September 11, 2001, we saw how fragile our standards were. There, again, architecture played a major role: the Twin Towers of New York became the pennants surrendered to the atrocity of terrorism.

Then it is not possible to dissociate the financial crisis that broke out in 2008 from the Manhattan building on Seventh Avenue, home to the offices of Lehman Brothers bank, which gave the edifice its name at the time. Everyone saw bank officials come out of that building, which was like a castle of riches, carrying cardboard boxes that contained their belongings.

On this horizon of almost permanent crisis, works of architecture, have been present, as protagonists, in the evolution of events

And now, after so many disasters, coronavirus. Will this illness change Western and global architecture? I think not. What it is transforming is the decoration of spaces: everything is being filled up with dividing surfaces—barriers, shields—, creating a curious maze of separations. We are putting masks on places. And each of us is becoming a mouse, scampering along these sanitary corridors.

However, this sequence of dysphoric events, beginning in 2001 and through which the West has discovered its terrible weakness, can indeed transform architectural creation in a decisive way. Will the trend be a return to the fortified constructions of the Middle Ages? Buildings cloistered in their own bubble of security? Buildings that gradually filter entry, like computer games in which we proceed from level to level? Our airports are already cultivating this gradual cloistering.

It is likely that the buildings will, in one way or another, reflect the fragility, the suspicion of this time. The tremor of the Western world could lead to a trembling architecture. An architectural art that, furthermore, has to be concerned with the natural world: each new construction will have to define very precisely its code of conduct as regards nature. Will we go back to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater? Or will it be all technical virtuosity, with arrays of solar panels and ecology posed as a mathematical equation? The truth is that the new constructions will have to shelter people, while also taking care of the environment.

And how will the nationalisms that are reborn in Europe be projected in what is built in the future? Will we give into the temptation to revive and call for architectures of the past? An architectural patriotism sponsored by that great client that is the State, asking for mirrors for itself, would be curious. Constructions as flags. Something that has happened so many times throughout history and even generated many great monuments. It would be strange to witness the appearance of the Escorials of our weariness.

The tremor of the Western world could lead to a trembling architecture. An architecture that, furthermore, has to be concerned with the natural world

In short, we do not know what the architecture of the future will be like. We do not even know if anything with sufficient dignity and joy will appear on the horizon to merit the name of future. The figure of the architect even runs the risk of becoming one more, lousy element in the economic process of construction. Just as the figure of the director is evaporating, fading from those capital-creating visual machines that are films. The architect would then cease to be a creator, to become the first of the slaves. Sort of like a butler, or the foreman of serfdom.

However, I think there are two words that will be key to the coming times: freedom and nature. In fact, in a world where the soft authoritarianisms of systems such as the Chinese, the Russian, the Turkish are being imposed, with great powers presided over by politicians who take the same garish, despotic line—people whose name, by the way, we do not want to remember—, an architecture that affirms human freedom, that gives each person a space to be what they are without coercion, could really dazzle us. And the same would go for buildings capable of signing a peace treaty with much abused nature. In the future, skyscrapers should caress the heights.

I think there are two words that will be key to the coming times: freedom and nature

We are, then, living in a time of uncertainty, and our architecture presents that same tremor. What a strange time this is, in which almost everything that is being done seems, at the same time, to be coming undone. However, if it were to find floor plans of freedom, elevations of ecology, the art of architecture could help us rebuild the ruins of our future. But for this to happen, it will have to say no to the temptation of enclosure, to the obsession with high walls, bypassing the logic of castles and fortresses and national celebrations to give the human being spaces, places, where each has the right to find their own way.

Posted
25.Jun.2020 327 views
Author
Gabriel Magalhães Gabriel Magalhães

Gabriel Magalhães (Luanda, 1965) is professor of literature at the University of Beira Interior (Portugal) and was lecturer at the University of Salamanca. He specialized in Portuguese literature of the 19th century, Spanish literature of the 19th and 20th centuries and comparative literature. Main academic studies: Estar Entre (2007), Garrett e Rivas: O romantismo em Espanha e Portugal (2009). Essayist, with several books on Iberian subjects: Los secretos de Portugal (2012), Como sobreviver a Portugal (2014) and Los españoles (2016). As a novelist, he has published five titles, among them Espelho Meu (2013), O Mapa do Tesouro (2015) and A Casa da Alegria (2019). He collaborates in the newspaper La Vanguardia (Barcelona).

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