As announced last week, i'm going to dedicate a few posts to the International Biennial of Photography and Visual Arts - aka BIP2010 - which is taking place all over Liège until April 25, 2010.


Because the city is located in the french-speaking part of Belgium and is only a short distance away from The Netherlands and Germany, the biennale is in french, dutch and german. Not just the website but all the captions and information inside the exhibition spaces are in 3 languages. Which i think is pretty laudable. Only the theme of the biennale, (OUT OF) CONTROL, is english though. BIP2010 has invited about a hundred artists to question society's growing desire for control, surveillance, and regulation. A worrying tendency which (fortunately) leaves space for accident, irrationality, for the unexpected and the absurd.

Each exhibition space focuses on a different aspect of this (OUT OF) CONTROL theme. The Musée d'Art Wallon (the Museum of Walloon Art), for example, had chosen to turn its gaze on Equilibrium and Accident. Some artists push the limits of control or protection and go -or rather perform- all the way to the fall. Others, stop right at its borders, right before they loose balance.

The MAW is a gloomy, austere building right in the middle of the historical part Liège. But before i proceed with a brief review of what hangs inside its walls, here are some images i took in the neighbourhood of the museum:





Visitors get to experience the idea of Equilibrium and Accident right at the entrance of the exhibition room. There, Julien Berthier's Revolution light spins around the room fast and furious just above their head. I'm not sure how tall you have to be experiment with the sensation of receiving the chandelier right onto your face. You want to get nearer and observe it better, yet the object is fairly menacing. How close can you go? I couldn't help wonder what the notoriously fastidious Health and Safety would have done with the piece had it been installed in the UK.

Julien Berthier, Revolution Light, 2006

In comparison with the chandelier, Tilman Peschel's Revolution photo series portray an almost mute and collected notion of danger. Protected by the layers of foam he had wrapped around his body, the artist wanders around the Black Forest in search of risky situations he can put himself into.



© Tilman Peschel, from the series "Revolution", 2003 - 2004

Roman Signer's video 56 Kleine Helicopter shows 56 toy helicopters neatly positioned on the floor. The moment they take off, they seem to turn into a swarm of dragonflies. Only they are just a dumb, noisy and pathetic version of the insect, they collide onto one another and come crashing to the floor. Video.


Roman Signer, 56 kleine Helicopter (2008)

A few steps away from the MAW is the cultural center Les Brasseurs / L'Annexe. The space is remarkably similar to any ex-industrial or ex-commercial venue converted into a contemporary art space...


but their café is charming (Les Brasseurs, after all, means "the brewers"), with disparate chairs, mismatched floor tiles and wooden ceiling.


The sub-theme explored at Les Brasseurs is (Out of) Time. Time, which unlike space appears to be entirely beyond man's control, is the material investigated by artists, in a more or less literal way.

The reflective world photographed by Sarah van Marcke is both out of space and out of time. Even the architectural elements seem to be in search for function and meaning.

Sarah van Marcke, Untitled (Drive-in), from the series Places, 2009

Sarah Van Marcke, PostFab#4, 2006

Young photographer Laurie Polson's take on time is an investigation into the professions associated with death. Hence this portrait of an undertaker from Florenville, Belgium:

Laurie Polson, Francis, Directeur funèbre, Florenville, février 2009

Matthew Pillsbury made almost palpable the hours that passes in the rooms of these guardians of time called museums.

Matthew Pillsbury, Self Portrait Contemplating Wapiti, 2004

Matthew Pillsbury, Looking at La Joconde, Salle Des Etats, Le Louvre, 2008

BIP2010, the International Biennial of Photography and Visual Arts, is open until April 25, 2010 in Liège, Belgium.

Sponsored by:

Very lucky me happened to be in Tokyo during the Japan Media Arts festival. Cheerful, a bit chaotic and very laid-back, the festival had much to tickle a European amateur of media art.


The National Art Center where the exhibition was held

First of all, the festival doesn't just celebrates media arts, it also highlights creative works of entertainment, animation, and manga which gives the feeling that media art is part of a broader contemporary culture than it is in Europe. On the other hand, i didn't see as many socially-engaged artworks media art works as one can find in similar exhibitions in both Europe and the U.S. of A. I'm all for activism and hacktivism but you know what? i didn't expect to find conscience-wrecking works in the exhibition anyway, so its scarce presence didn't spoil my dessert.

Unlike most similar events, Japan Media Arts festival displays not only the awarded works but also the ones that have been recommended by the jury.

Finally, there was light instead of the usual crepuscular atmosphere in the exhibition space. I don't understand why media art exhibitions are so desperate to have you nose-dive into darkness and gloominess.



David Bowen's Growth Modeling Device scooped up the grand prize in the Art Division category. The system attempts to replicate the daily growth of an onion plant.

While lasers scan the onion from one of three angles, a fuse deposition modeler creates a plastic model based on the information collected. The device repeats this process every twenty-four hours scanning from a different angle. After a new model is produced the system advances a conveyor approx. 17 inches so the cycle can repeat. The result is a series of white plastic models illustrating a simple organic phenomenon from different angles.

Vernissage tv interviewed Bowen about his installation.


One of my favourite works in the exhibition was Braun Tube Jazz Band. Wada Ei lined up tv screens and used them as percussion instruments, reinventing thus the purpose and characteristics of a media we thought we knew so well. The artist explains: One day, a spectacular picture popped up in my brain. It was an image of abandoned electrical appliances being played as musical instruments on a street in a town. Using this image as a starting point, I set up the same number of tube televisions and PC-controlled video decks correspond to the number of notes in a musical scale to create a set of gamelan percussion instruments. Tapping TV tubes produces primitive and cosmic electrical music.

(there's another video over here)

I was glad to finally get to see Lawrence Malstaf's Nemo Observatorium which i had missed at ars electronica 2009 where it baffled the audience by receiving the Golden Nica of Interactive Art.



People were forming a long queue to be allowed to enter the transparent cylinder and sit on its chair, right in the eye of the upcoming storm... Once you've press the start button, a huge volume of foam polystyrene beads swirl frantically against the internal wall of the cylinder. All hell breaks loose around you and after a first moment of shock, the experience turn out to be soothing and perfectly safe.

Among the recommendations of the jury:


Leçons de Français (French Lessons), a very charming French lesson by Vanessa Louzon who cut and rearranged images from a French lesson book that belonged to her mother and a communist-era atlas of Europe that belonged to her father, and constructed a video narrative using language lesson clichés to tell about modern life, displacement, and failed dreams (movie.)


Common Flowers, by Shiho Fukuhara and Georg Tremmel (of the Biopresence fame), reverts the blue "Moondust" carnation -the first commercially available and purely aesthetic GM product- back to its natural white state using open-source DIY bio-bending methods and procedures.

BOX 2.0, 2008. Courtesy of the artist and Alkatraz Gallery

Box 2.0, by
Nika Oblak & Primoz Novak, is a bright orange rubber LCD monitor showing clones of the artists duo trapped inside it. As they bump and hit on the walls surrounding them in 2D video, pneumatic system and software transfer their movements into actual 3D space as if their kicks could actually enable them to escape the tv set (video.)

Bearings Glocken, by Kawase Kohske, is a musical instrument that performs a glockenspiel using steel ball for bearings, said to be the world's most perfect sphere on earth.

Photo on the homepage: Flood Helmet Gallery from the series Objects for Our Sick Planet, by ONG Kian-Peng.

All my pictures from the Japan Media Arts Festival.

Last week''s episode: Lyon Biennale - Pedro Reyes.

Biennale of contemporary art in Lyon chose The Spectacle of the Everyday as its seemingly unglamorous theme.

Adel Abdessemed, Sept frères, 2006

As Curator Hou Hanru explained: In today's world existing means being part of the spectacle - that's the situation we're in. Everything's spectacle: any image in a magazine, any exhibition, etc. And in that same world there's also what's called the "everyday": a living, shifting terrain on which people come up with all kinds of ways of resisting the implacable logic of consumption as embodied in the spectacle.

The idea for the Bienniale is to use the spectacle to spotlight this invisible world of the everyday and the ceaseless creation that goes on within it.

HeHe, Toy Emissions (My Friends all drive Porsches), 2007

The Spectacle of the Everyday celebrated contemporary artists who believe that art has to offer more than a spectacle, that it can reinvent itself through engagements with the challenges brought about by everyday life. I was surprised to read that the biennale had been panned by critics in France. The Spectacle of the Everyday was trying to give too many lessons. In a simplistic way and without much regard for form, they wrote. I'm not haughty enough to believe that none of us deserves to be reminded of a few unpleasant facts once in a while. While some of these lessons might not always be very subtle and well-articulated, they have at least the merit of trying and opening up a space for reflection.

The event was distributed into several venues in and around Lyon. Which is great if your idea of a fun time in Lyon involves spending hours inside buses, trams and metros.

The main exhibition venues is La Sucrière, a former sugar factory on the River at the edge of the city. La Sucrière showed the most compelling artworks, it also presented the most coherent and intelligent exhibition. It was down-to-earth, accessible to all audiences and didn't feel the need to play the provocative card. In that respect, the exhibition reached quite competently its purpose to bring contemporary creation closer to everyday life. I doubt i'll blog about the other venues though.

Eko Nugroho, cut the montain and let it fly, 2009. Photo : Blaise Adilon

One of the external walls of the exhibition space became the canvas for Eko Nugroho's Cut the Mountain and Let It Fly , a 70 by 15 meter-long mural.

Rigo 23, Gauche Droite, 2009. Photo: Blaise Adilon

Meanwhile, the silos of the ex-sugar factory have been painted in black and white by Rigo 23. The letters say "Gauche" and "Droite" ("Left, right"). And that's exactly the position of the silos if you raise your head while entering the exhibition space. "Unless," say the exhibition guide, "you turn round, of course, in which case it's the opposite. Turning round: the minimal experience that casts doubt on the strictly relative values of our certainties." I'll let you ponder on that.

Tsang Kinwah, Let us Build and Launch a Blue Rocket to his Heaven, 2009

Tsang Kinwah's wallpapers cover the entrance hall. From afar, they look like delicate flowers in the decorative-art style of William Morris. Until you stop and realize they are patterns made of words that are at odds with the floral ornament: "Vive la France", "The Glory of Human Beings", "Il faudrait les supprimer", "Where is God," and "Fucking Heaven".

All of the above makes me wonder why nowadays the only paintings deemed worthy to enter a biennale of contemporary art are site-specific paintings, wallpapers or graffiti.

Kin-Wah TSANG, The Second Seal - Every Being That Opposes Progress Shall Be Food For You, 2009. Photo: Blaise Adilon


Kinwah spread its magic again on the upper floor at La Sucrière. This time with an animated video version of his coloured texts. Both menacing and seducing, the sentences descend like lava on the walls the space, they bounce on the floor and gradually ignite the whole room. They talk of battle, purge, wretched land and the necessity to educate oneself. They utter haiku-like aphorisms "One race, one colour", "The horse, the sword and the festival", "The sun, the earth and red", "one people, one country". The title of the artwork doesn't dispense more cheerfulness. The Second Seal - Every Being That Opposes Progress Shall Be Food For You refers to the Apocalypse of John. The Second Seal bringing about war and a soldier with a sword riding a Red Horse.

Dan Perjovschi, The Everyday Drawing 1, detail, 2009. Photo : Blaise Adilon


The now ubiquitous Dan Perjovschi graced 2 floors of the Sucrière with his white chalk on black wall drawings.

Everyday, the artist sent by email a drawing inspired by what made the headlines of the press. The Biennale staff then erased one of the drawings on the black board and dutifully copied the new one instead. Cynical, spot-on, the commentary responds to the latest news while addressing at the same time the -alas immutable- issues of our time: the distribution of wealth, globalisation, religion, migrations, the art market, global warming.

Michael Lin, What a Difference a Day Made, 2008. Photo : Blaise Adilon

Michael Lin, What a Difference a Day Made, 2008. Photo : Blaise Adilon

Michael Lin, What a Difference a Day Made, 2008. Photo : Blaise Adilon

Michael Lin bought the entire stock of a hardware store in Shanghai, cataloged all its content, had it shipped to Lyon and rearranged it, adding music, video and performance. The objects of "What a Difference a Day Made" are presented according to colour, shape and use into elegant wooden displays, as in a natural history museum. The installation reminds us that the modest everyday existence of an obscure shop is also part of our collective memory - and something maybe capable of becoming a work of art in its own right.

Société Réaliste, EU Green card lottery : the lagos file, 2006-2009. Photo : Blaise Adilon

Société Réaliste, EU Green card lottery : the lagos file, 2006-2009. Photo : Blaise Adilon

The Green Card can be won in a free lottery organised on the Internet by the American government. The project EU Green Card Lottery mirrors the program and suggests to Americans that they should reverse the immigration flow by demanding a green card to Europe. The moment Société Réaliste ("Realistic Society") launched the website of the project, it was besieged by demands from Third World candidates unaware that it was a fake.

The installation at the Biennale invites visitors to take the point of view of the immigration officer who has to review myriads of identity data and portraits of candidates for the European Green Card.

As the artists explained in an interview for Provision Library, the project addresses immigration management in our 'globalized,' 'cosmopolitan' world: Whereas it is considered a primary right for citizens to choose where they want to live, as soon as it concerns a non-Western person, this right vanishes.

Xijing Men, I love Xijing-the Daily Life of Xijing President, 2009. Photo : Blaise Adilon

Xijing Men, I love Xijing-the Daily Life of Xijing President, 2009. Photo : Blaise Adilon

Beijing literally means "Capital of the North"; Nanjing "Capital of the South"; and Tokyo/Dongjing "Capital of the East". Where is the Capital of the West then? The Xijing Men (3 citizens from nations that have experienced tense relationships through history: the Korean Gimhongsok, the Chinese Chen Shaoxiong, and the Japanese Tsuyoshi Ozawa) have decided to build it, little by little, for the city of Xijing (西京, "West Capital") does not yet exist on the maps.

Over the past few years the Xijing Men have embodied a city that moves with the exhibitions they take part in. Each of the performances and actions of the Xijing Men group brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the integration of a fictional place as a city in its own right into the virtual world of Google and interactive maps.

After their organization of rival Olympics for which they turned art galleries on the outskirts of Beijing into fitness centers and after the chance "discovery" of forged historical texts, the Xijing Men went a step further towards the creation of the western nation. This time they have "reconstructed" inside the Sucrière the apartment of the president of Xijing Land. The Xijing flag, heaps of sand, a few cactus, furniture, a stage and videos is all it took to both embrace and disgrace nationalist ideals.

Jiechang Yang, Underground Flowers, 1989-2009. Photo : Zacharie Roy

Yang Jiechang meticulously disposed 3,000 painted porcelain reproductions of human bones, inside wooden frames as if they were excavated artefacts. "Underground Flowers" is a consideration of the passing of time and the cruelty of political regimes. The artist left China at the age of thirty-three, at the time of the Tienanmen events. The dissolution of the Eastern Bloc, the end of the Cold War and the geopolitical reorganisation of the world date from this same period: they would shape Yang Jiechang's life and inform his oeuvre. During the Biennale 991 bones were sold to the public - one only per visitor - in return for a minimum donation of 10 euros to Entretemps, an association which provides emergency accommodation in and around Lyon.

Previously: Open City: Designing Coexistence - Part 1, Community

Exterior view of the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) during the biennale. Photo © Michelle Wilderom

Open City: Designing Coexistence, the main exhibition of the 4th International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam, has been sub-divided into seven areas of investigation. I reported on Community a couple of days ago. Now comes the turn of Refuge - Architectural Propositions for Unbound Spaces, curated by Phillip Misselwitz and Can Altay.

Refuge - Architectural Propositions for Unbound Spaces explores the causes and spatial impact of migration through voluntary or involuntary "refugees" who are transforming cities around the globe. Individuals or groups are elegantly or forcefully encapsulated from within the context of the city and society. Refuge produces an ever more atomized urban tissue where the "camp" has become both spatial paradigm and everyday reality, be it in the form of a gated community, slum, or humanitarian refugee camp.

View of the exhibition about Refuge. Photography by Michelle Wilderom

Refuge is subdivided into 4 categories, each illustrated by 3 examples found in various locations around the world. I picked up only one for each section of the exhibition.

Artist Thomas Kilpper opened the section Providing Refuge with a poetic and burning appeal to build A Lighthouse for Lampedusa! Providing Refuge explores how architects respond to the need of temporary spaces of refuge that offer protection to fragile or threatened constitutencies, or that legitimate expressions of a human desire for withdrawal, safety, seclusion and loneliness.


(detail of Thomas Kilpper's drawing)

Every year, some 20 000 refugees, mostly from Africa, try to reach Europe via Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island between Sicily and Tunisia. Aid organisations estimate that one in ten die during the dangerous crossing. Once they've set foot on 'the promised land', immigrants are directed to a 'Welcome Centre' which inadequacy is creating a worrying humanitarian situation.

The illegal immigrant detention centre on the island of Lampedusa in Italy. Photo: Paul Grover

Thomas Kilpper, along with a team of architects, engineers and local people, hope to build a lighthouse with a powerful beam that would provide orientation at sea and help reduce the danger to life. Furthermore, the ground floor of the lighthouse would host an arts center. The discussions, exhibitions, concerts and other cultural events organized there would attract both new visitors to the island and local people, giving them an opportunity and space to learn from and listen to each other.

This project underlines the need for a solution to the refugee problem: it's not possible to solve it via restrictions and declaring a 'state of emergency'. We call for a humanitarian and just immigration and integration policy in Europe. None of the refugees is illegal. We oppose any idea to establish a 'Fortress Europe'. The lighthouse will be a self-confident signal: 'here we are, we do not hide'.

Preventing Refuge are proactive projects that aim to prevent entire groups of city dwellers from becoming refugees.

2 million square meters of development projected on the city

After the 2003 Rose Revolution, Georgia embraced a wild capitalism. Spatial planning became suspect, public assets were quickly privatized, and the city faced rampant land and property speculation, leaving the city authority without strategic plan. Some 2,000,000 m2 of newly developed areas threaten to destroy Tbilisi and led to large-scale urban displacement. A city already filled with thousands of war refugees has transformed citizens into refugees in their own city.

FAST, One architecture and local artists outlined a The New Map of Tbilisi to expose all spatial and infrastructural projects being imagined or built in the city, highlighting its lack of strategic coherence. It also shows how refugees from earlier civil wars and current residents are displaced. And, it tracks how public buildings, spaces, and parks were privatized, left to stand empty due to the crisis, then to be reclaimed by internally displaced persons.




By exposing corrupt land deals and making the effect of failed statehood transparent, the "New Map of Tbilisi" aims to empower citizens to take positive action, providing a platform for grass root initiative, civil society institutions and municipal authorities alike to re-engage in a strategic discussion on the urban future of Tbilisi.

Laboratories of Returns, one of the projects i discovered in the Dismantling Refuge section, examines return from exile. When return becomes possible, the site of origins is already irrevocably transformed. Return is never a simple turning back of time, a return is always a return to the already built.


The notion of "return" has defined the diasporic and extraterritorial nature of Palestinian politics and cultural life since al Nakba in 1947-48. The work of Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal and Eyal Weizman urges architects to engage in a discussion about the revisiting, re-occupation, and appropriation of the already built. Their research and proposals on the appropriation of settlements and military bases to be evacuated -the "future archaeology" of Israel's occupation -- has been recently expanded to include other instances of displacement such as the afterlife of Italian colonial architecture in Libya.


Improving Refuge focuses on the estimated 1.4 million Palestinians living in camps spread across Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank and Syria. These makeshift areas are among the most densely populated in the world. Living conditions, as we all know (but pretend to ignore), are abominable. Camps are a place of temporary-emergency refuge but they also need to be habitable. They hover between stillness and action. The Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Program launched by the UN attempts to introduce strong community-driven urban planning that would enable people living in the camp to go beyond the victim mentality.


I found the practice of Participatory Community Mapping particularly fascinating. ARC, the Arab Resource Collective, invited Palestinians living in several refugee camps in Lebanon to collectively draw maps of their respective camps from memory. The resulting maps chart live experiences rather than the usual landmarks. Political fault lines, social affiliations, and the loci of power manifest themselves from the bottom-up. No only do these maps undermine derogatory assumptions about unruly spatial configurations, they also expose the glaring injustices of the Lebanese government's policy regarding Palestinian refugees. The maps betray the absence of workplaces, except for grocery stores, mini-markets and pharmacies. In the writ of Lebanese regulations, Palestinian refugees are barred from performing dozens professions, including the practice of law, medicine, engineering, etc.

Map of Nahr el-Bared

Open City: Designing Coexistence of the 4th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam is on view until 10 January in the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI).

Photo on the homepage via EU Australia online.

Related: Bas Princen, Mokattam Ridge (Garbage city).

Last month, i decided to ignore articles and friends who were telling me "Wow! this biennale's throwing too much text at your face!" and went to see for myself the main exhibition of the 4th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam: Open City: Designing Coexistence. Thank god i almost never listen to the opinions i ask for. The biennale -at least the part i got to visit at Netherlands Architecture Institute- is one of the most exciting exhibitions i've seen this year.


I got hooked right from the start. Look at the space:



Aren't those Dutch masters at designing exhibition spaces, events and concepts better than anyone else?


The theme of this year's architecture biennale is Open City, an urban condition that enables diverse groups to interact peacefully, creatively, and productively.

Today, the very diversity that once activated our cities threatens to dissolve them: cities are turning into archipelagos; public infrastructures are splintering; and public spaces are being left to wither. Differences between rich and poor, conflicts among ethnic groups, and the proliferation of gated communities and security zones are some of the symptoms that point to the urgent need to re-address the idea of Open City and translate it into concrete intervention strategies. How can architects and urbanists stimulate and design social, cultural, and economic coexistence?

The curator of the IABR, architect Kees Christiaanse, has selected seven sub-themes, each of which throws light on different qualities and possibilities of the Open City.

I won't write about each of them. Today i'll just focus on Community. The exhibition of sub-curated by Interboro brings a whole new perspective on U.S. (gated) communities.

Magazines and leaflets promoting the suburbia way of life

American society, especially in the suburbs, is extremely segregated - at least, that is the story often told. People form communities for economic, social, politic, ethnic or many other reasons. The U.S. have communities that cater to retired GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender), wealthy catholics, golf-maniacs, even modern-day vampires. However, a closer look reveals that the Open City turns up in the most sealed communities, in their shopping malls, parking places, churches, and sports complexes - places usually not set up to stimulate a process of integration. Either because they have been subverted or because they present some dysfunctionality, these places end up fulfilling the role of integrator.

Sub-curator Interboro have toured the U.S. to collect 15 of the most unlikely cradles of integration. Here's just three of them:

This resident's tv set is in a metal-coated room (Photo Fred Bernstein for the New York Times)

Snowflake, founded in 1878 by two Mormons, Mister Flake and Mister Snow, is now hosting a growing community of individuals suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome or those who are sensitive to electricity. Since the 1980s, they flock to the remote high desert town to escape pesticides, paints (banned by Snowflake's rigid product guidelines) and some electric currents found in more modern cities.


Photos: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Mosquitoes and skaters alike at least see positive sides in the current economic crisis and US housing market meltdown. Abandoned homes in formerly booming suburbs of Fresno, California, provide them with plenty of pools. Mosquitoes like them stagnant and filthy. Skaters prefer them empty and clean. Using Google Earth and property websites to find abandoned properties with drained swimming pools, skaters can use as makeshift skate parks. When the pools are already infested with mosquitoes, skaters drain them using a gas-powered pump. While they may be trespassing, skaters provide a service by eradicating mosquito breeding grounds, a public health hazard since the arrival of the West Nile Virus in Fresno 8 years ago.

Image Naples news

The Ave Maria community was founded and financed by Roman Catholic philanthropist Tom Monaghan, of Domino's Pizza fame, favours beliefs consistent with the Roman Catholic faith, including prohibiting the sale of pornography or contraceptives and banning the performance of abortions. There's a 100-foot tall oratory on its main square and a university established "in the Catholic tradition."

However, the community still yearns for a proper place of worship. Because of the local diocese's differences with Monaghan, the consecration of the oratory kept being delayed. The structure finally received dedication in March 2008 but as an oratory, not a church. A crucial distinction since sacred celebrations, such as baptisms, weddings and funerals, typically occur inside churches not oratories. As a result, many of the religious ceremonies are performed outside Ave Maria, in a neighbouring parish that serves low-income Creole and Hispanic Catholic population. Our Lady of Guadalupe has become an unintended meeting place, an unanticipated sub-community.


It seems that, given a choice, most Americans choose to live in a homogenous community over an heterogenous one. However, the suburban landscape of semi-public spaces that exist in between these homogenous communities reveal, here and there, what Interboro calls "spaces of encounter" where diverse social and ethnic groups coexist, interact and generate complex relationships and networks. As the examples above demonstrate, they do not present all the formal properties we usually associate with the Open City but that doesn't prevent them from fostering rich dynamics. Old recipes for an Open City do not work in the suburbs. What if architects and planners attempted to identify the open, inclusive experience in the course of their everyday lives, and then imagine ways to multiply and enrich those experiences? Could the Open City be subtly slipped into mundane activities that take place in suburbia?

The Community exhibition is given added depth thanks to a dictionary (yes, i know, more text!) called The Arsenal of Exclusion/Inclusion. It consists of 101 "weapons" that architects, project developers, urban planners, politicians and action groups can employ for or against the Open City. The tools are often top-down such as mortgage discrimination, 'no loitering' signs, armrest on benches or residential parking permits or they are downright "glitches" such as planning mistakes that inadvertently produce heterogeneity.

A picture illustrating The Arsenal of Exclusion/Inclusion

A model by James Rojas was also included in this section of the exhibition. His "design-based urban planning" embeds the spirit of the Open City. He uses colourful models to demystify the planning process and help members of a community translate conceptual planning ideas into physical forms:



Look what i found on ISSUU! The leaftlet that accompanies the biennale.
Flickr set of the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam.

Open City: Designing Coexistence of the 4th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam is on view until 10 January in the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI).

Credit photo: Johannes Schwartz

In 1999, Andrew Lawrence invented the Skyscraper Index. According to him, there is a correlation between the construction of the world's tallest buildings and the impending end of business cycles. A good example is the Great Depression which followed a skyscraper boom. The Empire State Building was finished in 1929 but didn't achieve full occupancy for 40 years. Lawrence believes that the construction of a new record-breaking skyscraper goes hand in hand with speculation, over-investment and monetary expansion are raging. Some analysts found the interconnection unreliable but the Skyscraper Index gained some credibility back a few weeks ago when the press relayed the news that Dubai's economy is struggling to rescue itself from its debts. As a result, the construction of its most hysterical projects such as a skyscraper higher than the Burj Dubai (at 2,313 feet tall, it is poised to be 40% higher than the current record holder, Taipei 101) and an even bigger version of the Palm Island is faltering.

The desert and road construction works around Dubai. Photograph: Olivier Matthys/EPA

Whether they take the Skyscraper Index seriously or not, people agree that architecture is conditioned by the economical climate. Architectural projects were the first casualties of the current financial crash. Rien ne va Plus, an exhibition taking place at Bureau Europa (which used to be the Southern branch of the National Institute of Architecture) in Maastricht, delves into the economic crisis and its intricate relation with architecture. Started as a research by architectural firm Powerhouse Company, this rich, thought-provoking project also takes the form of a reader published in collaboration with the magazine A10 and a series of debates.

Outside of Bureau Europa

This crisis is particularly relevant to architecture for two reasons. First, because this last boom was caused by the financial structures of real estate loans and speculation; Architecture was a means of wealth rather than well-being, with the result that houses were being built to be resold rather than inhabited. Architecture became a speculation feeder and obtained a doubtful role as marketeer. Second, because of the evolution of the ethics of architecture as well as its position towards and engagement with the society that produces it. Now the pressing question is how can we create architecture that is based on long-term qualities rather than on short-term profits?

Credit photo: Johannes Schwartz

The reader that accompanies the exhibition reproduces some of the sharpest essays and articles written about the economical crisis, the effects of globalization, the eroded moral integrity, the flaws of our free market economy and their impact on architects and architecture. I've listed a few of them along with some images of the superb 3D-diagrams designed by Powerhouse Company for the exhibition:

On Hold: The impact of the economic crisis per country, with the height of the building projects put on hold after the Sept 2008 crash (from red for countries in official recession to blue for countries with economic acceleration)

"Globalisation allowed the US to suck up the savings of the rest of the world and consume more than it produced." George Soros, January 23 2008.

Seismograph. The line indicates the daily volatility of the Dow Jones index, between 1901 and 2009

"If Monaco is, in Jack Nicholson's phrase, Alcatraz for the rich, what shall we make of Dubai?" Germaine Greer, The Guardian, Plan, 9 February 2009.

"Today, outlandish architecture and design-art are placed alongside Damien Hirst's Diamond Skull and the Candy and Candy's apartments as symptoms of empty extravagance." Kevin McCullagh, Plan, March 2009.

I don't know who made this Hirst Gherkin, it's one of the posters i saw in the show

"Public housing, a staple of 20th-century Modernism, was nowhere on the agenda. Nor were schools, hospitals or public infrastructure. Serious architecture was beginning to look like a service for the rich, like private jets and spa treatments." Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times, December 2008.

"And now it has come: people's houses really are earning more than they do, and as a result every householder has been turned into an untaxed selfemployed developer." Martin Pawley, The Architects' Journal, February 2005.

One of the features of the housing bubble is that. over the course of years, houses started to earn relatively more than the labour of people who inhabit them. The models show the average growth of house prices measured against the average growth of income, inflation corrected, within The Netherlands

The 21st century starts indeed as one of owner speculation rather than occupation.

"Abstract projects solidified into Architectural form, and, sponsored by oil and stock market wealth, were "grounded" in the most socially unjust locations and in the most environmentally wasteful ways. Real-estate, disguised as Architecture, falsely credited with sustainability, turned out to become the profitable terrain-for-surplus capital, absorbing into its ever more elaborate shapes money that could have been invested otherwise." Zvi Hecker, January 2009.

Colours indicate the freedom status of each country (the darker the least freedom). Pins represent the projects realized by six different Priztker-prize winning architects around the world

Think 'starchitects' projects for the Beijing Olympics and in Gulf States. The Louvre opening a branch in Abu-Dhabi.

Credit photo: Johannes Schwartz

This exhibition doesn't try to predict the outcome of the bets that were taken in our global casino economy. It doesn't have the ambition to formulate answers nor to provide solutions. It is rather an opening to a conversation with architects and the general public. In the coming year we will be creating a series of events throughout Europe concerning this book, to initiate a dialogue about the possible solutions to these crises.

Rien ne va Plus opens until the 10th of January 2009 at NAiM/Bureau Europa, in Maastricht, The Netherlands.

All my images.

Previously at NAIM/Bureau Europa: Changing Ideals: Re-thinking the House at NAI in Maastricht, State Alpha, on the architecture of sleep at the NAI in Maastricht, Edible City - Part 1 and Part 2.

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