Ephemeral Projects: Prototypes for Another City

OBRA Architects | Pablo Castro

Having lost the capacity to think the city as a whole, architecture has seen its field of incumbency restricted almost exclusively to the design of the individual building. Because of this, architects can only contribute to the city in a disjointed and fragmentary manner, without ever having the opportunity to conceptualize a project of its totality. At the same time, urbanists seem indifferent to the possibility of defining concrete urban space and more preoccupied instead with issues of operational management of the city. While consistently avoiding any significant propositional stance, they limit themselves to the metrics of abstract metropolitan dystopia.

Architects implicitly acknowledge this diminished state of their discipline every time they acquiesce to focus on the design of discrete buildings without consideration for their urban context. This degradation of the disciplinary role of architecture in relationship to the city is nothing but the logical consequence of a growing process of privatization of public space, a process for which there seems to be no end in sight.

To see their projects realized into buildings, architects must give at least a tacit endorsement to this ongoing decadence of urban space; those without the stomach to do so can theorize or ambiguously reposition themselves while they wait for the unlikely event of regime change. The more recalcitrant amongst them might become visionary “paper-architects,” harbingers of a so-far frustrated architectural future, prophets of what could have been but, in all likelihood, will never be.

The city has fallen into its “metropolitan” state by having consented to its wholesale transformation into an on-going real estate operation of gigantic proportion. The city is no longer the place where people build on the work of generation after generation in a cumulative process of social sedimentation that gradually acquires civic significance. It has become instead nothing more than the geographic location of readily available cheap labor and willing consumers of an economic system characterized by its capacity for infinite expansion.

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References:
1. Le Corbusier: Towards an Architecture, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles 2007, p.200
In the chapter entitled The Lesson of Rome, the sketch of Pirro Ligorio’s engraving appears accompanied by this text: “The simple volumes unfold vast surfaces that express themselves with a characteristic variety depending on them being domes, barrel vaults, cylinders, rectangular prisms, or pyramids.”
2. 2017 Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, Imminent Commons Biennale, Seoul
Curated by Hyungmin Pai and Alejandro Zaera Polo
3. Misunderstandings On the collection of Le Frac Centre d’Orleans, Rome and Orléans
Curated by Luca Galofaro and Abdelkader Damani
4. Le Corbusier: The Radiant City, Orion Press, New York 1968, p.268
5. Under the Dome, self-financed documentary film directed by Chai Jing, Beijing 2015