Thursday 19 March

From wacko hippy-esk ideology, ‘sustainability’, or ‘eco-friendly’, or ‘green’ has now become globally accepted. But, as what? As an environmental urgency, as a political issue, as a technical problem, as a historical destiny, or as a new world order? And with which consequences?

The sustainability consensus is dangerous, since the concept has no political content and can be used for any cause. Carbon neutrality and zero emissions are like magic formulas, cover ups for complicated ethical questions about the inequalities in our societies. Architecture is called to rescue the planets future with eco-cities and sustainable design but what is this future is rarely discussed.

We invite you to join us in the examination of sustainability, and answer questions as: whose, what kind of and sustainability in which way? Help us setting the zero point, and let’s search for the strategies after zero and plan more sustainable furtures.

An expert meeting
Experts design Zero Point Manifesto for Sustainability
With Stefano Boeri, Arjen Oosterman, Piet Vollaard, Marjetica Portc and others

10.30 – 12.00 Discussion session
12.00 – 13.00 Lunch
13.00 – 14.30 Writing session

A public debateBy host Ole Bouman

20.10 – 20.30
‘Planning Sustainability after Zero’
Stefano Boeri on Sustainable Utopias and Dystopias
Moving away from the anthropocentric observation of the urban condition, Stefano Boeri understands non-growth and human retreat as producing valuable urban eco-systems. Reforestation protects natural zones and green corridors shelter animals from the anthropocentric world. These potentially create new ways of exchange between wildlife and human beings.

20.30 – 20.50
‘Searching Sustainability after Zero’
Marjetica Potrc on Sustainable strategies after urban crisis
Places where 20th century modernism failed have articulated new dialog
between rural and urban. New rural – urban coexistence is at the core of the existential concerns of contemporary society. Marjetica Potrc will give examples from her research projects in Amazonia, New Orleans, Detroit and the Nieuw West neighborhood of Amsterdam.

20.50 – 21.00

21.00 – 21.15

21.15 – 21.45

21.45 – 22.00
‘Manifesto presentation’
Arjen Oosterman

Marjetica Potrc
Marjetica Potrc is a Ljubljana-based artist and architect. She is best
known for her on-site projects using participatory design, her drawing
series, and her architectural case studies. Her work has been
exhibited extensively throughout Europe and the Americas.

Stefano Boeri
Stefano Boeri is an architect and director of Boeri Studio and editor in chief of the magazine Abitare. Boeri teaches urban design at the Milan Polytechnic, he is visiting professor at the Harvard Design School and he is the founder of the research agency Multiplicity. Previously he worked as editor in chief of Domus magazine.

Arjen Oosterman
Arjen Oosterman is editor-in-chief and publisher of Volume, an independent quarterly magazine that sets the agenda for design. By going beyond architecture’s definition of ‘making buildings,’ it reaches out for global views on designing environments, advocates broader attitudes to social structures, and reclaims the cultural and political significance of architecture. Created as a global idea platform to voice architecture any way, anywhere, anytime, it represents the expansion of architectural territories and the new mandate for design.



Did you know that the term Sustainability first appeared in a German forestry manual in the 1700s?
Did you know that some people feel paranoid about an alleged conspiracy plan of world domination behind global warming?
What did French philosophers in the Seventies think about ecology?

Discover all the different attitudes of humans towards Nature throughout history. Learn more on the architect’s approach to environmental design and get inspiration from a wide utopian fiction bibliography!  Impress your friends with a full set of fresh notions!

The Complex History of Sustainability is a timeline of trends, authors, projects and fiction made by Amir Djalali, with Piet Vollaard. originally published in Volume #18 –  After Zero, the timeline has been converted to an interactive website using mashing-up Google maps, using it as a way to navigate this extensive timeline. The technology to do this, Google Maps Image Cutter, has been developed by CASA Go to: The Complex History of Sustainability

Originally a wacko, hippy-esque ideology, ‘sustainability’ – aka ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green’ – has now become globally accepted. But as what – an environmental urgency, a political issue, a technical problem, a historic destiny, a new world order? And what are the consequences of this acceptance? The sustainability consensus is dangerous since the concept has no political content and can be used for any cause. Carbon neutrality and zero emissions are like magic formulas, cover-ups for complicated ethical questions about the inequalities in our societies.Yet striving for zeros or hiding in neutrality does not lead to a better life in a more desirable house in a superior city for everyone.After Zero is not about design inspired by the fear of tsunamis or Katrinas. Volume proposes an understanding of our society beyond zero. To kick off we discuss two perspectives: sustainability in a post-capitalist city and the potential of urban agriculture.

Editorial by Arjen Oosterman

Counter-Histories of Sustainability by Panayota Pyla

The research on the ‘Post Capitalist City‘ goes on, with a series of lectures at the Dutch Art Institute. Friday 12th Mireille Roddier (University of Michigan) will address DAI students with a lecture on Three forms of contemporary practices: Puppets, Vanguardistas & Guerillas – on various modes of creative operations in the city, and the various forms of occupation they attempt to resist.

Next workshops will include public lectures by Marjetica Potrc, and Design 99.

Further Reading
Urban Resistance 101 – By Mireille Roddier

[via: Detroit Unreal Estates Agency]

As announced, here are some notes on the Food and The City expert meeting held at the Amsterdam’s Academy of Architecture.

Our purpose was to collect ideas and data on the impact of food production on the environment and society, and to provide possible strategies to overcome the ongoing food crisis for VOLUME’s issue on Sustainability.

Three different models and ways of thinking the present and the future of agriculture were confronted, but some initial points were shared among our guests:

  • The era of the Green Revolution has come to an end: our agricultural model – as it is based on massive use of fossil fuel, – is today economically inefficient, and noxious for the environment
  • For this reason, the Green Revolution food system is no longer able to feed a growing world population and to deal with poverty and social inequalities
  • New models of food production, processing, retail and consumption are needed to overcome the present crisis
  • All the possible new models must get food production back to the urban environment

Peter Smeets from Wageningen University presented data and future projection on agricultural markets and techniques, showing advanced technologies able to reduce energy and chemical inputs, improving yields and profitability of agriculture enterprises. Food production, especially high added value crops, should be integrated in the metropolitan areas, taking advantage from transporation, cognitive and technological networks. Forms of international horizontal and vertical labour division are welcome in this model, taking advantage of comparative production costs.

On the contrary, artist and designer Debra Solomon criticized this position, claiming that hi-tech developments require a further centralization of the food industry in few, big corporations, threatening the delicate balance of local food systems and expropriating communities from their right to food sovreignity.
For this reason, she advocates the development of light technologies designed around communities, seeking integration with other urban activities.

Architect Jago van Bergen, presented a totally different approach.
A future crisis scenario – the rising sea level and the salinization of agricultural land in the Randstad area – is taken as an opportunity to re-think agricultural production, giving the possibility to design for the first time a true, genuine “Dutch cuisine”, generated by the specificities of the Randstad territory.

Contributions from Debra Solomon, Jago van Bergen and from the Alterra department of Wageningen Universities will be featured in VOLUME 18.

[1] Atlas of hidden water may avert future conflict (article/ New Scientist)
[2] Depletion and Abundance: Life On The New Home Front – Sharon Astyk (book review)
[3] Call for entries (journal/ Bracket)
[4] City Eco Lab (event/ Biennale Internationale Design – Saint Etienne)
[5] Urban Farmer Will Allen receives award

Atlas of hidden water may avert future conflict – Article from New Scientist, 24 October, 2008

They are one of the world’s greatest and most precious natural resources, yet are entirely hidden. Now, for the first time, a high-resolution map shows where underground aquifers store vast amounts of water.

Depletion and Abundance: Life On The New Home Front – Sharon Astyk is a writer, teacher and subsistence farmer, and the author of two forthcoming books on Peak Oil and Climate Change — Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front (Fall ‘08) and A Nation of Farmers (And Cooks) (Spring ‘09), the latter co-authored with Aaron Newton. Both books are forthcoming from New Society Publishers.

Review by Amanda Kovattana at Energy Bulletin
Commentary: “Unplugged – or unhinged” by John Thackara at Doors of Perception

Call for entries on the theme of farming by the new journal (annually) Bracket, founded by InfraNet Lab and Archinect.

timetable: Submissions due: February 2, 2009 / Jury Review: February 2009 / Notification and Editing: March 2009 / Book release: October 2009

theme: The first edition of [bracket] is centered around the theme of farming. Once merely understood in terms of agriculture, today information, energy, labour, and landscape, among others, can be farmed. Farming harnesses the efficiency of collectivity and community. Whether cultivating land, harvesting resources, extracting energy or delegating labor, farming reveals the interdependencies of our globalized world. Simultaneously, farming represents the local gesture, the productive landscape, and the alternative economy. The processes of farming are mutable, parametric, and efficient. From terraforming to foodsheds to crowdsourcing, farming often involves the management of the natural mediated by the technologic. Farming, beyond its most common agricultural understanding is the modification of infrastructure, urbanisms, architectures, and landscapes toward a privileging of production. more …

City Eco Lab at Biennale Internationale Design – Saint Etienne – 15-30 November, 2008

City Eco Lab is an event, a market of travelling projects that bears witness to experiments carried out around the country. For this reason, the 2008 biennial, will organise workshops, encounters and exchanges centred around daily life themes: foodstuffs, water, energy, mobility etc. Visitors will be encouraged to think about how they might use these commodities in a more sustainable world.

City Eco Lab blog and an outline by John Thackara (the curator)

Urban Farmer Will Allen receives award, a (50.000 USD) genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation:

Will Allen is an urban farmer who is transforming the cultivation, production, and delivery of healthy foods to underserved, urban populations. In 1995, while assisting neighborhood children with a gardening project, Allen began developing the farming methods and educational programs that are now the hallmark of the non-profit organization Growing Power, which he directs and co-founded. Guiding all is his efforts is the recognition that the unhealthy diets of low-income, urban populations, and such related health problems as obesity and diabetes, largely are attributable to limited access to safe and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. more info about Allen at Macarthur

Here the NYT article: “An Urban Farmer Is Rewarded for His Dream

[1] Here Comes The Sun (documentary/VPRO)
[2] Food as A National Security Issue (radio show/NPR)
[3] The Future of Food (magazine/Wired)
[4] Green Guru Gone Wrong: William McDonough (article/Fast Company)

  • [1]
    Here Comes The Sun – Backlight (45min) (watch on youtube) – documentary broadcasted by VPRO on the 20th of October 2008

    About the ‘Solar Revolution’ of which many believe will parallel the rise of the computer industry in growth and impact on society. With in this documentary amongst others Hermann Scheer, the man behind the legislation that made the boom of the solar industry in Germany possible.

  • [2]
    Food as A National Security Issue (40min) – NPR – Radio show broadcasted by NPR on the 20th of October

    In a open letter to the next president, author Michael Pollan writes about the waning health of America’s food systems — and warns that “the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close.”

    The future president’s food policies, says Pollan, will have a large impact on a wide range of issues, including national security, climate change, energy independence and health care.

    Pollan is the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History Of Four Meals and In Defense OF Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.

  • [3]
    Wired 16.11 – The Future of Food

    As always Wired tries to be the first to announce the next revolution, In this case the next green revolution: Forty years ago, we defused the Population Bomb with the Green Revolution. Modern fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides boosted crop yield and fed an expanding population. But now the chemical age of agriculture is running out of juice. Production per acre has gone flat, and demand is rising faster than ever. Fortunately, we can reverse those trends. The November Wired presents an atlas that shows where the problems lie–and what to do about them. The good news: our capacity for innovation is as limitless as our appetites.

    Wired - Future of Food

  • [4]
    Green Guru Gone Wrong: William McDonough – Article from Fast Company Issue 130, November 2008

    Green architect William McDonough has been hailed as a water-walking visionary. The truth is far more complicated.

  • A statement*

    VOLUME has decided not to bring a positive contribution to the Sustainability debate.

    VOLUME believes that too many matters, and essential ones, are not voiced in this debate, as regards the social and political status of Design, as regards the ideological functions and the mythology of environment.

    In these circumstances, any participation could not but reinforce the ambiguity and the complicity of silence which hangs over this debate. So we prefer to present a text expressing our positions.

    The burning question of Sustainability has neither suddenly fallen from the heavens nor spontaneously risen from the collective consciousness: It has its own history. In the Seventies, Reyner Banham has clearly shown the moral and technical limits and the illusions of sustainability practice. He didn’t approach the social and political definition of this practice. It is not by accident that all the Western governments have now launched this new crusade, and try to mobilize people’s conscience by shouting apocalypse.

    The environment issue in many European countries is a fall-out of May, 1968, more precisely a fall-out of the failure of the May revolution. Ideology, which the political power tries to divert onto rivers and national parks, could happen in the street. In the United States, it is not a coincidence that this new mystique, this new frontier has been developed during and parallel to the Vietnam war. There was in France and in the States a potential crisis situation. Both here and there the governments restructured their fundamental ideology in order to face this crisis and surmount it. We see that ultimately the real issue is not the survival of the human species but the survival of political power. In this sense, environment, design, fight against pollution, and so on, pick up the torch in the history of ideology from the great crusade of human relations which followed the great 1929 crisis. At that time, the capitalist system succeeded in reviving production and in restructuring itself by means of an immense injection of publicity, of services, of public relations into consumerism, enterprises, and social life.

    Today, when new and larger contradictions affect the internal structures of the overdeveloped countries and force them, all together, on a world scale, into opposition with the underdeveloped countries, the system comes up with a worldwide ideology that could remake the holy union of mankind, beyond class discrimination, beyond wars, beyond neo imperialistic conflicts. Once again, this holy union created in the name of environment is nothing but the holy union of the ruling classes of the rich nations.

    In the mystique of human relations, it was a question of recycling, readapting, and reconciling both individuals and groups to the social context given as norm and as ideal. In the mystique of environment, it is a matter of recycling, readapting, and reintegrating the individual in the context of nature given as an ideal. Compared with the preceding ideology, this one is even more regressive, more simplistic, but for that reason even more efficient. Social relations with their conflicts and history are completely rejected in favor of nature, with a diversion of all energies to a boy scout idealism, with a naive euphoria in a hygienic nature.

    The theory of environment pretends to be based on actual and evident problems. But pollution, nuisances, dysfunctions are technical problems related to a social type of production. Environment is quite another problem, crystallizing the conscience on a Utopian model, on a collective enemy and, moreover, giving a guilty feeling to the collective consciousness. (We have met the enemy and he is us.) The crusade of environment goes from technical problems and technical solutions to simple and pure social manipulation. War and natural catastrophes have always been used to unify a disintegrating society. Today, it is ‘la mise-en scène’ of a natural catastrophe or of a permanent apocalypse which plays the same role.

    In the mystique of environment, this blackmail toward apocalypse and toward a mythic enemy who is in us and all around tends to create a false interdependence among individuals. Nothing better than a touch of ecology and catastrophe to unite the social classes, except perhaps a witch hunt (the mystique of antipollution being nothing but a variation of it).

    Problems of sustainability only look like objective ones. In fact, they are ideological problems.

    This crusade, which puts again, but on another level, the themes of Kennedy’s New Frontier, as well as the fighting against poverty as the theme of the Great Society, constitutes a complete ideological structure, a social drug, a new ‘opium of the people’. In one sense, it would be too easy to compare bombing in Afghanistan or Iraq as strategies of the ‘war against terrorism’ with the loving care with which people here protect flora and fauna – one could make a fabulous list of all the evident contradictions in which this new idealism is sinking. But there is here a misunderstanding, and the opposition between chlorophyll and bombs exists only in appearance. In fact, it is the same thing. In Afghanistan or Iraq, the fight is against ‘terrorist’ pollution. Here the fight is against water pollution. To lock Indians and black people in reservations and ghettos, that is also a fight against pollution. It is the same logic that organizes all these aspects, the ideological process consisting in disguising in humanistic values some practices (such as the fight against pollution) to oppose them formally to other practices (such as the war on terrorism), which are then considered only as a deplorable reality and an accident. We must clearly see that there is a same policy, a same system of values fundamentally operating here, and that everywhere the established power has always fought against pollution, evidently against the pollution of the establishment itself. This enemy that each of us is invited to hunt and destroy is all that pollutes social order and production order.

    It is not true that society is ill, that nature is ill. the therapeutic mythology which tries to convince us that, if things are going wrong, it is due to microbes, to virus, or to some biological dysfunctions, this therapeutic mythology hides the political fact, the historical fact that it is a question of social structures and social contradictions, not a question of illness or deficient metabolism, which could easily be cured.

    All the designers, the architects, the sociologists who are acting like medicine men toward this ill society are accomplices in this interpretation of the question in terms of illness, which is another form of hoax.

    In conclusion, we say that this new environmental and naturistic ideology is the most sophisticated and pseudoscientific form of a naturistic mythology, which has always consisted in transferring the ugly reality of social relations to an idealized model of marvelous nature, to an idealized relationship between man and nature.

    The debate over Sustainability is the Disneyland of environment and design. We are speaking here about universal therapy, about apocalypse in a magic ambiance. But the real problem is far beyond sustainability – it is the entire theory of design and environment itself, which constitutes a generalized Utopia, a Utopia produced by a capitalist system that assumes the appearance of a second nature in order to survive and perpetuate itself under the pretext of nature.

    Freely adapted from: The French Group (Jean Aubert and Jean Baudrillard), The Environmental Witch-Hunt. Statement by the French Group. 1970’ in The Aspen Papers: Twenty Years of Design Theory from the International Design Conference in Aspen, edited by Reyner Banham (New York: Praeger 1974), p.208–210.

    On Pipeline, more articles on the IDCA 1970

    VOLUME’s research on sustainability for VOLUME 18, perspectives beyond issues of CO2 emission and carbon fossil fuel consumption, inspired collaboration with the Van Abbemuseum. On October 4 its ‘Heartland’ exhibition opened. Ideologically there are clear links between these projects. The institutes share an interdisciplinary research approach and both teams attempt to understand social, cultural and environmental sustainability in a manner, which is disconnected from development discourse and market driven practice.
    To exchange and discuss positions and findings an expert meeting was staged at the Van Abbemuseum. Two positions initiated the debate. These will be presented more extensively in VOLUME 18, here we present some core ideas.

    Marjetica Potrč linked the disillusionment with state structures to disillusionment with modernist architecture. She illustrated this with imagery of decaying social housing and school buildings in New Orleans. Post-capitalism, she argued, can be understood as entering a stage of survival. According to Potrc in Albania’s capital Tirana one can see how a societal agreement by citizens who go against modernism works out. She referred to the city painting project of Mayor Edi Rama. Potrč also mentioned that societies which came into being in a situation of post-capitalism do sustainable design in a local way: more autonomous, with vernacular methods and focused on self-sustainability. As an example she presented the Shot Gun house. As such, post-capitalism implied for her also a sort of post-nationalism, which could be seen in the arising of city-networks in former Yugoslavia. A theme she researched in her Lost Highway project.

    Andrew Herscher, who discussed a project entitled Detroit Unreal Estate Agency, argued that Detroit in the normal economic, political and cultural narrative is characterized as a city of the urban sublime, the shrinking city (empty spaces), ruins, a forgotten city or a city of loss (in terms of population, economy and urbanity). The city transforms because of these narratives into something invisible, disconnected from the realm of economy. Yet, Herscher pleas that we might as well consider this a transformation: the city gains other values in terms of the dream or the desire; the non-existent according to capitalism. As such, the city becomes the site of creativity instead of the site of inefficiency, danger and inflation. Herscher claims that focusing unreal estate is not an attempt to discard the suffering and violence in Detroit, which capitalism normalizes, but that challenges our concept of sustainability and our view on the urban condition.

    Some questions and propositions that arose from the discussion:
    – Sustainability is in many ways to be considered the next stage in a class war.
    – To really understand what is happening in a city in terms of sustainable development over time, we need not only to zoom out spatially but also temporally.
    – A practice of the post-capitalist city which might enhance a different kind of sustainability could be brought about by the practice of play, in other words the practice of the homo ludens. A practice of play would most likely challenge boundaries of the private and the public.

    Contributions by Marjetica Potrč, Andrew Herscher, Mireille Roddier and Stephanie Smith will be included in VOLUME 18.

    Volume interviews Alberto Iacovoni from Ma0

    At the occasion of Ma0’s presentation in Venice in the Italian pavilion, Volume had an interview on what proved to be the hidden theme of this year’s Biennale: sustainability. The Italian office Ma0 (emmeazero, acronym for Media Architecture Office) has for more than 11 years been engaged in research and design with special focus on architecture as medium and the interaction with media.

    Usually we don’t regard Ma0 as a ‘sustainable’ architecture office in a strict sense. But you are always looking for new kinds of lifestyles and sociality in liberated public spaces. Perhaps sustainability can be achieved in other ways, maybe not thinking only in terms of carbon emissions and energy savings…

    Nowadays architects are dealing with sustainability focusing only on how technology can reduce the emissions, how we can reach a kind of self-sufficient climate balance etc. This is very important of course but this is not the main question about architecture. We can make very efficient buildings without dealing with the idea of the form of the building itself, or how the ‘sustainable city’ could be imagined. In other words, we can find sustainable solutions, from the energy point of view, to be applied to any kind of architectural form and language.
    We should on the contrary focus more on how the form itself can contribute to a sustainable environment, not only because – as the studies by Newman and Kenworthy on the compact city were pointing out – a specific form is more or less dissipative, but also because from a true ecological approach, sustainability cannot be reduced to an energy issue, but should concern the social one too.
    The word ‘ecology‘ refers to a kind of totality, a holistic vision of the environment.
    In our work sustainability is seen from this point of view. I like to say that our research is a research for an ecology of form. Let me explain this.

    The contemporary city seems the most unsustainable environment that mankind has ever built, not just as regards the large-scale consumption of energy and environmental resources (generally known as the urban footprint), but also and above all for the forms of occupation and organization of land at every level. Mechanisms increasing the value of areas continually fuel phenomena of expansion, in which the land on which the new city grows is an unspecialized, intensely subdivided space. The expansion of surface car parks, the proliferation of boundaries and barriers between different properties, and diverse areas that are interconnected only by a capillary street network, produce a sprawling, fragmented and dissipative urban structure.
    If ecology is according to the Ernst Haeckel definition, the science of relations, to be really ecological we have to rebuild the relations in this fragmented reality. Relations between spaces, people, and environments. Therefore architecture should concentrate more on connections, than on the objects themselves.
    That’s why one of the keywords of our research is continuity, that is to say, something that has the capacity to connect things. Of course this thing is public space. For example, our proposal for this Biennale, Footprints, is a further step in this research on continuity that has been ongoing since the founding of ma0. Recently we did an urban study for the city of Almere in the Netherlands, focusing specifically on this theme.

    Footprints is simply made of images, visions on how this concept of continuity could work in the city. With Footprints we propose to reverse, to overturn the common point of view on the city. Not to focus on architecture, buildings, but to talk about what is in between buildings, what is connecting buildings, that is to say, public space – traditional public spaces as parks, streets and piazzas, but also more green, natural spaces, woods and spaces for leisure activities. I short: we have to work with voids, with spaces more than buildings.

    Another main issue of sustainability is how a built environment can change and adapt to changing conditions. One of the main theoretical assumption of architecture in the 20th century was the power of the project to manage in itself the complexity of the future development of the city. The failure of many of those projects that have been realized shows us that we cannot tell in advance what will really happen…
    So, one of the important questions of sustainability today is trying to produce systems that are in some ways weaker than the ones of the 20th century, able to adapt to the changing conditions as living systems, more than as dead concrete bodies.
    That’s why another keyword in our architectures is play, which means the research for a performative quality of form, for an architecture that can meet the ever changing needs and desires of people who live in those spaces. An architecture which opens its inertial boundaries to interaction and intervention of the inhabitants.

    From this point of view the continuity concept is something necessary to define the playground, the platform for interactions, a loosening of borders in the city to multiply the opportunities of a social play.

    Maurizio Giufré in an editorial in the Italian newspaper il manifesto of September 12 pointed out that architects today cannot present real critiques of contemporary society…

    That was really hard about the Biennale…

    Indeed. You mentioned this idea of playscapes. How do you see this idea in relation to our consumption society? Is it a kind of liberation from the money economy, or are new ideas destined to become valuable marketable goods?

    I don’t remember who said this, that every weapon that we use can be turned against ourselves. We operate in a capitalist society. So, if we really want to escape this kind of society we should maybe not start from architecture, but from different things, such as direct political action. I think architecture is a really compromissory activity in itself. It’s in the middle of dynamics which are much stronger than the architect and his/her ideas. But at the same time there still is a little freedom of action, for producing visions, for interfering with these dynamics.

    It’s always very dangerous to say ‘ok, I’m really liberating things’. For example, these images that we have produced about this idea of continuous network of empty spaces going through the city at the same time can appear as a system of borders between isolated communities. So, I know that every image we produce can at he same time be looked at as its reversal. If you look at the history of the 20th century, you see that all utopian visions have been realized with the opposite value. The utopia of mass-society with everything mass-produced was an idea of liberation but in the end it became a tool for caging people. So in some ways I think that, as Guy Debord said, theories are made to die during time, so you always have to change your position.

    The idea of play in some respects meets the capitalistic needs. For example, new media are now used to make people play in their little bedrooms, sometimes getting them less conscious about their own material conditions, separating people from each other. So, play is a really powerful tool to make people forget what the real problems are.
    What is interesting in architecture is that this idea of play can on the contrary be politically very provocative.

    Just to make another example: we won a competition in 2003, in one of the Europan sessions in Drancy, in the outskirts of Paris. The motto was ‘Playscape‘. The program asked to make a proposal for the renewal of a low-income housing project in Drancy, and playscape was the idea of a neighborhood that could be really open to the direct intervention of the inhabitants. We got the first prize, just because we had Herman Hertzberger in the jury who was really enthusiastic about our project. But then when we met the representatives of the city, they told us something very simple: ‘the space is not public, it belongs to the Republic. It’s the Republic that really decides what to do and what not to. At this moment, we don’t want people to decide about that space, and we would make any project on it, but not yours…’

    If you bring play out of the private space and you put in the public one, you are liberating some real interconnections between people, and also liberating some conflicts, of course. So this becomes a provocative theme which can address some central questions in the present political debate.

    Architecture is something related to really material stuff. This because it is strongly linked on how the market goes. Once you try to put this kind of thinking, you are discussing about some really fundamental things of our society. I don’t think we can really overturn this, but I think it’s our duty to try to put – as we say in Italian – some grains in the gears, something which can produce some frictions, to make some slight perturbations in the system that could lead to some unpredictable consequences.

    On the other hand, in a moment in which the debate on public space is more and more about safety, about controlling people, the idea of play can be seen as something really inactual. But I think that if we don’t talk about this, then what shall we do? We could also accept more and more gated communities and controlled space, but if we have some kind of free thought, we have in some ways to try to produce some visions that are against this destiny of this gated and controlled contemporary city.

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