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A new simplicity – by LPP

LPP 30/08/2010 Senza categoria Comments Off on A new simplicity – by LPP

If we were to define the complex phenomenon of the Star System, we could say that it was launched by a generation of architects born around 1944, that it began to emerge in 1983, and that it began to break down in 2001. Rem Koolhaas, Tom Mayne, Bernard Tschumi and Massimiliano Fuksas were all born in 1944. This fact is not irrelevant, because it allows us to affirm that we are talking about a generation conceived during the Second World War, and thus almost genetically equipped with an energy, or at least a survival instinct, unknown to other generations.

In 1983, Bernard Tschumi won the competition for the Parc de la Villette in Paris with a conceptually layered project that marked a significant innovation in architectural forms, at that time dominated by postmodernism. The park project was not unlike the one submitted by another professor from the Architectural Association, Rem Koolhaas. This demonstrated, in turn, that Tschumi s project was not the exploit of an isolated genius, but the result of research shared by a new generation of architects. In 1983, Zaha Hadid won the competition for The Peak in Hong Kong, bringing a breath of fresh air to architectural circles, as noted later by Peter Cook, who commented: ai???Architecture is on the wing again, at last!ai???
The year 2001, with the emblematic tragedy of the Twin Towers in New York, put a brake on the two decades of euphoria that was marked by buildings that were popular with the public and widely publicised in the media. An example is the unprecedented success of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which opened in 1997, re-launching the city on an international level.
Naturally, when you start to give dates, you are making radical simplifications. Indeed, many stars were born before and after 1944. Frank O. Gehry was born in 1929, Peter Eisenman in 1932, Renzo Piano in 1937, and Zaha Hadid in 1950. Furthermore, the date 1983 could be moved back to 1978, when Gehry built his house in post-postmodernist style in Venice, California, and Rem Koolhaas published Delirious New York. And, given the growing amount of work that continues to be commissioned throughout the world to the big-name international architects, one might even doubt that the Star System was ever in crisis.
Nonetheless, dates that mark changes in the prevalent ideological vision are useful, and despite the arbitrariness of trying to synthesise in a given point of time what is more or less a long process, they help us to understand phenomena that might otherwise elude us.
The new phenomenon, which we present in this collection of works of architects under 40 in approximately forty different countries, is referred to as New Simplicity, denoting a common sentiment characterised by a need to move towards asceticism with respect to the artificiality of the Star System.
A desire to return to simplicity had long been in the air. In fact, it was no coincidence that the 2010 Pritzker Prize went to SANAA and that the organisation of the Venice Architecture Biennale was entrusted to Kazuyo Sejima. But frankly we did not expect the phenomenon, albeit with different inflections, to emerge with such force in the younger generations. At least not until the projects selected by the national referees for this publication began to arrive and the picture became increasingly clear. All the more so since this book had no preconceived thesis, being based on research that was open to any result. The referees who selected the projects for each country were given no indications by the curators regarding their choice, except for the general criteria of design interest and relevance. Blobs and hyper-technological fa ades, classical or parametric architectures, it all would have been equally received.

So the question is: why this explosion of New Simplicity?

The first answer is: in antithesis. Because it was foreseeable that a period of gluttony in terms of form would be followed by a period, if not of fasting, at least of dieting.
The second answer is because this generation is different. Today s 30-year-olds are suspicious of logos, and this prevents them from creating works that might appear to be ai???autographedai???.
With some approximation, we can say that while the representatives of the Star System were born during World War II, New Simplicity was born between 1973 and 1977. The first date marks the energy crisis, and the second the years of student protests, with a return to private industry. There is no doubt that environmental sustainability and individualism, in the sense of awareness of one s uniqueness and instability, are the two themes that most characterise this generation.

Moreover, the benefits of economic globalisation, accelerated in 1989 by the symbolic destruction of the walls between east and west, have permitted these young architects to enjoy a favourable time for their education and training. European students took advantage of Erasmus programmes (the European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University S tudents, launched in 1987), while Asians and Latin Americans enjoyed a period of economic well-being, with even double-digit growth rates favoured by more transparent political situations, as well as new technologies and trips abroad. Furthermore, everyone, from east to west, has suffered the contradictions of systems that are cynical, more or less increasingly corrupt, instable and always on the verge of collapse. Founded on financial and ideological volatility, they have produced strong social inequalities. Hence the suspicion towards globalisation and its architectural symbols, historically provided by the Star System, the definitive decline of which, as already mentioned, took place in 2001, after the collapse of the Twin Towers. But the crisis had already been announced as early as 1999 with the publication of the book by Neil Leach, The Anaesthetics of Architecture, the first essay of which, avoiding the intolerable rhetoric of history, identity and Heidegger s hut, showed that pursuing the wow-factor through sensational, flashy projects may prove to be a dead end in terms of architectural culture. Hence the need for a return to the concrete, as represented by these five points that seem worthy of note. They are the quest for a linguistic koinA?, a powerful creative response to the crisis of the profession, technological pragmatism, anti-sculptural contextuality, and an ecological approach. The linguistic koinA? is created by the circulation of images and people, by the Internet and by international periodicals, but also by study programs that have allowed a growing number of students from different nations to meet in top schools around the world (Barcelona, Rotterdam, London, Los Angeles or New York). Also useful is work experience in international studios, which are becoming for instance Oma, Foster, Nouvel, Hadid, and Piano important destinations to insert at the end of one s university and postgraduate education. The result is that the languages that previously characterised the contributions of individual architects are merging into a richly mingled language of variations and emphases. The loss of lexical purity is helpful to the no-logo strategy of this younger generation, which in this way finds a new freedom: the freedom to use and/and against the or/or of the strong language.

The resulting eclecticism can create works of little value, but also interesting hybrids, a bit like in genetics when you mix characters and identities. Mind, however, that this eclecticism is different from that theorised in 1966 by Robert Venturi in his book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. Here the point is not to artificially complicate the game, but to declare that it is meaningless. Architectural language does not exist, full stop. Anything can be architecture, provided, however, that its problems are not monumentalised.
This flexibility of approach can be an asset in solving a second momentous question that these young people face: fierce competition, given the excessive number of architects now working in the international arena. While the Star System dictates that only a few architects can work at the top, the new generation operates more democratically, also drawing on the bad taste of the client, manipulating it in ways that render it acceptable. The quest for new areas in which to operate professionally and a greater sense of social responsibility also leads to the reconsideration of architectural opportunities that at first might seem of minor importance: from low-cost public works to socalled parasite architecture, from unvolumetric design to ephemeral and precarious structures, from design-build projects to group-participation projects. We ve reached the end of the era of museums costing ten thousand euros per square metre, built using any possible technology, material and form. The new era requires more ingenuity in obtaining and making use of resources, especially when they are quite limited.
Another result of this choice is technological pragmatism, in the sense that every technique, from the simplest to the most complex, is considered acceptable if it serves its purpose. You can build with bricks or LEDs, recycled materials or carbon fibres. The important thing is to treat technology as a tool and not as an end in itself. Indeed, cheaper and recycled materials appear to be more fashionable and attractive, and if one must choose between a tree and a column, the former is certain to prevail.

Not least because, and here we come to the fourth point, the sun has finally set on the idea of the building as a sculptural object dropped from a spaceship into the architectural context and environment. Today, and to me this is probably good news, the idea of a building and a blank space that separates it from the rest is no longer considered valid. The concept of landscape architecture, even if understood in a thousand different ways, has been incorporated in every design current, and every young architect is aware that what you see from a window is more important than the shape of the window.
The fifth aspect is the ecological approach, not only in terms of reducing energy consumption and the inclusion of increasing amounts of green, but also in terms of improving the quality of life and how we interact with our environment. Contemporary ecology is supportive of both fast moments and slow moments, complete transparency and complete opacity, the human machine and the human dancer.
Of course, it is not a given that all of this can be achieved. Nor is it a given that simplicity is actually simpler, or that the anti-aestheticism of many projects might not conceal an even more dangerous aestheticism, precisely because it is expressed in a hidden manner. It is certain, however, that a new phase is taking shape, and I believe this book presents it with sufficient geographical scope. If the Star System were born during World War II, New Simplicity was born between 1973 and 1977. The first date marks the energy crisis, and the second the years of student protests, with a return to private industry. There is no doubt that environmental sustainability and individualism, in the sense of awareness of one s uniqueness and instability, are the two themes that most characterise this generation.

Intoduction to Backstage Architecture 2010

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