The architects reunion – CIAM version 21st century?


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Could this be the topic for a CIAM convention of 2013?
It seems that no one knows very well where do we stand when it comes to classifying our place in the history of architecture. After Modernism and Pors-Modernism, some references have been made to post-post, pseudo- (and I lost track home many more) Modernism.
It actually seems to me we are closer to Modernism then ever before. Maybe the theory that events tend to occur in cycles makes sense in this case – we are going back to the beginning in an equivalent to a neo-revivalism in the 19th century.
Modernism celebrated the aesthetic of the new technological age and the men that would come out of it. It is based on a complete faith on the potential of industry to transform the world and enhance people’s lives, and the architect sees himself has the responsible to imagine the cities of the future, to envision the appropriate reality to suit industrial progress and social equity. Anything was possible and the architect was the right man for the job, taking almost the role of God.
As virtual images from the new Yongsan International Business Center, in Seoul, Korea, started to “pop up” on the media, one skyscraper after the other, one star architect after the other, I began to ask myself: is this the 21st century equivalent to the International Building Exhibition of 1957 in Berlin, Germany? If the main representatives of 21st century architecture decided to get together to discuss the future, couldn’t they reflect on this specific site, each one on his own building?
Why do we tend to consider that we are in a post-modernist phase?
Im particularly found off this Alison & Peter Smithson text from 1957, where they reflect on how architects have not keep up with the building industry, the importance of popular taste and the need to observe the dynamic of our cities and understand how you can reproduce the same rich complexity within the new reality of car transit.

“We as architects have still not found a built-mode appropriate to this life-style – we have not yet built the places ‘where it all can happen’. (…) The building industry today is like the garment trade without the couture house. (…)
What dreams us to Paris is the still-life sense of the city as a collective art form: it is that which pinch us to the pages of Simenon, envious of the carnal connection of places and life-pattern. A connection we know we have lost. We can rebuild that connection only from associations of people with places we know to be alive.
We live around our house-group, we transit; we live around our house-group, we transit; we shop and transit again. (…)
For the new life-style a city pattern of large area comprehensible livable around work-groups, of Disneyland-type and amble-around shopping areas, with easy anonymous transit between, would offer a mode of organization which corresponds to our everyday experience and our retained picture of ordinary urban life. It would then be clear where we would walk in our bouncy new clothes, and where we would ride in our shiny new cars.” *1

As much as I love the Smithsons I must say that it seems that architects have found out how to make the couture house for the garment trade that is the building industry. And have also finally come to grasp how to design the places where people want to walk in their bouncy new clothes but, unlike the Smithsons idea, I don’t think they are trying to understand the connection between citizens and city that has been lost, but rather, like Modernists, create the city of the future, the city, they believe people will want to live in.
I remembered Rem Koolhas Delirious New York *2 reflection on how the skyscraper “figure” came to be, and it seems that we are much closer to that 1920s way of thought than we might imagine.

“In the 1920’s, all thinkers in Manhattan are, mostly, reunited in the commission that was preparing – for the New York Regional Plan Association – a book about ‘The construction of the city’.(…) they simulate a genuine interest for planning that disimulates their efforts to promote the obscure environment in which the skyscraper while flourish. (…) anything can be questioned within the Regional Plan except the skyscraper, that remains untouched. The theory, if existent, must adapt to the skyscraper, not the other way around. (…)
The congestion culture implies the occupation of each block by one single structure.
Each building will become a ‘house’ – a private domain welcoming guests, but never pretending an universal reach. Each ‘house’ represents a lifestyle and diferent ideologies.
In each floor, the congestion culture wil organize never seen combinations and fun human activities. With the help of the technology of the fantastic, it will be able to reproduce any ‘situation’ – natural or artificial – where and when you desire.
Each city within the city will e so unique that will naturally attract it’s inhabitants. (…)
The congestion culture is the culture of the 20th century. *2

Yes architects seems to have keep up with the building industry and yes, they seem to believe in building Disneyland-type livable areas but, when we analyze the urban planning proposals beeing presented for specially Asia, India and the Middle East (roughly half the world…) they always seem to:
– Ignore the existing cities, as if they should be a hazard to avoid;
– Built a new city in a new area, as dense as possible – go up;
– There is a silent competition for the tallest, the shinieest building;
– Amazing rethoric on how these represent the future of sustainability;
– Amazing rethoric representing how people should live in the future: an artificial and safe environment where temperature, air quality, light, is always controlled to ensure. Aximum comfort for users;
The vision of a new man that celebrates his individuality through is personall live choices but acts socially according to a pattern – a sterilized environment, that offers, greenery, shops, work and housing in complete controll from the outside world. Doesn’t this reminds you something?
As news from the new Yongsan International Business Center came into the media, I start realizing that, the urban planning is avoiding the city. Each building is a city on its own. Just like the Unité d’Habitacion offered all the commodities you would need for comfortable living, these skyscrapers, offer much more: here you can, work, live, shop, work out, play in the garden, all up in the sky, away from street life, away from the existing city, safe from it.
And when you go out, in your car, from the garage of your building, to the garage of the shopping mall, there is no risk of being contaminated by the outside, out of control, world.
It makes you wonder, how much post-modernim criticized the rethoric of modernism, just to go back to it again…
I think these star architects should resurrect the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne in 2013 and reflect on the future of our cities. I can only wonder what would be the end result of that?

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*1 Alison & Peter Smithson, Where to Walk and Where to Ride in our Bouncy New Clothes and in our Shiny New Cars, written 1967, in The emergence of Team 10 out of CIAM. London (Architectural Association) 1982
*2 Rem Koolhas, Delirious New York, GG publisher.

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