Early Worlds / Recent Ruins

forum ruin

This studio tasks students to experiment with a new domestic architecture on the site of Parc del Fòrum in Barcelona. We will treat this site as a ruin. Architecture will conceive of itself as the act of a radical reinterpretation of the recent spatial productions of the capitalist world.

We depart on this project by marking an end. In whatever sense still possible, this project is the declaration of a terminal point of a recent history in which architecture has played a crucial role. This history is one whose lavish excesses, driven by an evermore abstract world economy, has found an eager partner in the architects and developers who design and produce exuberant architectures, immersive spaces and spectacular infrastructures—materializations of an immaterial financial network whose vast web touches down on selected sites around the globe with ever new formulae of spatial development and whose production occurs under the dubious auspices of ‘global communities’: olympic villages, world cup cities, world expos, climate conference venues, knowledge economy hubs, smart city districts all purport to bring together the ‘local’ with the ‘global’, promising jobs, income and prosperity to their ‘host’ cities. In this economy, cities compete fiercely over playing host to whichever world organization may be soliciting invites since such events have become massive drivers of development—urbanization peddled as event ‘legacy’—and thus huge flows of capital into the city. It is the passing of this recent history that our studio will mark as a beginning.

In this context, domesticity has become an increasingly politicized category. Bound up as the site and product of sovereign debt wars being waged throughout Southern Europe, Puerto Rico, the US and beyond, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish boundaries that separate private, domestic life from transnational political economies. And yet within architectural discourse, domesticity has oddly received little serious attention as a political category. Constantly overshadowed by other more dramatic themes, from the euphoria of the 90’s around the ‘knowledge economy’ to tapping into ‘creative industries’ that captivated architectural practice in the early 2000’s, to ongoing efforts of ‘regeneration’, sustainability and now ‘resilience’, if gauging meta-themes of architecture tells us anything, it is that the uncritical infatuation with the entire ‘post-industrial’ landscape of the global north has concealed the tremendous burden that domesticity has taken on in facilitating this shift, covering over the disastrous precarity offloaded onto the domestic realm, exposing private property to the whims of vast global markets and their constantly unstable flows of capital. In a word, the ‘post-industrial’ economy enjoyed by the global north is also crucially a real-estate economy. The financialization of domesticity that this shift has caused is now arguably one of the main engines that drives contemporary world economic growth thus also placing it at the center of its crises.

Barcelona, like many Southern European cities, has become such a real-estate city; a city whose industry is turning increasingly toward the trading and management of real-estate based debt. For this reason, it has also become a center of political activism precisely around real estate, debt and neoliberal politics, whose disastrous outcome has been the eviction of tens of thousands of families in Barcelona alone. Indeed, the recently elected Mayor, Ada Colau, is also the founder of PAH (Platforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca [Platform against Eviction]), an increasingly powerful activist group working to stop such measures.

No Tabula Rasa, no avant-garde, no reactionary withdrawal, no localisms. Marking such an end is both an observation and a provocation; an inevitable conclusion and an unexpected declaration. From the vantage point of an ‘end’, we are forced to do what has become unthinkable: we are compelled to open new realities. This project is a declaration of an opening that only such a historical terminus can provide. If crisis has become the watchword of governments and economies in the last few decades, it is this endpoint that we hope will help us see beyond the strategies of coercion and paralysis executed under this hackneyed concept. Indeed, we must embrace the possibilities that a temporality without orientation provides. Only such a terminus can open architecture up to the sheer potentiality that it so desperately lacks today.

While we do not intend to follow the utopian practices of constructing completely new spaces ex-novo, for us, architecture is about creating openings—momentary potentialities in which new worlds are free to emerge, disappear, transform…  For this reason, our idealism is driven by an audacious proposition that begins by marking an endpoint, but also a radical pragmatism: how to conceive a new architecture by reinterpreting what exists? What could it mean to speak of a site just over a decade old as a ‘ruin’? How does this change the way we perceive the site? Most importantly, how can it liberate new ways in which to see architecture in general as a given set of materials, networks, infrastructures, spaces and technologies of possibility that simply have been misappropriated, overdetermined and thus foreclosed to a single perception until now? How, in other words, can a critique also be a fully functional proposition?

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