LET’S GET PHYSICAL: THE METAMORPHOSIS OF THE ARCHITECT

Architecture requires a lot of different skills. From an architect, we expect the ability to envision and to shape the future. He is the one saying: let’s build it, let’s get physical. Easier said than done.

American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867- 1959) wrote extensively about what he believed to be the best education of an architect. Due
to the fact that architecture was a demanding profession, something that Wright always insisted in expressing, the education of an architect should start in kindergarten. We may think the statement is excessive but it can take a lifetime for an architect to master his profession and perhaps, no one knows this better than architects themselves. What does it mean to be an architect?

It is known that most projects conceived by architects will never see the light of day. This requires both a high tolerance to frustration and a healthy amount of narcissism — a potentially explosive combination.

This year, Arquiteturas’ focuses on four personalities who share the ambition to meet the urban dweller in their own terms: Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas (b.1944); one of Koolhaas’ protégées, architect Bjarke Ingels (b.1972) from Denmark; Álvaro Siza Vieira (b.1933) from Portugal and; American activist Jane Jacobs (1916-2006).

The films in which their work is featured, set the motto for all other films being screened in Arquiteturas’ that, in one way or the other, are about stretching the boundaries of architecture either by weaving a closer relation with other arts, or by telling the story of those who broke those boundaries.

In REM (2016), we see how Koolhaas approaches the world of architecture by fostering the attitude of an explorer. An example of this is his book Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, 1978 where he considered the city of New York, to embody the variety of human behaviour and architecture to the extreme, in a constant reinvention.

With journalist/activist Jane Jacobs, in Citizen Jane – Battle for the City (2016), we see, again, how New York was the stage of one of the most intense battlegrounds for the ‘right to the city’. This idea has been currently being revived in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Jacobs believed that citizens should have a say in how a city designed because they are the ones who
have the ability to constantly renew it merely by inhabiting everyday.

In Vizinhos (2016), Siza himself guides us through a tour of four of his 1980s social housing projects, which he has revisited in 2016 in the context of Venice’s Biennial. In this documentary we find out, together with the architect, the surprising variety of current inhabitants of these projects.

Big Time (2017), shows us the immeasurable scope of current architecture in a wider world economy context. In it, we get to know the outlook of up and coming Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, while at work in two projects in New York — one of them, right across Siza’s first US project, to be concluded In 2018.

All four films point to the complexity and multi- layered requirements pressed upon today’s leading architects.

Architects seem to respond to this call for an amplified approach by engaging in many other activities, becoming curators, designers, artists, activists, writers, filmmakers, photographers, social workers, and developers. This is due to the fact that contemporary architecture demands awareness on many different levels, being acknowledged that it shapes highly relevant interactions with anthropology, sociology, engineering and politics. What exactly is demanded of architects today and how can they prepare themselves to meet that challenge?

We are now experiencing worldwide, unprecedented speed in urban growth and the population living in urban environments is also rapidly expanding. Due to this challenging context, the practice of architecture requires the collaboration of several other areas of expertise so that it can provide an adequate answer. Should an architect care about contextualizing his work or not?

With the increased role played by digital technologies in urban environment, our idea of what ‘a city’ is, is becoming rapidly a superimposing of different layers, both physical and virtual, connecting places within the city and cities across the globe. How will the future shape of ‘the city’ be?

Perhaps nowadays’ challenging scenario is among the main causes for the general public to be disenchanted with architecture and architects. Are we expecting too much of architects? What is architecture becoming and what is the architect’s role in it? Arquiteturas hopes to contribute to clarify these questions by, once again, giving the floor to filmmakers and architects, and we hope you enjoy this year’s screenings.

Diana Soeiro
Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Philosophy, Universidade Nova de Lisboa

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