Sam Jacob, Wouter Vantisphout and Kieran Long in Conversation

MK Gallery

On October 9th, the MK Gallery invited Design as Politics Professor Wouter Vanstiphout and Architect Sam Jacob – the curators of this year’s British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale – to discuss the development of their exhibition, A Clockwork Jerusalem, with Architectural Historian and Broadcaster, Kieran Long.

A Clockwork Jerusalem explores how the international influences of Modernism became mixed with long standing British sensibilities. and how traditions of the romantic, sublime and pastoral, as well as interests in technology and science fiction were absorbed to create a specifically British form of Modernism.

The exhibition focusses on the mature flowering of British Modernism; the moment it was at its most ambitious socially, politically and architecturally, but which also witnessed its collapse. A variety of large scale projects offer insights into the way architecture was central to manufacturing a new vision of society at a scale inconceivable in today’s Britain. It explores how the modern future of Britain was built from an unlikely combination of interests and shows how these projects have changed our physical and imaginative landscapes.

Scotland, Veneto and Catalonia

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A couple of weeks ago we took our students to the Venice Architecture Biennale to take part in the Swiss Summer School Program: Lucius Burckhardt and Cedric Price – A stroll through a fun palace. On invitation of its curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, they spent a week in the Swiss pavilion in order to explore ‘decentralization’ – the cross-cutting theme of this years’ design as politics studio. Inspired by the Scottish referendum, the Catalan call for independence and being in the Veneto region -which also has a strong desire of autonomy- we took the opportunity to take a closer look at the Europe of regions under the heading  ‘The Double Death of Welfare and the Nation State.’ 

Divided in groups, the students were asked to develop a utopian vision for these three autonomous regions and to design their first pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Below you find the results:

#1 The People’s Lottocracy of Scotland

The People’s Lottocracy of Scotland

The recent Scottish referendum was debated not only on the basis of national identity but also on notions of justice and equality. These stem not from a regional identity but from disenchantment with dysfunctional democratic processes.

The ‘Scottish students’ therefore developed a future vision for Scotland organized ‘lottocratically,’ in which a series of lotteries have replaced normal systems within society in which the
 hours of labour, leisure, GDP and housing are considered required towards achieving the governments broad goals and distributes them unevenly, much in the way that resources are distributed unevenly in 2014. Even the government is elected lottocratically (all citizens may be called upon). Money earned, house, salary and work hours are appointed at random and have no correlation anymore. This is a form of fairness in which everything is not equal but in which all citizens will experience all ways of living – it is our contention that empathy arising from this situation would create a better society. In their pavilion they present, some texts, landscapes, cityscapes and life moments from their People’s Lottocracy of Scotland.

#2 Veneto – Production, Polenta, Palladio

Click on the image to open publicationThe “Veneto group” took the regions’ strong economy as a starting point to create a utopic country of production in which not the economic value of production is central, but the production itself. Entering their pavilion, the visitor becomes a product himself. He moves through on a conveyor belt stopping at certain junctions for a given time. Live, work and play are divided in equal amounts of time, just like it will be in the new country of Veneto. The countdown timers distributed all throughout the rooms, associated to each drawing, painting and activity that one can participate and observe within the pavilion. Thereby even the exhibition in the pavilion is optimized and reflects upon the Veneto – the production utopia.

#3 Catalan Republic: School of life
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Also the “Catalan students” took the region’s productivity, combined with it’s rich culture and history as the foundation for its utopian future . They came up with a Utopian plan for the independent state of Catalonia, strongly based on enhancing its  identity and culture and driven on a extensive education system. Based on this, they developed a utopian education-based society  “The School of life“ in which everyone in the Catalonia Republic has to participate in theoretical study and practical production in order to provide for the local needs and for exporting goods & culture worldwide.

Reinier de Graaf: Why Mayors should not rule the world

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Cities and their mayors are increasingly put forward as The new forces in solving major global problems. While national governments seem to fail in addressing environmental issues, poverty reduction, food production and healthcare, cities appear capable to respond much faster, more efficient and -above all- more democratically. But not everyone agrees. OMA partner and AMO director Reinier de Graaf recently added an interesting angle to the debate by arguing why Mayors should not rule the world…

This weekend, the first planning session of the Global Parliament of Mayors took place in Amsterdam: a platform for mayors from across the world, triggered by Benjamin Barber’s book: If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities.

In this book the current political system and its leaders is dismissed as dysfunctional. Defined by borders and with an inevitable focus on national interests, they are not an effective vehicle to govern a world defined by interdependence. Mayors, presiding over cities with their more open, networked structure and cosmopolitan demographics, so the book argues, could do it better.

It is of no surprise that this book has been welcomed by the same political class as the one it praises: mayors. As was apparent during the first planning session of the GPM: a conference about mayors, for mayors, attended by mayors, moderated by mayors and hosted by a mayor, all triggered by a book about mayors.

I recognize many of the book’s observations. Many mayors are impressive figures and time appears to be on their side. Nation states (particularly the large ones) have an increasingly hard time and, in the context of a process of globalization, cities, and particularly small city-states, increasingly emerge victorious. Cities have first-hand experience with many of the things that occur in globalization’s wake, such as immigration and cultural and religious diversity, and are generally less dogmatic and more practical in dealing with them.

So far so good.

For me, the problem arises when it is suggested to project the success of cities as a blueprint for global governance. I would argue that the current generation of mayors, described in the book, is successful precisely because they do not rule the world. They are successful because they are allowed to focus on smaller, more immediate, more local responsibilities, which means that their efforts by definition generate quicker and more visible results. To remove that focus by attributing global responsibilities to them would (probably) quickly undo that success. Yes, mayors are popular, but how much longer would they continue to be popular, once they would take on responsibilities currently allocated to national leaders? In any case, it remains questionable if popularity automatically equals competence to govern. Kings and Queens are generally a lot more popular than national politicians, but few of us would want to return to a system in which they ruled.

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The Double Death of Welfare and the Nation State

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Invited by it’s curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, we took over the Swiss pavilion this week as part of the Swiss Summer School program “Lucius Burckhardt and Cedric Price – A stroll through a fun palace

Every week, from the opening of the Biennale until October 2014, another institution is invited to spend a week in the Pavilion, bringing their research on some of the most interesting changes that are happening worldwide to the landscape. At the end of the week, the institutes will leave behind the work they have developed, which will be used as a toolbox for subsequent visiting institutions, contributing to a growing archive of the Swiss Summer School.

Together with the students of our graduation studio New Utopias on the ruins of the welfare state, we will use this week to take a closer look at decentralization – the cross-cutting theme of Design as Politics this year. In the studio we emphasize the current progressive dispersion of the services once centralized by the welfare state, and the utopian thinking needed to create an alternative to that. Another angle of the same problem is the political configuration of the nation state. Inspired by the Scottish referendum, and being in the Veneto region -which also has a strong desire of autonomy- we will explore the Europe of regions under the heading  ‘The Double Death of Welfare and the Nation State.’ 

Play the City Talk Show

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Former Design as Politics colleague Ekim Tan (teacher in our 2012 ‘We the People’ studio) will host the talk show ‘How City Gaming will Save City Planning’ on Friday 12 September in the Mediamatic Fabriek, Amsterdam.

The event is organized to celebrate the completion of her doctoral research earlier that day, and the publication of the corresponding book Negotiation and Design for the Self-Organizing City. In this book she describes the development of the method through the evaluation of six real city games. Each game was designed to support local city-makers, from architects to neighborhood groups, housing corporations, cultural institutions, and municipalities, in their joint efforts to evolve their cities. The Play the City Talk Show has a great line-up of professionals who gather to discuss the relevancy of City Games to Collaborative City Making, so don’t miss it!

 

Nurul Azlan at he Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space conference

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The Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis organized The Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space conference from June 18th-20th 2014. 150 papers from 200 participants were presented, with themes ranging from the transformation of publicness to creative industries, and democracy and activism. Design as Politics’ PhD candidate Nurul Azreen Azlan was one of the speakers.

Social media has been a pervasive force in contemporary public life, redefining the way we connect and communicate within the past ten years. This meteoric rise and rapid development, combined with the robust nature of the technology and the fluid way it permeates different aspects of life, make it an endless source of fascination for scholars from a variety of disciplines.

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Nurul’s work was presented within the Global Protest theme, where she talked about the state’s response to digital activism in postcolonial Malaysia, where social media played (and still play) a crucial role as a platform of communication for dissenters. This free flow of information happening in the cyber realm (Twitterjaya) started to loosen the monopoly of the state on the material urban space, resulting in several street protests since the first Bersih protest in 2007. Used to keeping more traditional media in line with a set of laws that encourage self-censorship, the state is limited by their own policy of no censorship when it comes to the internet, a result of the Multimedia Super Corridor initiative set up in the mid 1990s to jump on to the knowledge economy bandwagon. The democratisation of both public spheres is happening simultaneously, and the state is playing catch up in the social media game.

Post Bersih 2.0 in 2011, the police released a video depicting their own version of the protest, where they presented themselves in a more positive light compared to the protesters’ version of the event. In another protest against the rising cost of living, Bernama, the state news agency, used a different hashtag to refer to the event, using the more provocative #guling (topple) than the hashtag used by the organisers: #turun (down/go down). The term ‘cyber troopers’ also surfaced since 2011 to refer to people ostensibly paid by the state to monitor and counter the statements and claims that are critical of their policies and actions. Countering this, the term Red Bean Army was used to refer to people in similar roles tweeting and facebooking for an opposition party, the DAP. Individual politicians also got on board, tweeting and setting up facebook pages to reciprocate their counterparts in the opposition. The Malaysian Prime Minister’s twitter account has two million followers, making it the most popular account, if the number of followers is the measure you use to look at how popular social media accounts are. Some savvy politicians use social media to engage each other and communicate with their constituents and the public in general, while some are more careful and use the technology as they would with traditional media, as a broadcasting outlet.

These are then propped up by already existing laws like the Sedition Act 1948 and the Emergency Ordinance which allow for arrest and detention if you are deemed to make seditious and subversive statements, and the Printing and Publication Act 1984 and Broadcasting Act 1984 which regulations demand that licensing is approved on annual basis. Add to that the libel and defamation suits slapped on bloggers and online newspapers, and one can say that they got it covered pretty well.

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So what does this mean for the imagery of public sphere in Malaysia? In a way, if you were to take dissent out of the equation, the development of the Malaysian cyber sphere has managed to mirror that of the offline public sphere, with the urban-rural and communitarian and sectarian divide, and also the consumption of content which is more heavy on shopping and entertainment than political discourse. The Prime Minister may come first in the top ten list of tweet accounts that have the most followers, but the rest of the list are made up of entertainment artistes. This observation is also extended to blogs, with the most read blogs made up of tech and gossip sites. As Evegny Morozov has informed us in his excellent book The Net Delusion, East Berliners who could access Western media content were more interested to watch Dynasty than getting alternative views of political issues.

There is this disjuncture between this image of the internet being a liberating tool what with the proliferation of protests and all, and the actual situation if you were to zoom out a little to get an overview, only to find out that Internet has probably only widen the public sphere, and that’s about it. Then again, maybe that’s exactly what we need, a widening public sphere, and given how fluid and fast the technology is changing, this will pave way for more positive changes.

A Clockwork Jerusalem

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Design as Politics’ Professor Wouter Vanstiphout together with his office Crimson Architectural Historians and FAT Architecture, is curating the exhibition of the Britsh Pavilion at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia

The exhibition titled A Clockwork Jerusalem will explore how the international influences of Modernism became mixed with long standing British sensibilities. It examines how traditions of the romantic, sublime and pastoral, as well as interests in technology and science fiction were absorbed to create a specifically British form of Modernism.

The exhibition focusses on the mature flowering of British Modernism; the moment it was at its most ambitious socially, politically and architecturally, but which also witnessed its collapse. A variety of large scale projects offer insights into the way architecture was central to manufacturing a new vision of society at a scale inconceivable in today’s Britain. It will explore how the modern future of Britain was built from an unlikely combination of interests and show how these projects have changed our physical and imaginative landscapes.

The Venice Biennale will be open to the public from 7 June to 23 November 2014, with preview days on the 5 and 6 June. The title chosen by curator Rem Koolhaas for the 14th International Architecture Exhibition is Fundamentals. The British Pavilion, is located in the Giardini. All national pavilions have been asked to respond to a common theme – Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014 – exploring the history of architecture in their country during this period, with its own particular emphasis and originality. In total 66 national participations will be exhibiting in 2014, in the historic pavilions of the Giardini but also as part of the Arsenale, and across the city of Venice.