Wormholes in Stockholm | Economy


The Golden Sphere in Stockholm

In 1967, Hans Hollein wrote “The limited categorical foundations and traditional definitions of architecture and its means have on the whole lost their validity. A true architecture of our time, then, is emerging, and is both redefining itself as a medium and expanding its field. Many fields beyond traditional building are taking over ‘architecture,’ just as architecture and ‘architects’ are moving into fields that were once remote. Everyone is an architect. Everything is architecture.” Based on this reflection, written in the most intense days on the architectural avant-garde, the group Economy is working on their Proposals for Stockholm.

Tor Lindstrand and Jessica Watson-Galbraith [Economy] have the feeling that forty years after this statement, architecture is still categorical. And quoting Arkady and Boris Strugatsky [1971], they keep on searching wormholes, those hypothetical topological features of spacetime, in Stockholm:

This is a hole. It always has been and still is. But now it is a hole into the future. We’re going to dump so much through this lousy hole into your world that everything will change in it. Life will be different. It’ll be fair. Everyone will have everything he needs. Some hole, huh? Knowledge comes through this hole. And when we have the knowledge, we’ll make everyone rich, and we’ll fly to the stars, and go anywhere we want. That’s the kind of hole we have here.

As a reaction on this feeling and reflecting on the fact that architecture nowadays is growing without foundation, and still very much traditional, but with a lack of definition, Lindstrand and Watson-Galbrait argues that if we live in a time of free fall, maybe the best thing to do is to speculate and do our best to find holes to the future. And they speculate publishing every weekday a new “proposal for Stockholm”.

Revisiting ideas from Hans Hollein, Lebbeus Woods, Ed Ruscha, or even Star Wars, Economy shared with us [via e-mail] the following text, which describes the idea behind the Proposals for Stockholm:

“All actual objects are surrounded with swarms of virtual images. Virtual images pointing backwards to potential histories and forwards to futures still unknown. In turn these virtual images are themselves circled by yet other virtual images in ever-wider circles. The real is something that is possible, and the virtual something that cannot be realized. The virtual condition always remains as potential. Architecture as a discipline is located here, on the threshold between the possible and the potential. Understood as a practice of building it mostly concerns itself with what is possible, measurable and quantifiable. One side effect of being too preoccupied with the possible is that it by necessity also makes other things, or events, impossible. – Before there was no University/Museum/Government here, but now there is. –On the other hand architecture could be understood as pure potentiality, a discipline not limited with what is possible, but an activity that also includes all that is impossible, and beyond. This speculative side of architecture is often looked down upon, dismissed as paper architecture. The underlying morality seems to be that architects should be visionary, but in a well behaved, controlled and realistic manner. Visionary Light. There are no problems with this as long as the projects we do and the clients we serve are decent. For a long time the democratic welfare society seemed to be that, perhaps it was, but this period in history is over. In a time were the end of the world seems more probable than the collapse of capitalism, were we live in an increasingly mono-cultural world, we not only see economies spiralling out of control but also a bankruptcy in architectural ideology. Those who oppose utopian ideas as being totalitarian, or meaningless daydreaming have got it completely wrong. Utopia is what has been lost. We need more utopias, more discourse, more of everything, not less.”

But if we go back in time, just a few years before Hans Hollein wrote his well-known text “Everything is Architecture”, he gave a lecture at the UIEA Congress in 1965, and it was precisely in Stockholm where he talked about his vision on the city. We think is necessary to revisit all this concepts to understand Economy‘s proposals. Hollein said:

The modern city is a tremendous engine of communication, its plastic expression is largely determined by the elements of this communication. These cities, which modulate the surface of the earth, are no longer a two-dimensional extension of a two-dimensional plan. The city expands in space [...]

The project Proposals for Stockholm then, is basically a reaction to how rapid Sweden and especially Stockholm has adopted a market-oriented approach to planning and architecture. Were the PR-machinery of commerce, politics, tourist- and life-style industry now dictates the future of our common spaces. Economy set out to accomplish the completely impossible task of changing the image of Stockholm. Projecting futures from a multitude of vantage points. Visiting historic sites long gone and suggesting alternative futures, populating the city with unconscious architectures, kaleidoscoping views and cut ‘n paste whims and impulses.

“A map of the world that not include utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the country at which Humanity is always landing.”
Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of man Under Socialism” [1891]

Recently we’ve been reflecting on the poetry behind utopias and why this current fascination, when we wrote:

When, 50 years ago, Archigram, Superstudio and Archizoom—and many others—designed megastructures and mobile cities such as those envisaged by Peter Cook or Yona Friedman, the technical means to build them did not exist, and all those dreams remained confined to drawings, magazines and the occasional book. They remained etched in our collective memory as Paper Architecture. But I sometimes wonder what might have happened if some of these projects had actually been built? What would New York be like if it were crossed from end to end by Superstudio’s Continuous Monument? Or what if Constant had filled the planet with his New Babylon modules? Would they still seem as romantic to us as they do in their unbuilt form?

Economy pointed that for them, the project “is an exorcism and they will keep going until they’re done”. And we ask, what we can do and how we can create new cities and new worlds based on utopia?

Are we, as architects, going to be capable of finding this wormholes which are needed to create new futures? Tarfuri wrote in 1976:

Architecture now undertook the task of rendering its work “political”. As a political agent the architect had to assume the task of continual invention of advanced solutions, at the most generally applicable level. In the acceptance of this task, the architect’s role as idealist became prominent.

We can just add that the need of this “political” agent is now mixed with the need of anthropologist, sociologist and of course, scientist to find the wormholes that will lead us to keep on searching for utopia.

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Related readings and links
[1] Economy web-site
[2] L’ordre des Simulacres | What if Capitalism has finally conquered our Utopias?
[3] Lebbeus Woods on Utopia?
[4] Architecture and utopia: design and capitalist development by Manfredo Tafuri

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