Greece. The impossibility of “stepping back”


Screen Wall by Antonas Office

“The critical act will consist of a recomposition of the fragments once they are historicized: in their “remontage.”
Manfredo Tafuri, The Sphere and the Labyrinth.

The current socio political and economic situation in Greece is going through the hardest moments since they joined the euro, due both to the world financial crisis and uncontrolled government spending. This epic fail of the global financial markets, that represents also an ethic fail, has been felt in the architectural scenario inasmuch as architecture is deeply related with economy. Representing the current situation in a global architecture event such as the Venice Biennale may be a difficult task, because we can’t deny that architecture has been valued almost exclusively with respect to economics in the past ten years, and this crash is affecting medium and small practices worldwide.

Manfredo Tafuri pointed in 1969, on his essay “Toward a Critique of Architectural Ideology” [1] that “those who may wish to link architecture with the destiny of the city, can only conceive of the city itself as the specific site of technological production and as a technological product in itself.” If we analyze the development of architecture and urban planning in the past decades, it seems that we’re still living in the same state-of-the-world that we had in 1969. To understand this, just read the words of Keller Easterling on her essay “Zone: The Spatial Softwares of Extrastatecraft” [2]: “Today urban space has become a mobile, monetized technology, and some of the most radical changes to the globalizing world are being written, not in the language of law and diplomacy, but rather in the spatial information of infrastructure, architecture and urbanism.” Ultimately Both Tafuri and Easterling are talking about the relationship between architecture and political power, and of course, related with economics. According to this, the main fact here can be the question about how to reinforce the architectural discourse and transform the economical downturn into the return of critical thinking.

If we’re able to abandon the historical pessimism in which media have us immersed daily, the crisis of values of the past decade can be, in the current moment, the catalyst of a new understanding of the organic nature of the city. Andrea Branzi wrote in 1971 [3] “The city no longer “represents” the system, but becomes the system itself.” In order to take an in-depth look at this phenomenon created by the relationship between the city and the system, and with the aim to understand how young Greek architects are reacting to this with a radical utopian sight, far behind from an anachronistic nostalgia (remembering here Andrea Huyssen, “nostalgia can be a utopia in reverse.”), there is a need to recognize that after years of consecutive financial crises, they are actively working with a critical approach, looking for restructuring society and space, with the aim of transform that “system” which for Branzi is the city. In this context we can’t deny the importance of knowing our local history and how it relates with the global context, nowadays this knowledge is more needed than ever, inasmuch as every local action is globally connected with new forms of communication and information exchange.

To define contemporary Greek architecture, maybe the more accurate description lies behind a process of reflection. A process which is passing through a transformation from the ‘built’ into research, projects, and ideas: we are witnessing a movement between young Greek architects in search of responses. Against the feeling of being “architects in the vacuum”, there is a need for a redefinition of the practice insofar as the financial crisis has an effect of questioning our social and cultural approach. The demand of objectivity and the rejection of the current situation constitute the start-point for a new achievement in the architectural arena which is that architects are conscious again of their political implication and how they can use architecture to create a disruptive new reality, far away from the established in the past recent years. The subversion of market values and the renewed interest in the raison d’être of architecture can be easily recognized in the work of architects such as Aristide Antonas, draftworks*, Andreas Angelidakis, and Point Supreme, among many others. We can use here Massimo Scolari’s words, when he wrote [4] “This sort of critical attitude, which in its analysis is creating the new architecture, opts not for invention or the great idea, but rather moves patiently and perhaps more surely through a process of clarification.” In this sense, the diffuse limits between utopia and dystopia become critically focused in the search for reasons and answers. Architects have left monumentality in an attempt of getting closer to small details, to theory, and to embrace the idea that an architect can construct, erect or establish many other things that an edifice. A feasible understanding of all the possibilities behind the word “architecture” can be a powerful instigator for new actions and projects. 

Francis Fukuyama remarks in ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ [5], the need for distinguishing between what is essential and what is contingent or accidental in world history, and the need of an intellectual response. The discourse created by Greek architects in recent years goes beyond a simple tool of communication, it has the intention of being the intellectual response requested by Fukuyama, a catalyst of new ways of thinking, a different understanding of the world we live in and how we can use this attitude to create a ‘new architecture’. In times when we’re facing the impossibility of the concept of “stepping back”, this viewpoint is based in our current social contradictions but at the same time we can be fascinated by the possibilities of [re]constructing the system from the basis. If we agree with Chantal Mouffe’s idea that there is no identity that is not formed from a difference [6], maybe it is possible to say that from this convulse times will emerge a new identity, far away from capitalist thinking and consumerism.

We should be optimistic. The world in general and particularly the Western world, owes a lot to Greece,  although the financial markets and mass media keep on remarking us the contrary. While writing this article, people voting in Greece on the Greek Legislative Elections 2012 [7]. I like to imagine they are choosing a new kind of solidarity, with the ideal of creating a new economic model, based in relationships more than in markets. In the same way that Greece transformed the history of the world creating the concept of “democracy” back in the 6th century B.C., what if today we are being witness of another historical transformation coming from Greece in which our role as architects should be re-visited and restructured, according to this new cultural, socio-political and economic requirements?

Then definitely, it would be wise if we look closer to the Greek architectural scenario and keep on learning from them.

—–
Barcelona. June 17th, 2012
Article first published on Made in Athens, catalogue of the Greek Pavilion at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition. Curated by Panos Dragonas and Anna Skiada.


The New Zidonians by draftworks*


Athens Heaven by Point Supreme


Domesticated Mountain by Andreas Angelidakis

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[1] Manfredo Tafuri, Toward a Critique of Architectural Ideology [1969]. Published on Architecture Theory since 1968. Edited by K. Michael Hays, MIT Press, 1998.
[2] Keller Easterling,“Zone: The Spatial Softwares of Extrastatecraft” [visited on June 2011]
[3] Andrea Branzi, “No-Stop City, Residential Parking, Climatic Universal System” Domus 496 [March 1971]
[4] Massimo Scolari et al., The New Architecture and the Avant-Garde. From Architettura razionale, XV Triennale, international session of architecture [Milan: Franco Angeli, 1973]
[5] Francis Fukuyama, ‘The End of History and the Last Man’. Simon and Schuster, 1992.
[6] Chantal Mouffe, “Le politique et ses enjeux. Pour une démocratie plurielle.” Paris, La Découverte/MAUSS, 1994.
[7] Greek Legislative Elections 2012 at The Guardian [visited on June 17th 2011]

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