Money [the echo of nothing]
The third Think Space cycle MONEY, promoted by DAZ-Zagreb Society of Architects, was launched last September 24th in Lauba, House for Art and People in Zagreb. For this cycle we are honored to be invited as guest curators. So we were faced with the challenge to propose some compelling theme in the line traced by two previous successful cycles. That’s why following discussions with some close collaborators and the Think Space team we came out with some of the virtualities that in some way or another determines great part of our activities, dreams or insomnia nowadays: MONEY… or the lack of it.
Money is no more than a social construction that has its value on the collective agreement to accept certain forms of measurement. Nevertheless, money is an immanent concept in our daily life. Under capitalist system that leads the world in the current times, we can’t deny that money rules [almost] everything: the way we live, what we eat, where we go an dhow we relate with other… As coined by James Carville in 1992, “the economy, stupid.”
Thus, if MONEY is only a virtual object and its value depends on the object to exchange, how can we work in a new understanding of the concepts of value, trade and exchange from a different point of view?
Excerpt from Network, a film directed by Sidney Lumet, 1976.
Money has been one of the main issues [if not the most important] to define the creation of territories and space. Borders created for economical purposes and financial markets in many ways are guiding how cities evolve. The relationship between countries basically depends on debt: creditor/debtor relation; where debt is not an impediment to growth. According to Maurizio Lazzarato, it represents the economic and subjective engine of the modern-day economy. Even this fact, during the past years we are starting to perceive capitalism as a failed system and probably as not the only option anymore. One of the signs of this failed system can be found on the sovereign debt crises that have placed several Eurozone nations under a situation determined by the European Union’s so-called troika —European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund [IMF]— and not determined by their citizens and inhabitants. For Baudrillard, money is no longer a medium or a means to circulate commodities, it is circulation itself, that is to say, it is the realized form of the system in its twisting abstraction.
But this concept is changing at a rapid rate. Just ayear ago, the Occupy movement used bills as a tool for social protest. The Occupy George movement pointed “Money talks, but not loud enough for the 99%. By circulating dollar bills stamped with fact-based infographics, Occupy George informs the public of America’s daunting economic disparity one bill at atime.” As Emily Gilbert points, “currency is not just a neutral economic tool, as the economists would have it, but it embodies cultural, political, and economic values.” Experimental currencies as bitcoin [described as decentralized digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone,anywhere in the world] is expected to be the next bubble, but at least it opens new ways of thinking about different economic models. In the middle of these experimental processes, there are new tools that more people is using everyday, new forms of economics and trade, such as crowdfunding, social money and micropayments, based on the confidence and support of the network. These tools are here to stay and can be harnessed as catalysts for change. The way we interact as citizens in this new economic scenario is transforming how we use public space, digital tools and create new physical and virtual territories.
How can this flow affect the practice of architecture, and what kind of proposal can come from architecture within this exchange of ideas dealing with the #futureofmoney?
What if our cities were able to evolve without money? How economic flows reflect in the configuration of cities? How it would look like a “right of the city” initiative in a tax haven state? Can we design new territories that operate outside the traditional economic guidelines? Which is the role of the architect within this scenario [if there’s one]?
“People accept capitalism, not because they agree with it, but because it is the only system they know.”
—Manuel Castells, in the documentary from VPRoTime For Change
Since it affects almost all areas of our activity, at the new Think Space cycle MONEY, we’re looking for pioneering works at the intersection of architecture, sociology, economics, programming and marketing that radically challenge the fundamental spatial, social and urban relation based on capitalism.
With the aim to do so, the programme includes three main subtopics organized in the form of competitions, looking for design proposals that tackles the present economic and territorial, cultural and environmental challenges at the current moment. This subtopics are:
After the launch it took part a roundtable hosted by Tomislav Pletenac [Zagreb Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences], with Marko Dabrović [3LHD founder and partner], Mario Vrbančić [Zadar Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences] and us.
We are posting here some of the questions posed by the public to open the discussion and try to set up a productive debate with our readers:
One of the first disagreements that emerged from the presentation was “Why do you say that we don’t know what is money? We do know what is Money!”
But we insist, we’re not sure about that… of course we do know how much some things cost or how much money we have in our bank account. But are you aware of which series of events determines the price of things or the price of your workforce? What happens when it’s a set of algorithms which determines a stock market operation or the real state value of your house?
What would be a system running without money?
As stated in the launch… we were afraid of such question. Mainly because we do’t have an answer! We often speculate with a different social agreement where human empathy would rule relationships in our cities. Such infrastructure would be actively enhanced to provide a friendly environment to any person adding to the urban system (no matter where she comes from). Some of the new forms of economic exchange, as we pointed before, are based on the confidence and support of the network and this fact make us think that some kind of moneyless service exchanges can be possible. What do you think?
Focused on the MONEY | Territories competition, somebody asked “Why should we go so far while having big issues at our own city?”
As stated by juror David Garcia, the outback’s and peripheries are the territories that best reflect our idiosyncrasies, dystopias and utopias, our strengths and weaknesses; a mirror of our society that becomes clearer for being at the edge of the frame. We agree with this statement and also, we can add that sometimes there’s a need to take distance from our local problems to envision possible solutions. Because when one’s immersed in a difficult situation, the focus gets more diffuse and even if the response is out there, we’re not able to recognize it.
And last [for the moment], Why are we talking about money? Are we able as architects to have any answer to this question? As architects we’re part of the economic system, and even it appears that our main role deals with space, we also have the possibility to explore the dynamics configuring such space. While questioning how our cities evolve, we can also put into question concepts determining their development such as value, currency, money, labour, exchange and try to think how it would be to adapt the interacting pieces when some of them is scarce or is completely missing. And nothing more suggestive than adapt to this task this W. Churchill’s warning: “Guys, we’ve run out of money. Now we have to think!”