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-UNCERTAINTY-

Or how uncertainty forces us to dissolve our pre-established limits.

As we understand it, certainty is the undeniable and irrefutable knowledge of something. It defines finished realities with clear, recognizable borders. Certainty is what we feel about everything we have been taught and that we take for granted – everything that makes any kind of reflection or further study unnecessary. When defining our reality, certainty compels us to substitute the rational analysis processes with those based on memorization.

Uncertainty, as the antonym of certainty, appears as the opportunity to generate necessary thinking processes that respond to the realities of changing or unknown nature, those with limits that cannot be defined, or those which do not have any limits at all. Uncertainty, therefore, influences the nature of our certainties by eliminating their steadiness and forcing their evolution.

The disruptive emergence of the coronavirus in December 2019, a month after choosing the theme for the spanish pavilion, has turned out to be the latest nature's realization of what Bauman explained with his Liquid Modernity: the current socioeconomic reality makes humans navigate in the seas of uncertainty. Society has become a figure of constant and transitory change, tied to educational, cultural, and economic factors.

Already before the pandemic, we lived in reality, in which the volatility of all processes called for the opening of the limits of our certainties to allow them to evolve. Even so, our community ignored this situation and continued to maintain outdated architectural models supported by pre-established systems. We have been defending them out of comfort, customs, and, above all, profitability.

Now, our post-pandemic society cries out for the opening of spaces for reflection and new solutions for certainties that have proven to have a strikingly temporary character. The situation forces us to recognize the heterogeneous growth of certainties and the need for new strategies flexible enough to adapt to the existence of the uncertain, constantly changing future.

The so-called new normality demands from architecture the actions that will open the existing limits between the predefined antagonisms and eventually break them permanently. Concepts closely conditioned by the economic and cultural factors must now merge and blur their borders. This way, they will become open, allowing the appearance of the indeterminate processes that our liquid society demands. Thus, we will gain the necessary tools to act against any new threats for the future of our coexistence. 

The spanish pavilion presents Uncertainty – a selection of actions that hybridize and expand the competences of architecture to face new social demands. Uncertainty blurs imposed disciplinary and conceptual boundaries that have ended up becoming principles. It creates open concepts from realities previously perceived as antagonistic.

                [anthropocentric] [ecocentric]                  →           - anthropocentric ecocentric -

                [inside] [outside]                                            →           - inside outside -

                [innovative] [traditional]                              →           - innovative traditional -

                [individual] [collective]                                 →           - individual collective -

                [playful] [productive]                                    →           - playful productive -

                [virtual] [physical]                                           →           - virtual physical -

The exhibited works transform into a unique catalog of architectural strategies necessary to face the future of our coexistence and its implications, including the social and environmental levels.

The exhibition unravels how social atomization – resulting from the variability of responses to the uncertainty that we all have experienced – does not eliminate the possibility of forming a group or a community, nor it pushes us into individualism. Hence, the pavilion's central room becomes a volume made out of hundreds of heterogeneous individuals floating in space who, regardless of their physical and conceptual distance, interact to build a single and recognizable body. It becomes a set of different architectures that, like the entire profession, do not lose its ability to define a common path despite being constantly transformed by its interactions with unexpected external forces. 

Uncertainty urges us to open our certainties, by focusing on exploring their limits and showcasing the actions that allow different dimensions of reality to become open, dynamic, and adaptable processual elements. It shows a future in which uncertainty, as a design strategy, has become the primary tool to transform our processes and social models, breaking individualism in favor of coexistence.

Is uncertainty our only certainty?

  1. Bauman, Zygmunt: Liquid Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000.
COUNTERASKING

What is architecture? As it possibly happened to many other colleagues, this was the first question that came to my mind when I started my studies at my school, in the so-called architecture room – where we were supposed to become familiar with the profession. Even today it is still difficult to find a definitive answer. From the point of view of society, there have always been certain generalist ideas that deny us an effective and understandable definition for the broad scope encompassed by our profession – a situation that often leads to existentialist questions such as who we are and what architects are really useful for. 

If the question is posed to other colleagues, it is likely that this will come back to us a theoretical recital in which great names invite us to reflect on some of our fundamental elements – space, volume, light, scale, matter, thickness, etc. If we ask the general public, we may crash against minimalist definitions arising from the bad image that speculation and real estate bubbles have associated with our profession – draw four lines, sign, pay... 

Then, what are we? Taking a totally pragmatic path, we can try to make a legislative approach to the answer, relying on one of the bases that defines us professionally – our academic training. 

In the ANECA’s White Paper of the Architecture Degree, which is the document on which our university curricula are based, neither what architecture is nor what it means to be an architect is defined, but it rather navigates through a review of the profession and its training throughout history. What comes closest to a definition is the approach to a series of training obligations based on five profiles of our activity, extracted from a survey carried out in 2003 and that “today's Spanish architects are exercising in an effective and reliably verified manner – Building, Urban Planning, Real Estate Action, Technical Specialization, Drawing and Design” (ANECA, 2015). In the text, a sixth profile is added – “Conservation and restoration of historical heritage." 

Visitors to the exhibition of the Spanish Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – the Biennale di Venezia 2021 – may check that none of the projects exhibited is completely framed in any of the six specialties in which our curricula could try to define them. Does this mean they are less architectural?

When we developed our curatorial project, for the tender organized by the Ministry of Infrastructure in 2019, we decided that in order to answer the question How will we live together? by Hashim Sarkis, we should take the understanding of the current state of our profession as a starting point. To this end, we proposed to contrast the survey that ANECA had used with updated data on the interests and activities that, at the beginning of 2020, the architects of our country shared. This ended up becoming a call for projects in the first phase of which, apart from sending written and graphic information of the works, it was necessary to answer the questions on a form.

In this way, we obtained a database with more than four hundred and eighty magnificent entries, which we managed to reduce to eighty-four proposals that best adapted to one of the initial premises of our curatorial project – interdisciplinary architectures with a clear positive social impact. Subsequently, thanks solely to the generosity of the participants, we carried out a second phase in which we selected the thirty-four works whose physical representation now fills the rooms of the pavilion. 

From the form of the first phase, it was our intention to obtain the necessary data to create an observable micro-universe of certainties that would allow us to categorize our profession into profiles with the same clarity that ANECA had achieved in their White Paper. In the second phase, we asked participants to link their projects to one of the six categories of uncertainty that we considered – after analyzing the first call – were the fronts from which the limits of architecture were being blurred: dissemination, economics, politics, time, technology, and user. 

When we received the information and compared it with the accompanying projects, we could verify that our country’s architecture was fading away into an infinite universe of categories, which was immeasurable from the questions we had posed to the participants. Our colleagues had given us the same answer we had previously given Sarkis: uncertainty, limitless, infinite, changing, liquid.

The information that we collected in this call, added to what was experienced during the first period of social isolation, helped us to realize that we could not carry out an inventory of projects enclosed in categories. We had to focus on showing how Spanish architecture, in its commitment to the social contract, had formalized strategies to break with the separation of a series of realities historically perceived as antagonistic: anthropocentric and ecocentric; interior and exterior; innovative and traditional; individual and collective; playful and productive; virtual and physical. This redefinition exercise, demanded by a society that experienced the collapse of its certainties during the pandemic, asked architects to take advantage of the same skills used in designing and building spaces to design and build interconnections.

A clear example of this was that, during the successive periods of lockdown in 2020, hundreds of architectures in our country reflected on how to improve the situation of a disintegrated society locked at home. Beyond the physical aspects, these proposals delved into a hyper-reality in which the value of the projects moved away for a time from the user's spatial experience and was redirected towards their life experience and effective interconnection with all levels of their environment. 

This situation helped to reaffirm not only the choice of our motto, which suddenly became the most shared feeling by the population worldwide, but also reinforced the thirty-four works selected to represent Spain in this edition. All of them show that our country’s architecture had been long working to provide solutions to problems in our society that the virus ended up highlighting. This is why the projects exhibited are capable of dialoguing with the so-called new reality as if they had been conceived in it. 

Visitors to the pavilion will see that the value of the works on display goes far beyond their physical reality. Each of these objects is only a symbolic representation, a small part of the reflection that its authors – all of whom are architects – have carried out to respond to a specific problem. Their real value lies in having been able to locate the initial question with whose actions they give an answer, as well as in their ability to visualize how the use of shared tools and strategies generate perceptible relationships in the way each problem is faced.

For this, the exhibition represents each work, highlighting in the dark a volume exposed as a precious object, relating it temporally and randomly with two other objects in the room, reflecting its possible connections through the synchronized reproduction of videos that go deeper in the response each author has given to the main theme of this Biennale’s edition with their project. By grouping these responses under one or several strategies, which rather than categorize them seek to show their interconnections, these new architectures make up a flexible fabric that allows us to address the complexity of our present. 

The works exhibited under the motto Uncertainty are a sample of the work of architects who, based on shared learning and strategies, have managed to evolve and hybridize, finding new ways to intervene in a constantly changing reality. A reality with which we are so closely related that its lack of definition prevents us from finding a definitive meaning for our profession, so we cannot do more than invite each one to choose their own from uncertainty. As for me, I will stick with the definition that a great friend recently shared with us: 

Architecture is doing all you can, with what is at hand.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, january 2021 

Domingo Jacobo González Galván

ARCHITECTS IN/OF UNCERTAINTY

- How will we live together?

- Living is nothing but burning in questions. 

Hashim Sarkis, Antonin Artaud 

1. In times of uncertainty, when the liquid modernity has evaporated and became an ethereal cloud, the social position of architects has been experiencing a permanent crisis. Due to the instability of present times, the social framework of our activities – the foundation of our recognition and security in the past – became inconstant and uncertain, causing anxiety and frustration in our professional community. To reverse this change, we have tried to institutionalize architecture's autonomous vision, turning it into an increasingly steady, outdated and closed discipline. We have fallen into the trap of a harsh disciplinary division that resulted in splitting our architectural projects into a set of partial interests. As a consequence, we deprived ourselves of our primary role as social dialogue coordinators. Our exclusive interest in the architectural object has frozen Architecture. We made it indifferent to the continuous transformations of society, hermetic to the uncertainty of life. 

On a smaller scale, the freedom resulting from the times of uncertainty – an opportunity for each architect to develop their own individuality – has been twisted by growing individualism. We confused our personal responsibility to build our architectural identities with social-comparison bias and permanent rivalry. Our desire to stand out from the crowd has led us to compulsive consumption of Architecture while proliferating short-term project strategies with immediate results. The superficial responses that we got this way transiently eliminated our creative anxieties, but in turn, involved us in the business of uncertainty that is a system in which society is willing to accept precarious solutions, at any price, just to reduce the fear of the unknown; a system that turns uncertainty into a clickbait, the primary consumer good, which is much more profitable than any other product, since its demand can never be satisfied; a system based, above all, on the rejection of uncertainty as a source of stress and a drop in productivity. 

2. This year, the spanish pavilion presents a set of works by the new generation of architects. The generation that has been forged in the fire of this permanent crisis. The generation that has learnt how to burn in questions or inhabit the uncertainty. 

Inhabiting in the existential sense means settling in the uncertainty. It implies: rejecting the security of trends without forcing new certainties or centralities; giving up the logic of productivity and immediacy; establishing an intimate relationship with the permanent change; giving oneself time to observe the present with humility and empathy, and eventually identify the forces that transform the society. 

By learning how to "navigate in an ocean of uncertainty through archipelagos of certainties" (E. Morín), the architects ought to understand the uncertainty as a cloud of connections, unexpected interferences between the observed forces – an infinite field of new opportunities also for Architecture. 

Inhabiting also means leaving a mark or building in uncertainty. It implies: understanding uncertainty as a transformative foundation for the present time – now, without waiting for better times; generating the dynamic process tools, a new network of communication channels that relate concepts and methodologies of different origins, and eventually overcome the obsolete boundaries between disciplines; building (inter)disciplinary and (un)disciplinary processes that are disobedient to the pre-set dichotomies of our profession; undertaking initiatives that are risky, at first glance, incorrect, and above all, informal and indeterminate – in other words, adjusted to the changing reality. This way, we will obtain long-lasting processes that pull us away from the vulnerability and immediacy of our current project strategies and help us combat our resulting anxieties and creative frustration. We get processes that increase our sensitivity to the continuous transformations of society, that open up to life, and that allow us to become the Architects of Uncertainty. 

3. The Architects of Uncertainty question the heroic image of the profession based on the romantic myth that each architect is an individual prodigy. Instead, their work is a result of collective creativity. It is a process where the "authors" become "moderators" of a multilateral dialogue. This process is not limited to a multidisciplinary collaboration within a team of experts but rather constitutes an attempt to alter the obsolete and damaging duality between the architect (creative, uncertain) and the citizen (passive, predictable). 

In this prospect, on the one hand, we have the society which – just like the isotropic cloud in the spanish pavilion – appears like an anonymous mass, immobile and fragmented body, eventually condemned to the progressive entropy. Hence, analogously, a citizen's individual experience appears as a lonely portfolio, a sheet of paper left blank, ready to receive a new message. 

On the other hand, we have the architects, who appear as accomplices of the imposed order: designers who begin with the tabula rasa, experts who seek a single superior logic to organize individual experiences, and artists who see people as a threat to their Architecture. 

The body of work of the Architects of Uncertainty, presented in the pavilion, alters this misconception. It encourages the citizens to become uncertain agents, to generate their own meaning and transform creatively the space in which they live. It recognizes the society as a dynamic, peer-to-peer network composed of thousands of internal connections that, once linked, create collective actions capable of transforming the whole web. Ultimately, these architectural works make us understand that the best way for our society to settle in and build in uncertainty, is to inhabit it together, based on plurality and dialogue. 

This way of working dilutes our authorship, but it does not limit our responsibility or creativity, nor does it marginalize the profession. On the contrary, it creates a more intimate bond between the citizens and architecture. It allows true innovation with unprecedented ideas, actions and spaces. But above all, it helps our community gain new credibility in the eyes of society, and eventually, become independent, impartial coordinators of social transformation – activists who convene and guard the dialogue on "how we will live together". 

4. Moreover, to avoid falling into the trap of renewed heroism, the Architects of Uncertainty choose to stay on the fringe, and they develop the processes that are, above all, an expression of pragmatic experimentation. They distrust the pre-established ideologies and emphasize the praxis. They inhabit uncertainty, but they do not renounce the search for situated, operational certainties rooted in the citizens' actions.

The specific pragmatism of their works allows them to measure the utility of their tools. It re-establishes the balance between the process and the result. It moves away from superficial participatory performances that might only satisfy some of our individual desires, or worse yet, that waste the energy of the collective by not making it the protagonist of real transformation. 

The pragmatic experimentation of the Architects of Uncertainty calls for a tangible impact that allows generating concrete, collective and intersubjective (open-to-others) knowledge. A kind of knowledge that is gradually settled through trial and error that alternates thinking and doing continuously. As a result, their architectural works never appear finished but are (un)determined and open. They become living architectures, always reprogrammable, always in a "beta version", ready to foster the capacity for self-reflection. Eventually, they serve us both to learn and to unlearn and to come up with new questions.

5. This year, the spanish pavilion puts in the spotlight the whole generation of architects that have been generously contributing to the permanent transformation of our modus vivendi, inviting society to inhabit uncertainty together. 

Let us always humbly remember the words of Mario Benedetti: 

 "When we thought we had the answers, suddenly, all the questions changed."

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, February 2021

Andrzej Gwizdala

UNSOCIAL

Since the turn of the millennium, an unknown degree of uncertainty had been installed in the global context and we have now been surprised by a pandemic that threatens the population in an ethereal way. Covid-19 provides an opportunity to identify the determining aspects of a common ailment –social uncertainty– and now also the symptoms of a sick society, in health terms, which forces us to adopt general solutions to overcome it. That society, with an obsolete model about to explode, remote and disconnected from the common interest, from our own good and the collective progress, needed to be renewed. 

I imagine other vaccines that not only save the current situation we suffer, but also eradicate other types of more lethal endemic “viruses”, such as selfishness or individualism. “Vaccines” filled with more solidarity and generosity in this new scenario that we have to live and that we will live for a while. 

We face an unprecedented crisis together. Health uncertainty has arisen when other uncertainties had become clear, such as social, environmental or migration. From the observatory of some “fortunate islands” now closed to tourism and to which thousands of human beings arrive fleeing despair, hunger and violence, the imbalance of the planet is drawn very eloquently. These drifting dream boats represent the need for change to work for a future in which all people are included. 

Uncertainty is a mechanism that provides us with the opportunity to rethink the social and material balance of the planet. The moment requires a rearmament based on hope. New opportunities are possible from the study and analysis of existing models to provoke  a paradigm shift. A new, more humane, friendly, sensitive and respectful architecture is possible and a new model of land management is urgent. We need sustainable, limited environments, prepared to enjoy and share in solidarity. New answers to (re) live longer and better. 

This social uncertainty - UNSOCIAL - can become a solidarity tool, inspiring the review process required to improve life. It will be able to regenerate the new ways of relating and the new social commitments that we will be able to achieve. A strategy that allows us to live, more than ever, generously united. 

Canary Islands Tacoronte, March 2021 

Fernando Herrera

UNSOCIAL
BUILDING BRIDGES

Venice was established on marshes and swamps because of the protection they offered to the Romans fleeing the invading barbarian hordes. The peculiar characteristics of the terrain allowed them to defend their autonomy without having to give up trade. The very process of construction of the city, its foundation on wooden stakes, is remarkable, but if anything stands out is the courageous act of embarking on the titanic task of channeling the water of the two rivers that flowed into the lagoon and made it too unstable. The magnitude of this undertaking becomes clear, knowing that the creative genius Leonardo Da Vinci considered it far-fetched, due to the endless process of trial and error it would require. Undeterred, the Venetians got down to work, achieving a symbiotic ecosystem between lagoon and city that works together and inseparably even today, a success of perseverance and ingenuity.

Frequently, tasks of this dimension become unattainable because of the paralyzing fear of the unknown. Uncertainty is a term that generates angst, we feel overwhelmed when we lack control. Profiting from this existential dread that society suffers, religions have taken it upon themselves to guide their followers with the use of fables that become absolute and irrefutable truths, offering their own explanation to every unknown detail. Daring to dispute these dogmas, engraved by repetition in the collective mind with the passage of generations, carries its lawful punishment, expulsion from Eden, curiosity killed the cat, Pandora's box. But investigating and questioning, biting the apple, is human nature itself. Doubting, inquiring, intuition, imagination, creativity, evolution... all emerge from uncertainty, the acceptance that our knowledge is limited and that the quest for discovery drives forward - only those who dare and take the leap of faith. 

The revolutionary act of wandering, rambling, becomes a pleasure when roaming the streets of la Serenissima, where every corner is worthy of observation. We wanted to reflect this in our proposal, conceived as a cabinet of curiosities or room of wonders, the place where the nobility accumulated objects with the intention of displaying discoveries from all over the globe, and where they also presented samples that accredited their beliefs (it was not uncommon to find all kinds of evidence of mystical elements and relics). Curiously, these precursors of museums became the spark that prompted studying, and eventually disproving, many of these superstitions. Similarly, the pavilion will offer an intentionally eclectic-looking showcase, where the participating teams have contributed objects representative of recent projects, which can be enjoyed by strolling through its rooms. The selection generates its own discourse by intertwining the concerns explored by each team in their creative process. The exhibition offers its own explanation, without closing itself to the interpretation that each visitor extracts from their own experience within it, generating, in turn, new questions and possibly new ideas that lead to investigate or disprove the issues at hand.

It is more than appropriate that an event of such transcendence as the Biennale Architettura should take place in this museum-city. This seventeenth edition will be permanently marked by the postponement it suffered due to the health emergency that occupied the world news this past year, a situation that has entailed the loss of great figures within the profession, such as Michael Sorkin or Vittorio Gregotti. The role played by the Milanese in the creation of the architecture section of  Biennale should not be forgotten. So it seems even more relevant that, in an interview, Gregotti expressed disbelief about the format that had been established for the exhibition, event to which nobody comes anymore looking for novelties; its informative function having become obsolete. That's why he suggested to arrange it as a critical platform, exposing a problem from a precise point of view in order to involve the existing art scene. Curator Hashim Sarkis coincides with or echoes this concern, proposing as motto a question that does not admit concise answers, that generates conversation, and which he explained through several perspectives, some as prophetic of what was to come as the invitation to consider how we would endure problems "together as a planet facing crises that require global action for us to continue living at all". This atmosphere of reflection, combined with the delay of the edition, has led to the creation of collaborating platforms between commissioners and curators from the different participating countries, which reinforce the power of the slogan How will we live together?

Historically, the city has undergone several renovatio, adapting, always open to evolve and prosper. For some time now, however, there has been talk of the phenomenon of depopulation that is arising as a result of the adoption of the mass tourism model, which is suffocating Venetians with its associated lack of space and rising prices. It is with this model that the city has functioned over the past centuries, and the fear of accepting that the paradigm has become obsolete has left it crystallised, determined on preserving the idealised postcards of Canaletto's paintings bought by the British in the 18th century. The economic slowdown due to the emptiness caused by the health crisis made this reality palpable once again; la Serenissima needs to relearn what its fundamental values are, and, as Settis believes, to apply the art of reuse and setting limits to its tourist monoculture.

It is also no stranger to situations of instability caused by epidemics, from which it has always recovered. Noteworthy was the plague, but also cholera, which inspired the creation of the novel that Visconti famously brought to the screen 50 years ago, but it could easily have been filmed at the beginning of 2020, when the world refused to accept the situation we were about to live through and was reluctant to stop mobility in order not to damage the economy. Unfortunately, reality caught up with us and a halt had to be made, leading to the postponement or cancellation of all large-scale events. This Biennale will be one of the first gatherings of this calibre to be held after the lockdown, so it seems a poetic coincidence that the closing date, 21st November, coincides with the local festivity of the Madonna della Salute. This is a celebration in which, by crossing the distance between San Marco and Santa Maria della Salute on an ephemeral bridge - formerly made of boats - the patriarch Tiepolo's promise to erect this church and to make a pilgrimage to it every year on the date the city was declared free of the plague in 1630 is commemorated. With its appropriate security measures, the Biennale Architettura will be a step towards the notorious new normality, and its closure can be seen as another triumph of Venice in the face of adversity.

Tenerife, February 2021

Sofía Piñero Rivero

SMILING RABBITS IN UNCERTAINTY

While I am walking my dogs, my mind is focused on what to write on UNCERTAINTY and users for the Biennale. It is seven o’clock in the morning and the rabbits are waiting for us. Standing still, as if they were smiling garden dwarves, immobile in the middle of a dense field full of yellow flowers; sensing that humans are in the midst of a crisis, while they enjoy the strangest spring their species can remember. Not all is joy in the animal kingdom – laboratory rats and chimpanzees starve to death in their cages. Meanwhile, humans in their cages seem to be drinking – beer consumption has risen to 78% during the first week of lockdown. Spring has come, but nobody talks about it, not even the El Corte Inglés Department Store. Without spring or football, but with alcohol, what unites us is singing in the balcony, applauding workers at 20:00, or sporadically banging our pots and pans against the Monarchy. The rest of mundane topics have been reduced or have been postponed, as well as the Gay Pride, university entrance exams, or the Catalan conflict because the main daily issue is the evolution of the curve and nothing else matters. A woman killed at home goes unnoticed when the coronavirus takes the lives of so many everyday. The message is #stayathome, even if it is with an abuser. Domestic violence and child abuse increase during lockdown and so do suicide attempts, depression, pregnancy and divorce.

Mandatory quarantine does not give options if your house is just a roof, without light or water, if you do not have a house, if your company is undesired – lockdown shows the worst side of our society. Outside, the dystopic scenario of empty streets, closed bars and shops, and buses carrying one or two working passengers that cannot stop working because they depend on their daily wages paid under the table so they can pay for a space, food or bleach. There is a smell of past – time has stopped leaving everything for the day after; the city – genuinely human, seems to have flown half a century back in time with this silence under the clean sky, even packed with stars at night – once more a public space without women or children, and now, without the elderly. Half a century ago, they took care of us at home. Now, we, the luckiest ones, are at home, taking care of ourselves, but carefully, keeping a certain distance. Keeping one-metre separation from others while queuing in front of supermarkets – when we enter and once we are inside, all of us wearing masks and gloves in a mute choreography to avoid contacting, smelling or speaking to others in a spectacle in which we are all suspicious – the crime rate has been reduced by 50% since there is nobody to rob. 

Those who are not at home, or in prison, or in retirement homes, or in psychiatric centres, are in hospitals, medicalised hotels, or in a worst-case scenario, in Ifema. The collapse of the health systems even in countries with the highest standards of public health such as ours shows our naivety to believe that we controlled the course of the planet. According to the greatest opinion-makers, the COVID-19 confronts us with different possibilities – socialism for the rich, global communism, protectionist Neo-Capitalism, or sociocratic bioeconomy – no more, no less. What is certain is that the coronavirus has struck capitalism and our politicians do not seem to have a clue. With all the technology at our disposal, we have not been able to prepare ourselves for this scenario or any of the most recent emergencies such as wildfires or the painful disaster in my Mar Menor. We invest huge amounts of money and all kinds of resources in massive-destruction weapons to play war and we do not even have the ability to imagine other alternative worlds. Here we are now, April 2020, swimming amid uncertainty, without knowing what to do, but knowing what not to do – in a Spain finally free of bullfighting and hunting; in a Venice without tourists or biennale, and with fish and clean water, I look at the rabbits and I smile too. 

Madrid, April 2020
Atxu Amann
Architect. ETSAM + Temperaturas extremas arquitectxs 

CASANDRA IN THE TITANIC BALL

We live in a time of uncertainty, as the team in charge of the curatorship of the Spanish Pavilion announced at this Biennale. A young team that could see, a year and a half before the pandemic broke out, what the keyword of this new decade would be: Uncertainty.

We have changed the paradigm, that mantra phrase that so many have used in vain on countless occasions, but that has finally come true.

We are already in another world, in a new reality, in a world that was in this one, but many governments and institutions did not want to see. However, scientists, ecologists, enlightened prophets, and children clearly announced what was to come. From science alone, or even from innocence, the dangers of the planet, of our habitat, were proclaimed, but the efforts required to remedy or stop them, or to mitigate the climate change, the global warming, to avoid the new plagues that are already striking us, have reached such an economic magnitude that imply an important restructuring of our power structure that many of those in power, either elected or self-elected, have violently denied, disqualifying such reality.

We missed the opportunity two decades ago by half a thousand votes and the confusing format of the design of some ballots to have a president of the then first world power who was aware of what was happening and what was to happen, and the forces that prevented this blocked then any possibility of action. But the responsibility does not lie with one country or another, nor with its constituents, nor with either power, and it is curious that we are still using these terms. The responsibility lies with all of us, including architects, who could see at the beginning of the 20th century the need to implement hygienic principles in our work, the need for Architecture to build a better habitat for society, with sanitary conditions that allowed light and air to enter our homes and spaces, ensuring the minimum conditions would prevail. But this certainly swept away also the richness and complexity of the traditional city full of other values ​​and meanings, and largely caricatured the urban space in the new neighbourhoods added to our cities.

In the name of progress and modernity, we allowed our architectural heritage to be destroyed. In the name of progress in Eastern and Western countries, urban transformations have taken place in all corners of the planet in recent decades that have left no remaining traces of the past other than some monuments or temples, while all the rich secondary fabric of cities has disappeared, having been replaced by a globalizing architecture – not just an international style, but its consumerist degradation.

When we began to understand how this could be fixed, recovered and improved, and how the teaching of history, tradition and the needs of good housing conditions could be synergistically intertwined with the real estate market, with the society in which we live; when we began to see cities from a gender and diversity perspective that had been long ignored and has always been essential, the much announced and not believed pandemic arrived.

In recent months the world has been transformed and we are still not aware of the depth of this transformation because the architecture that configures our cities remains as if it were the great mirage that makes us think that everything remains the same and everything will go back to normal. This permanence of the image of our cities, in which the containers where we live remain immutable, makes us believe that nothing has changed. But a system is made up of elements and relationships, and the relationships between us have changed, as well as the relationship between us and our habitat, and the rules that once were deemed unchangeable are no longer there. Uncertainty is the dominant word. We cannot predict the behaviour of a natural element that we do not master, and we are trying to mitigate its damage with distance and hygienic measures that are not enough. And we are, in many cases, denying what is happening so as not to endanger the economy of our cities, of our countries, emulating Thomas Mann’s Venice

In Edward T. Hall’s "The Hidden Dimension", the author taught us – students of the 70s – how social distances are cultural and, therefore, the public and intimate distance that we impose on our fellow citizens differ according to the cultures and the countries in which we are. The comfort distance of a German with a stranger – the size of his/her public personal bubble – triples that of a Mediterranean; they do not feel as comfortable in the short distance as we do. Thus, the instinctive compliance with these compulsory social distancing measures has been greater or lesser depending on whether they have affected our previous cultural proxemic behaviours.

The paradigm has changed and there is a New Reality in which uncertainty is one of the main rules. We have to redesign our urban spaces and our homes to meet the challenges of this new reality. The virtual and the real have already merged with the momentum of the facts. My own architecture school, the ETSAM of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, already has a Zoom classroom superimposed on each real classroom in its building. A large part of the population makes their purchases through Amazon or other platforms. We have been hunting virtual animals for years, a phenomenon that took shape at the time when beings from a new mythology, the Pokémon, invaded the space of our cities and moved crowds – this was the first global event of fusion of the real and virtual that has already been consolidated in our common daily routine.

Real and virtual are starting to become one. We have been isolated in our houses relating only through images as in the utopia of the planet Aurora described by the visionary Asimov. Our students do not only take into account the objectives of sustainable development, but their own confined experience is leading them to project with these new experiences. We no longer speak of Architecture in our jargon, in our academic idiolect, but the German term Baukultur is gaining ground – the culture of building an inhabited environment that must now adapt to this new reality.

When the curatorship team of this pavilion raised the issue of the uncertainty of their generation faithfully symbolized in the original project, in a cloud of different professional curricula, I thought about how our career had stopped leading to a unique practice of Architecture and it had been transformed into a myriad of new endeavours; about the way architects’ dreams for society could now be applied from various perspectives, previously unexplored. And they summed up this generational situation with the word "uncertainty", without knowing that it was being prophetic, since they were defining how this year and this decade would develop.

The feeling that many of us had during the first weeks of the pandemic, when everything already predicted how terrible this is still being, and we were trying to take sensible measures that were disqualified as alarmists by some of our colleagues, was very similar to that of scientists and thinkers who have been alerting us during the last decades about the implications of global warming, about the risks of unknown epidemics, and the need for sustainable development in order to conserve the planet's resources. Prophets of truth that no one believed, no one listened to, like the Trojan Cassandra, in a society that has used all possible music, all the Titanic orchestras, to distract the population from the disaster they were headed for if they did not take the inconvenient necessary measures that they did not want to face.

We must remain vigilant so that what my longed-for Ferlosio wrote will not happen to us: More bad years will come, and they will make us blinder. Dear Rafael, how I like to remember your always Roman words in a speech in Italy...

I want to believe that the political change that has taken place in the days when I write this text in one of the major players will contribute, together with the impact caused on our consciences by the pandemic itself, to take a turn in the life of our planet and as well as to stop us from feeling – all of us who are modelling the consequences and who recognize the need for a measured and profound political and professional performance, as if we were Cassandra in the Titanic ball.

Madrid, November 2020
Manuel Blanco
Professor in the Department of Architectural Composition
Dean of the Madrid School of Architecture, ETSAM Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

 

COMMUNICATION UNCERTAINTY: LIQUID LEARNING

Many current pedagogical systems are based on extremely predefined learning that relegates creativity and individual development to the background, in spite of favouring the immediacy of measurable results. Behavioural methodologies are characterised by converting students into mere executors of instructions, depriving them of any responsibility regarding their own learning process and the possibility of thinking out of the box. As clearly explained by Albert Einstein, “it is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education”.

There is consensus among specialists like Professor Guy Claxon on the obsolescence of the traditional learning methods in relation with the current society. Back in the nineties, sociologist Zygmunt Bauman introduced the concept of “liquid modernity”, in reference to the process individuals must perform to integrate a society that is increasingly global, malleable and lacking permanent identity. In this way, in order to respond to a “Liquid Society”, in which social structures, rules and roles are permanently transforming, it is necessary to promote a shift in the educational paradigm. We must move towards a system in which the adaptation to change and uncertainty are understood as positive values, even necessary for the flourishing of true talent and creative intelligence. Furthermore, studies suggest that adaptive and permeable methodologies are the ones in greater accordance with the intrinsically expeditious nature of mankind and with their will to surpass the limits and reach potentialities.

In our view, uncertainty, indeterminacy and change are the raw materials for creativity and imagination. As teachers, it is our objective to provide students with the necessary tools to evolve in this liquid and unstable society, promoting innovation and constant experimentation. However, it is an essential requirement to count on the students’ willingness to embrace uncertainty and initiate a journey to the unknown, outside their comfort zone. The greatest inconvenience we encounter is that in most cases students come from the rigid and determinist education systems described at the beginning of the text. Therefore, the application of open methodologies requires a proactive attitude by recipients, as it is, as in every creative process, a bidirectional path. In most cases, it is necessary to develop a process aimed at dismantling prejudices and assimilated constructs to promote the system’s permeability. In his “Incomplete Manifesto on Growth” (1998), designer Bruce Mau vigorously defends uncertainty as a driver for transformative creative processes. He advocates for experimentation and the application of groundbreaking methodologies generating unpredictable results, which are the ones enabling progress in all creative, artistic and scientific fields.

In short, a liquid society requires flexible learning systems, adaptable to the new challenges posed everyday – from technological breakthroughs, to geopolitical changes, economic conditions, demographic swings, or sociocultural mutations.

Madrid, February 2021

PhD. Architect Belén Butragueño Díaz-Guerra.

PhD. Architect Javier Fco. Raposo Grau.

PhD. Architect Mariasun Salgado de la Rosa.

 

UNCERTAINTIES/ LOVE IN TIMES OF CORONAVIRUS

We do not have distance… We do not have distance. The fixed and, therefore, transmissible knowledge implies recognising the distance with the object observed. This is especially true if this fact means that obtaining knowledge is, above all, a measuring act. Measuring to know and to leave a trace, a trace others may follow…

During this process, two actors are materialised – the observer and the object observed. There is something certain – knowing the distance means, in turn, the existence of a positional scheme; in other words, establishing the observer’s position with respect to the phenomenon to be observed. In recent contemporaneity, the observer’s position is a priority. Since modernity, architecture, which is our may focus, no longer talks about its position with respect to the observer. This scheme is inverted, and architecture takes care of the observer’s position…

The system of relationships described defines a field, a disciplinary field where architecture – firstly as the discipline of proposition, and secondly as the construction of the mankind’s life scenario – acquires stability features until the explosion of the first economic, social and political crisis of 2008. It is then when the limits supposedly defined within the map of architecture blow up and, consequently, its limits are irrevocably altered…

The disciplinary field is extended and such extension takes the form of a border territory where exchange, transfer and colonisation take place. The observable behaviour of these phenomena is recognised as a crosscutting space.

Concepts linked to architecture are no longer exclusive or simply dissolve and, in return, things that did not use to be part of architecture as a discipline re-describing reality become part of it.

This scenario defines a changing map, where the cultural debate on what architecture wants to be from then on as a correlate and construct of reality is anchored in moving borders.

This scenario does not appear gradually, but it is the crisis itself the one pushing our certainties to the necessary territory of experimentation.

The partial account of this interval would be the aim of this Biennale,  while this account should have been shown as a ongoing process, an open scenario, and, in this way, as a frozen image, a composition, of something that is happening.

This discourse lets us know that, to some extent, the harsh disciplinary field where certainty lies has been necessarily abandoned. Therefore, it is the economic crisis the one forcing diversification and the colonisation of crosscutting or bordering spaces, simultaneously implying the abandonment of the strict disciplinary field as it had been considered to date.

On the other hand, this leads to the emergence of a new culture that does not consider the physical materialisation of constructed proposals as a core theme, producing a status of indetermination of the disciplinary field.

Space of crisis, but also space of opportunity…

In this panorama, politics as a theory or art for the organisation of a society is blurred. Old characters get new names, and the old names lose their meaning to include nuances that are not always sincere. The interested confusion between expense and investment, or between market and dominant class leads to a conceptual shift where, for instance, the space for support and the collective certainty that media represented are no longer a reliable space and mutates into a territory of creation of alternative realities. “Creativity” ends up settling in that place that should belong to objectivity.

The practice of architecture remains an extremely ruled profession within the Spanish legal framework, and several discourses claiming austerity and modesty in architecture in reaction to the economic feast before 2008 are emerging.

Many Spanish architects migrated to foreign countries, but they also migrated to crosscutting disciplines. And it is precisely now when these professionals were coming back with the background acquired in their life journeys.

The partial history of how this return had fed back the way of thinking, practising and making architecture in Spain is contained in the pavilion selection, and this account would have developed as a review of what happened recently, as well as a promise for what is to come from now on. I intentionally use the conditional because everything is broken now. The Covid-19 pandemic has relocated us as the characters of the Hyperion Chants by Dan Simmons, where characters travel to a remote planet where they find a series of graves that move back in time and which, therefore, will inexorably open. Being part of this event inspires the journey and the accounts that take place…

We are pilgrims because we follow the footprints of those who preceded us. But as the characters mentioned, we do not really know where we are heading…

These days, there are plenty of proposals on how this will affect architecture… many of them claim spatial and complexity values with respect to the domestic space. We seem to have forgotten the housing project as an experiential place and this pandemic has reminded us violently.

Simultaneously to this rediscovery, we have lost the public space as a space for relation and celebration – both from the playful and claiming uses. New metrics, new distances, and new measures relocate us as individuals within the physical space and as a society within the virtual space.

We have neither the position nor the ability to measure the scenario in which we live. We do not have the ability to fix knowledge yet…

Fortunately, architecture has always been equipped with instruments able to reinvent the times to come. The transfer of knowledge through the bordering territory described has taught us to design the responses at the same time the questions are posed, and to build the tools at the same time we re-describe reality…

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, April 2020

Manuel J. Feo Ojeda
PhD Architect
Professor of architectural design at ULPGC

Image: Belén Rodríguez González. Architect

 

UNCERTAINTIES/ LOVE IN TIMES OF CORONAVIRUS
ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTY

Talking about economic uncertainty in April 2020 is too much of a responsibility for anyone, especially for myself.

A few months ago, reflecting on “uncertainty” and “economy” from a humble firm like ours, was like reflecting on those travel companions who always come with us without knowing for sure whether they had been invited or not, and who eventually end up creating many of our memories. Their presence is so strong that they indirectly define the stages of our adult life. On many occasions, I have felt tempted to write about traumatic events that have occurred in some of our most treasured projects, in which the nightmarish situations created made me feel the need to give a therapeutic epic look, which would have served as an acceptance strategy in the face of such a great nonsense. However, the strength of the result and the absolute lack of time always bury uneasiness and dissipate my journalistic and justice aspirations.

Perhaps the history of a firm like ours could be told from the creative search of that unstable balance between daily survival – with its uncomfortable and never-ending logistic and economic problems, and the continuous redefinition of our own identity.

Grupo Aranea was created in 1998 and grew in a Spain marked by speculative euphoria. Rezoning, development plans, lots of second residences, etc. – a series of unlimited opportunities favouring easy and immoral enrichment. In such a scenario, Aranea decided to start another path, and with the strength of youth and naivety, we started participating in architectural tenders. After being awarded several prizes, achieving a certain level of recognition, and being alien to any business practical thought, we set ourselves up as fighters in favour of the landscape and its people, based on which we initiated in 2006 one of our most satisfactory social-awareness participatory projects – the Talleres pH_paisajes Habitados [Inhabited landscaped Workshops]. The adventure of inventing a methodology to search project strategies emerging from the different landscapes of our territory to reinforce the identity of each place, working hand in hand with its inhabitants in this process, in a moment in which citizen participation was an entelechy; all this, without any assignment or funding, which shows in a way our unconscious way of facing situations of economic uncertainty. This course – which may be deemed doubtful from a basic economic analysis, has been and will continue to be one of our main drivers. Nowadays, I could easily justify this approach in front of my engineer peers (I still remember the first telecommunications project in which I collaborated back in 1999, which cleared up to me the key to success – you can only start making money when you repeat the same project more than three times. Twenty-one years later, I can prove that I have never been able to create two similar projects). 

The great economic crisis arrived in 2008, which for all of us meant a continuity of what we had – surviving thanks to flexible working structures and collaborative networks, uncertainty as an activation driver, strengthening of international projects, the multidisciplinary nature of approaches and working areas… in other words, it was about not getting comfortable or losing sight of the principles that led us to create the Grupo Aranea.

Ten years ago we became parents for the first time, and although this does not match with economic uncertainty, I must say that the previous training – and hormones in my case, balanced the imbalances and possible crises deriving from new epic episodes that I will never relate.

Today we are going through the greatest uncertainty we could ever imagine, and I am happy to be a person of a certain age and experience. For the last 43 days, I wake up everyday in the company of my family and I do what I have always done – working with enthusiasm and optimism as I see two kestrels I had never seen before approach my terrace. 

Alicante, April 2020
Marta García Chico
Agricultural Engineer
Founder of Grupo ARANEA

COMMUNICATION UNCERTAINTY

Le Corbusier was aware of this. He was sure he had to disseminate his work so that it would reach the greatest number of people possible. He had to use all the means at his disposal to convey his ideas throughout the world, because he believed in them and he thought they would improve the life of human beings.

During the entire past century, architecture was made known through paper – books and journals where outstanding literary descriptions were published, and the greatest newspapers that contained influential reviews reaching out to many readers. As architects, we also discovered architectural spaces through the paper on which plans, drawings and photograph were printed in specialised publications.

Most of these architecture journals started to be published at the end of the 19th century, at the same time cinematography sparked. However, the image in motion was not used to disseminate architecture until years after and mostly in a more limited way, mainly – among other reasons – due to the fact that films could only be watched on cinema screens. It was not until the arrival of television into our households that more documentaries were made, although the most relevant aspects to architects were often disregarded given the mere informative nature of documentaries. It is contradictory that, despite the fact that motion is essential in both architecture and cinema, the latter did not interest architects as much as the static representation of building on printed paper.

What appears certain in the past decades is that architecture is not anymore limited to professional dissemination and it is more widely mentioned in mass media, even in cinema. People know the architects and some buildings by their names, especially if they are monumental, but this does not mean they are the most interesting, as the ones with greater power and more economic resources always got greater dissemination. Therefore, the most well known architects are those known as the stars of architecture, in the same way cinema stars lured in viewers, disregarding the fact that films were basically the directors’ creation.

Fortunately, uncertainty persists. It involves not having a clear and certain understanding of something, and this lack of certainty must lead to scepticism, which, according to Diderot, is the first step to truth. Doubt becomes the beginning of knowledge. This uncertainty is present on the Internet, given the almost infinite variety of options that the greatest disseminator of what is known – even architecture – may host. This huge complexity advantageously allows us to dive into the most transited spaces, allowing the dissemination of the most innovative and interesting architectural proposals.

Now, as then, Le Corbusier would have made use of all the means at his disposal, but given his dogmatism, incompatible with uncertainty, it is quite likely that his proposals would have not achieved the level of dissemination they reached back then.

 

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, March 2020

Jorge Gorostiza
Architect & Film Researcher

 

TECHNOLOGICAL UNCERTAINY

Thinking about ourselves as a species implies picturing ourselves five million years ago and recognising that a minimal part of us has characteristics similar of those of today. A common element of the key moments that has to do with disruptive technologies. 

Simply carving the stone, turning to lithic technology, allowed us to hunt in the distance and marked supremacy over animals, in addition to providing us with a fresh protein that made it possible for our brain to evolve to what it is nowadays. Skills were classified, labour division was created, and we found ourselves controlling nature and domesticating plants and animals. Cities are born with the aim of funding sedentism, giving a spatial basis to all this new theory and practice in a territorial, economic and social order, in opposition to the periphery, where uncertainty and barbarism resided.

The invention of the printing implied breaking the control of knowledge and thought, and hence intellectual development. Books were the seed for a way of network transmission and yet another disruptive technology. With the Industrial Revolution, we actually began to produce in series and in large productions, which shaped a radical division of roles, classes, economies, continents and countries, and with such resources, as humanity, we faced two world wars and a cold war that – I do not intend to justify them – represented a huge boost for the applicability of technology, that disruptive technology, first to warfare and then to everyday life. The disruption of technology has led to the reorganisation of productive systems in the interest of a hardly ever-doubted purpose – making a living with safety and through the control of nature (production) and a specific progress based on quantity rather than quality, or leaps that allow us to enhance the dissemination of knowledge.

Digital technology is a disruptive technology that has come to bring about changes in production, knowledge and social systems in less than 20 years, as we have never had before.

We are following a quick pace as the one experienced with the transition from ARPAnet research to 3.0 web in four decades.

And all this simultaneously and with a warning message of global overpopulation and the crisis of natural resources that begins to dramatically affect social and political orders in a destabilization never experienced before.

The productive and social changes brought about by digital technology have led us to a liquid modernity, in Bauman's words, in which we see our everyday life slip from our hands. All the stability and security has volatilized in a couple of decades, but make no mistake, it has not disappeared. It is present, all the values that we used to have are still present, they have simply acquired a condition of volatility, a change of durability nature that makes them unstable, changing and, in the midst of that circumstance, we are doomed to learn to live in uncertainty. And this may only be achieved by rethinking the processes.

This had never happened before.

And now, all the safety, durability, and stability for which we had worked as a species for centuries is attacked by a pandemic in which the biological order and nature have stated clear that balances are broken.

In one of his last posts on his blog, José Saramago (2013) stressed the fact that there is no greater need right now than thinking, doing philosophy, recondisering the understanding of these processes. If we do not do so, the greatest danger we might face is to become dogmatic in fast-food opinion, according to Marina Garcés, a very common concept on Social Networks, which makes us a very politically maneageable and highly socially dependant herd. Neoliberalism is aware of this and has made the most of it. However, in professionans ans jobs like urban planning and architecture, we are still working on a total reinvention, an adaptation of the reflections and conventional references that we had long maintained, starting with that of thought. It is then when the question is posed:

How will we live together?

And the potential answers, for three months, are looking for other paths, with a global scale and in a greater dimension. Slavoj Zizek, turns to globalization as the greatest success of Neoliberalism to explain that what was the great achievement of the entire world power system short time ago, in less than a three months has proven to be probably part, if not the cause, of the expansion of this seemingly endless pandemic in which we are submerged. Byung-Chul Han argues that the obedience and monitoring of eastern regimes in an authoritarian culture could probably be regarded as the difference to counteract the pandemic, which confirms the expiration of the prevailing system and the anchoring of uncertainty, a characteristic that forces us to face the future with greater unease.

Alicante, April 2020
Mario Hidrobo
Territorial awareness facilitator
Former architect

HOW TO DRAW A JELLYFISH

Learning to live with uncertainty.

The following text, which has been written from a house open to the Mediterranean while in lockdown, is not related to the current Coronavirus pandemic. Nor does it intend to establish any sort of analogy with the unsustainable precariousness of Architecture in Spain prior to this world crisis. The present text serves as a mere description of the events following the initial brushstroke and the confirmation that the means – the paper and its corresponding portion of sky, always plays a central role in the process.

Jellyfish, also known in Spanish as aguasmalas [‘bad waters’], malaguas [‘bad waters’], aguavivas [‘living waters’], or sea tears; are sea creatures I cannot stop drawing. They flood my notepads with no further explanation. They simply flow.

A reflection on this compulsive creative process may help to explain the way we manage the complexity of our projects, how we learn to work with uncertainty, through open and adjustable systems.

How to draw a jellyfish?

How to limit a croissant?

Let’s skip the choice of paper and brush, the preparation of colour, the pigment load… Let’s forget for now about the influence of the remaining pigment that ends up dyeing the bottom of our watercolour boxes, or the unclear water where we plunge our brushes to change colour.

Let’s focus on the moment in which the brush comes into contact with the paper.

From this initial impulse – this first intended decision, we trigger the first flood on the paper, with which we start the topographic transformation. This long brushstroke will result into an organic reaction that will change the conditions of the format.

While we go on letting the brush glide, causing new floods, we see how the format changes. New hills arise, as well as new valleys that let pigments flow.

At times, we are mere observers of these colour rivers and lakes; it will not be until we have recognised the new dynamics that our actions have unleashed that we will not be able to make another intended decision.

This series of intended decisions conditioned by the means’ organic reactions is the way in which I approach the jellyfish watercolour painting – the way I paint water with water.

Or as defined by Gilles Clément, in The Garden in Movement – “Holding on to the biological tendency that encourages the place and orient it”.

Alicante. April 2020 Francisco Leiva
PhD. Architect
Founder Grupo ARANEA

HOW TO DRAW A JELLYFISH
ARCHITECTS WITHOUT BORDERS- ARCHITECTS WITHOUT MEMORY IN TIMES OF UNCERTAINTY

The word anomie, known since ancient times, made it possible to describe two types of problems: one of its versions describes an anomaly in the functioning of memory; the other, the central problem of democracy in the phase in which there is forgetfulness and contempt for the norms and their original meaning.

Anomie, as an expression of disorder and deviance of social systems (Durkheim) and, especially, as a dissociation between the rules that govern culture and the access of social sectors to cultural means (Merton), has acquired a new dimension in advanced democratic societies, with its own entity in Spain. Art —which today takes space as a subject of reflection in all its aspects: landscape, urban environment, architecture, domestic environments—, architecture and urban planning, are regardes as hypothetical references to penalize, propose or legitimize the most questionable projects, the most aggressive interventions and the most insensitive proposals. Its true alibi in the current cultural system is to occupy the important empty space derived from the absence of cultural political objectives as wishes and hopes of the members of society. It also benefits from the absence of norms that prescribe the means that allow people to access those objectives and from the distribution of such means (Merton).

Culture, and especially art and architecture, are currently working to simulate hypothetical projects that politics will only implement for reasons of opportunity, and they have become elements of distraction that allow us to forget the urgent objectives related to society, nature, culture and the city as a place where contemporary life happens.

Currently, architecture is the supreme distraction: the professional objectives and some architects, have in turn managed to become interlocutors of the established powers –political and economic–, carrying out on their behalf the task of proposing collective illusions –Chomsky’s necessary illusions– and to justify actions, means or ends. The old dream of the architects of the 20th-century avant-gardes of becoming quality interlocutors of the powers –States and/or governments– has come true in a contemporary version of the dream that Plato proposed in antiquity, in which philosophers assumed the role of quality counselor to tyrants...

And bearing in mind what has been achieved, the profession has also begun to be entrusted with the task to explain the territorial phenomena affected by its own individual or collective actions, thus making architects and their works the subject and object of all contemporary narratives. This is the case of cultural activities, debates and publications promoted by professional associations, in which problems are reported as if they were unrelated to the profession. While regarded as an epiphenomenon, architecture has finally become a problem itself. By forgetting about its own origins, its amnesia regarding the fundamental purpose of its mission, and the impudence with which it describes the irregularities in which architecture is the pretext as if they came from other contexts, it has become the most defining version of perversion of the Spanish model of democracy.

In the first definitions of underdevelopment, the great destruction and transformations driven by engineering actions were produced by large corporations in order to obtain, produce or transform raw materials, as part of a process of transformation of economic systems and ways of life. At present, destruction lies on an objective that is unknown to everyone –to its producers, to its beneficiaries and to society as a whole. The current destruction is only architecture.

...

This short and harsh text was written twelve years ago following the devastating effects that the economic crisis had caused in the productive structure of the country and especially in architecture and its associated sectors. Apparently, this catastrophe did not serve to identify its causes or to introduce correction mechanisms. Despite the cogency of the arguments, the objective of this message was to recall the most significant aspects of the contribution that architecture has made to the change that has happened in contemporary societies by virtue of the transformation of the notions of the city and architectural production providing service to the requirements of the complex societies of the last century.

Substantive changes in the conception of the materiality of architecture in terms of its implication and effects on climate change had already been demanded for several decades. On the other hand, the requirements derived from the reuse of past architectures represent a significant challenge as part of these arguments. And all this now adds up to the first claim for an intelligent architecture with measures to combat potential pandemics that, as scientists assume, may break out in the coming years.

"Uncertainty", the word chosen to define the present moment of the profession, has been a revealing choice that sheds light on the processes in which the community should be projected, and more specifically the highly specialized professional sectors that must be inexcusably transformed as a result of the complaints made as manifestations of the causes of the current crises. Among them, three are identified as determining factors: the instability of the economic model of the so-called "servile State" (Belloc), which inexorably advances in the increase of the conditions of inequality at a global level; the real threat of climate change, ignored and denied for decades; and now, the threat, which we have known of for decades, of pandemics, which has been the trigger for today's paradoxical reality: an invisible biological organism governs decisions at worldwide. Scientists are now finally responsible for putting the processes in order as the only consultants to governments and countries.

Is there a scientific architecture? This argument defined the main concerns of international architecture after the turbulent period of World War II. Bionics, ecological architecture, research in materials and structural solutions, as well as the studies of productive processes in architecture guided by the notion of total economy, or emergency architectures, among other arguments, took on a previously unknown interest in the history of architecture. The desire for relevance that had governed the initiatives of modern architecture with the aspiration of reaching a position of legitimacy as an essential asset in the necessary transformations of contemporary societies now appears as a horizon that could lead a line of reflection to guide requalification within architecture. The reason why science is now the essential guide that plans the actions of the present is its procedure associated with the capacity for the self-evaluation of its methods and processes, as well as its effectiveness ranges associated with network work models, in which all the specialties whose knowledge is essential to achieve results are integrated.

The notion of certainty refers to the conceptual principle in which any phenomenon that is not subject to verification and justification is excluded from the reflection processes and from the action objectives. It is certain that architecture must find its own transformation methods through a review process in which the first scenario to be transformed should be the training of new professionals. Architecture schools can be the first laboratory to reform the profession, turning them into reflection spaces on the need to give a response to the three emergencies of the moment. The future of the profession enables the encounter of generations through the process of designing the training of new graduates. But above all, the future of architecture is doomed to a redirection in scientific and research terms away from the unjustified pre-eminence of the objectives of the well-known narcissistic mannerism that has exhausted the most relevant flow of its necessary contributions.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife. January 2021

Maisa Navarro[1]
Full professor of Art History at the University of La Laguna

[1] The first part of the text appeared under the title Arquitectos sin frontera-arquitectos sin memoria [Architects without borders-architects without memory] in the collection of essays edited by Fernando Estévez and Mariano de Santa Ana in 2008 in the book "Landscape and public sphere", whcih was published in co-edition by the Atlantic Center of Modern Art of Las Palmas and the Delegation of Gran Canaria of the Official Board of Architects of the Canary Islands.

UNCERTAINTY

The Anthropocene could be defined as the era of uncertainty, of the new liquid modern society. For the first time, the human being, above Nature, is capable of altering the Planet; directly and indirectly, consciously and dangerously unconsciously.

These metamorphoses, never experienced before, generate changes that are often unexpected and unpredictable – therefore, uncontrolled. This scenario moves at high speed, the digital tool, which generates changes and alterations with an almost continuous frequency, making useless predictions, models and visions.

This almost absolute lack of certainty about future incorporates two other factors into the equation – time and limit.

Time understood as material, a material to build proposals and actions that force us to forget the perfect, the closed, the finished. Everything finished is diluted in the uncertainty that makes it obsolete as every second passes. The material-time destroys the object, meant and understood as that Platonic desire for the absolute, for the kingdom of the gods, for the creator's dream. Therefore, there is no perfect architecture, the eternal work that stands firm against the storms of the world[1]; but the process that turns the architectural into what it needs to be at every moment, in every mutation. Uncertainty turns architecture into a continuous tide of opportunities to think about the next essential, to dream of the desirable utopia, and to program proximity in a flexible back-and-forth process that may self-adjust the necessary response at the right time. Different tools for unprecedented processes and scenarios.

The space of this new era, of this new reality in which certainties no longer subject us to the world, is the so-called limes, a limiting and bordering condition that constitutes our sign of identity[2], where discoveries of the unknown occur and the exchange between this and the other, between what is and what will be or could have been; the territory where architecture needs to navigate to find the new architecture of the unknown. The limit is always the space of research, of expedition, the place between nature and the world; that space that according to Eugenio Trías constitutes our own condition and must therefore constitute that of our own architecture. A dynamic path that must be traced according to our uncertain itinerary, in an open and adaptable process that allows the flexibility of transformation and the reuse of what is possible.

The limit is nothing but the void yet to be defined, where everything can happen and where the transformation processes can be continuous if they need to be.

Madrid, April 2020

n’UNDO

 

[1] Inscription on the walls of the Loarre Castle and in Peter Behrens’s house in Dortmund

[2] Trías, Eugenio. Lógica del límite. Ed. Destino 1991.

“I WOULD LIKE TO THINK THAT THE MOON IS THERE EVEN IF I AM NOT LOOKING AT IT”
This protest sentence was written by Albert Einstein in reply to the statement called the “Principle of uncertainty” by Werner Heisenberg in 1925, in which the author established the scientific theoretical framework of quantum findings from the crucial sense deduced from the statement “The observer influences what is being observed”. This surprising finding of quantum physics has been instrumental in the interpretation of reality from different spheres and disciplines.
 
Estrella de Diego’s narrative expresses this under the title “Travesía por la incertidumbre[“A Journey through Uncertainty”], where the author puts into question the certainty system based on which the Western culture has shaped its thinking, and the logical and metaphorical system prevailing in the world. This account posses the possibility to address the world and its peculiarities in an alternative way through insights and voices willing to understand that the world remains untold. Each journey involves being able to retell the narrative from the vulnerability of the story itself, or even from the style. A similar determination is claimed under Manuel Padorno’s poetry prism in his texts A la sombra del Mar 1961, Desvío hacia otro silencio 1996 and Hacia otra realidad 2000.
 
Uncertainty has also been a relevant recurring theme in recent years in Architecture as verified in the attentive and well-defined chronicles of Luis Fernández Galiano entitled “Tiempos de incertidumbre” [“Times of uncertainty”], which under the heading “Años Alejandrinos 2000-2006” [“Alexandrine Years 2000-2006”], aims at outlining the vicissitudes of Architecture and its fragility derived from the conflicts during that period. Or in the expression of Rafael Moneo “La arquitectura atraviesa un momento de absoluta incertidumbre” [“Architecture goes through a moment of absolute uncertainty”](El Correo Gallego, tendencias 2013) on the occasion of the valuable retrospective exhibition of his work inaugurated in the Fundación Barrié (A Coruña, 2013) and successively extended to different venues until reaching the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid in 2017. In both cases, the natural vocation in the search of certainties in architecture promotes a discourse emerging from the critical conviction of its result, demonstrated through its appearance, which is, therefore, uncertain.
 
Given the prolific current use of the term uncertainty, even from architecture, and of the rich and thought-provoking interpretations, it would be worth asking ourselves if we are referring to the same concept or principle, and if it would be necessary, from a strictly linguistic perspective, to specify its use to avoid confusing the term “uncertainty” with its meanings related to doubt, concern or suspicion; of the “uncertainty” characterised by what is simulated or apparent, what is inconstant or insecure, or what is unknown.
 
It seems apparent that there are different meanings for the term. Therefore, architecture must specify as neatly as possible such nuances and reflect the way uncertainty is an inherent part of its design process, to optimise the description of situations, places and agents, in the validation and verification of the modelling and construction materials as a creative device. From such specifications, uncertainty is recognised and understood as a human motivation, as its source is originated in opposing conducts to the values and qualities from its complexity. This is why, Bernard Tshumi’s words in 1995 when trying to distance from R. Ventury’s canonical text are refreshing – “The complexity of architecture starts with the impossibility to question the nature of space and, simultaneously, build or experiment a true space”.
 
As architects, we are used to the execution of certainties (socially and politically requested) and we must watch, unveil and reveal that such certainties are originated from doubt, concern or suspicion, and that these are indispensable arguments of the uncertainty of what is true.
 
Contrast of uncertainties from what is uncertain, diverse worlds that are rebuilt and shaped – as an alternative, in their extremes, to W. Heisenberg’s necessary Uncertainty Landscape. Reality is a construction, an interpretation, it is conflictive. Truth is an agreed interpretation, it belongs to a time and a place, to a culture, to a specific society. It is mutable, it changes. The thoughts and studies of philosopher Richard Rorty, psychiatrist P. Castoriadis, geographer F. Farinelli, and educator E. Morin, among others, offer a dynamic map in this sense. Restless dynamism expressed by Rogelio Salmona in his text “Arquitetura y Creación. De los principios de incertidumbre a la incertidumbre de los principios” [“Architecture and Creation. From the principles of uncertainty to the uncertainty of principles”].
 
The link between these worlds must be presented and reflected and refracted by public and political uncertainty in the face of its obstinate obsession for certainty. In the end, this is the effect and the cause for us to continue watching the moon and the stars, even if we do not want to.
 
  1. …in response to the question How will we live together?... after what has happened, at a certain distance or proposing the review of the intimate, personal, social and public spaces from uncertainty.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, April 2020
Juan Manuel Palerm Salazar
PhD architect
Full Professor of Architectural Projects ULPGC
 
“I WOULD LIKE TO THINK THAT THE MOON IS THERE EVEN IF I AM NOT LOOKING AT IT”
WHEN THE HOUSES TURNED INTO CITIES

Until the spring of 2020, when the global alarm state was declared following a pandemic originated in the quick spread of a virus that emerged in a Chinese city, cities were inhabited while houses were places of passage.

From that moment, a paradigm shift takes place – a turning point. The mandatory lockdown in which more than a third of the world population is kept has led to the unexpected emptying of cities, which were the only spaces – so far – that could harbour our imaginaries. This happened overnight and with no prior notice. The great infrastructures of the territory, as well as the streets, avenues, public buildings, shops and parks are no longer used by users-citizens, who have disappeared from the urban landscape in an uncertain environment.

If until then the city was everything and we all existed in the city, what is the city now? And what about us?

Paradoxically, while cities are vanishing, the houses are filled with users, inverting, for the first time in a very marked way, an order that has been occurring at least since the 12th century when the concept of city was created in Europe.

In this new context – more uncertain than the previous one, both the house and the users are forced to assume the complex role that used to be played by cities and their diversity. Now, the global house – turned into the genuine experimental laboratory, has been transformed into a global city and has the dimensions of the planet.

The home is no longer a container where residents are objects of consumption and desire to become the object itself and, in turn, the stage where individuals are actors of different entertainment scenes. The household is no longer a place of passage in the generic city to become a singular point of reference and observation. Now, the dialectic of the house and non-house is blurred. If inhabiting meant being everywhere in the city, the house is an adventure where we can waste our time and live in a similar drift.

One of the most relevant characteristics of this state of emergency is the possibility to manufacture space while time is manufactured. While in many cases the physical space of houses is contracted, for some it increases at the same time thanks to the most sophisticated and flexible use of technologies that enable the connection with the outside world.

Users take the lead and make an effort to transfer the social guarantees they already had in the public spaces to the new digital spaces, which leads to a new understanding of the shared city – social networks acquire a new meaning and are revealed, more than ever, as public squares where users can chat, exchange opinions, or simply show up.

Meanwhile, in this time that is now neither lineal, nor circular, where present is substituted by the latest news, and the future is an uncertain and inexistent concept, we will have to wait and see if this situation is just a nightmare or we can dare to think about a radically different tomorrow of our life when we inhabit the city again.

Madrid, April 2020

Gonzalo Pardo

PhD Architect

Part-time Professor of Architectural Projects ETSAM

Founder of gon architects

gon-architects.com/

THE VOID THAT CAN SAVE US
At this historical time – perhaps, the beginning of a new era, in which societies from all over the planet inopportunely suffer from the brunt of COVID-19, collapse and uncertainty encourage us to adapt to a limited reality with no road map, where our most familiar references of squares and streets, worship centres or museums, no longer exist. The time emptying of the common space has turned our monuments into the symbols of an uncomfortable and scaring truth.
 
Bronzes in the shape of Manneken-Pis in Brussels, Antonio Stradivari in Cremona, or a maternity in Wuhan started to partially appear in disguise as symptoms of our anxiety and assumed vulnerability. A symbolism talking about the function of art as an element of social cohesion, reminding us of the duty of public powers to add new works and protect collective memory. A memory we may feel more than ever from the framework of the 17th Architecture Biennale.  
 
Venice – a city childishly represented and replicated across the West and the East, has offered an image of beauty through its desolation and nudity for the last months. Also through its clean waters, free from the filth left by its occasional visitors. Its squares and streets woven with bridges, gardens and palaces are nowadays a scenario to reflect on how the problems that have recently started to affect New York City regarding its monuments list. A partial and unfair account that was audited following the far-right demonstration United Right in Charlottesville (Virginia) in August 2017, with tragic consequences (*), which allowed the understanding of what we have consented to talk about within the common space and what must be the value of art in the urban scheme. This analysis envisaged a mainstream solution based on recontextualisation and the need to address the existing shortcomings from the incorporation of works reminding those individuals, collectives or monuments of our past that had not been represented before. Adding chapters, nuances and tones providing certainty to another possible city.
 
There are numerous hidden lines of history that prevent the individual from reading and interpreting the world clearly. The city that once received its visitors as an icon of tolerance and independence embodied in Libertas, nowadays only has five pieces devoted to female figures. In this sense, the first initiative promoted by the city council – She built NYC, aimed at remedying this meaningless nonsense. There will be more monuments and collective expressions to spark debate on issues that could hardly be tackled otherwise, like the one recently announced – the first public art piece paying tribute to the legacy of transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. This reminds us that lockdown, invisibility and precariousness do not start and end with a pandemic, be it COVID-19 or any other that will certainly come. We will continue to create symbols to represent the new times we will live in a world of precariousness and uncertainty, but also a world of challenges as it happened back in the fifties with the Stonewall Riots.
 
Borges said that mirrors and copulation are abdominal because they multiply the number of men. In the face of the abhorrent narcissism of the societies moving amid a consumerist squall, the void is now presented as an opportunity to change the way we want to see ourselves and the way we want to be recognised.  
 
New York, April 2020
Sergio Pardo López
Architect, Cultural Manager Program Manager
Percent for Art Program
New York City Department of Cultural Affairs
 
*Far-right demonstration aimed at opposing the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee – leader of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, as a consequence of the controversy generated following the removal of confederate monuments after the massacre at the Charleston church in 2015. The demonstration left multiple injured and a deceased among the counterprotesters.
TIMELESS ARCHITECTURE

Opportunity to think about the irreplaceable and transcendental values ​​of the architecture of our time. Relative time, a highly adaptable dimension to several levels of uncertainty. Our activity records cumulative cyclical processes, never equal, nor linear. We witness constant changes and drifts that uninterruptedly force us to make decisions. We accumulate experience by intensity and continuity, each action is unrepeatable, or at least should be. There is no option in the automation. Architecture requires us to be slow to be precise, the intention of an accurate calculator. Our systemic and relational structure of thought, trained and accustomed to discerning in complex contexts, tends to respond clearly. This confers a number of roles in a global society, which is changing and more uncertain than ever. Measured creativity pushes us beyond this. Disciplined in findings of close and collective spaces, scenarios of multiple relationships, we also invent places that fill with life, places in continuous interaction with humanity and its future. Time travellers from our table tops, we metamorphose heritage, we manipulate the urban inheritance understood as a matter for innovation. We enjoy the passage of time and we replace doubts and questions with drawn futures, which exist first in the shape of thoughts. We treat time, as another matter, which serves as a bridge among contexts, times and moments. Projecting is a future action, carried out in a present moment that considers memory and history. We update the past in critical reviews, experiences that we revisit over and over again, until deadlines are met, sometimes iterations in variations that take a lifetime. Architects, nonconformists, manage all the times, reflect on potentialities, also think of the impossible, then the profession, which builds up certain coexistences, others will emerge later. Working as if the passage of time did not exist, while it is possible to compress it with maximum tension. Few professions can afford to waste time as an investment to project it. Experts in connection between this and that, between floor and wall, between interior and exterior, between door and hand, we reach agreements among limits, we contain materials, we confine air and light. We shape energies into hybridizations and mergers of events in various realities. We store temporary sediments, emotions, sensations and experiences in houses with several lives, transvestite factories, immortal streets and squares, vital parks, animated theatres, invisible museums, inhabited shops and furniture, broken diagonals, stairs that go up and down stages... architecture combines contradiction in its flexibility, links fragments, creates contiguities, traps time, times. In its capacity for anticipation, it changes the perception of established aesthetics and transforms rotting fields into beautiful gardens. This way of doing architecture has to do with natural development. Once the shape has disappeared, once the materials have disintegrated, there is only protomatter left, at which time we are in a position to build a new world, disintegrate for subsequent integration. Exercising another form of transubstantiation, from that trip without continuity solution. Finally, the tireless search for essence results in timeless architecture.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, April 2020 

Ángela Ruiz
PhD. Architect 

COMMUNICATION IN THE TIME OF RAGE

Let's get to the point: architecture journals no longer make sense. Actually, this is not so new; architecture journals had long been nothing else but devices of onanistic consumption by architects and for architects where any hint of analysis and criticism in favour of pure and uncut hagiography had disappeared. As it was said (and is still said) in some schools that "The important thing is to get published", because in the end journals are just an advertising showcase for professional fellatio. To be honest, a pain in the neck. Therefore, we should not be surprised when we are told we are disconnected from reality.

Of course, back in the time when the only way to disseminate architecture was old-fashioned paper, there was no other choice but to comply with its guidelines, but, my dear friends, it turns out that with the advent of the Internet 2.0, everything falls apart and everything becomes unbalanced. A new territory, uncertain and fascinating, appears to teach the world how cool (or how dire) architecture is. And it shows up riding the warhorse of contemporary communication – social networks.

Yes, social networks are both a horse and a battlefield. They nest fights and political trenches, and especially in difficult times like those of 2020, but they are also another type of perfect horse for dissemination. The one from Troy. The analogy is simple: if we really want to communicate architectural culture, we cannot continue circulating on restricted channels, we cannot compel the public to search for your content; we have to take the content where the public is.

Thus, the recipient of that content does not even have to be interested in architecture, design, or even culture. Just being there is more than enough. Because by being there (and everyone is on a social network), you will receive what we send you. And if you are curious or interested, and the content is attractive, you will stay with us.

To make the similarity with the Trojan horse even more real, one must renounce once and for all the dark, foggy and hyper-complex language used by the cardboard leading figures of contemporary architecture. We must bet on clear and adequate communication. Enough of academicisms seeking to epact the convinced and let's start relating things in a way that they can be understood. It is the only way to talk about projects as intricate and fascinating as – let me think – the Stockholm Forest Cemetery and guarantee that people are interested in that place. And appreciate it. And like it. And share it. And guarantee that, in exponential growth, more and more people like it and share it.

And in this way, perhaps we will make the world think that architects are not a pedantic gang of assholes, but professionals whose creative engine is to make people live (and in the case of Asplund and Lewerentz, die) better.

Madrid, April 2020
Pedro Torrijos
Architect & Cultural communicator