This weekend, the first planning session of the Global Parliament of Mayors took place in Amsterdam: a platform for mayors from across the world, triggered by Benjamin Barber’s book: If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities.
In this book the current political system and its leaders is dismissed as dysfunctional. Defined by borders and with an inevitable focus on national interests, they are not an effective vehicle to govern a world defined by interdependence. Mayors, presiding over cities with their more open, networked structure and cosmopolitan demographics, so the book argues, could do it better.
It is of no surprise that this book has been welcomed by the same political class as the one it praises: mayors. As was apparent during the first planning session of the GPM: a conference about mayors, for mayors, attended by mayors, moderated by mayors and hosted by a mayor, all triggered by a book about mayors.
I recognize many of the book’s observations. Many mayors are impressive figures and time appears to be on their side. Nation states (particularly the large ones) have an increasingly hard time and, in the context of a process of globalization, cities, and particularly small city-states, increasingly emerge victorious. Cities have first-hand experience with many of the things that occur in globalization’s wake, such as immigration and cultural and religious diversity, and are generally less dogmatic and more practical in dealing with them.
So far so good.
While the final products of OMA’s oeuvre are well-documented and widely published, a large portion of the Dutch firm’s work goes unrecognized and relatively unnoticed: the contextual, solution-oriented research undertaken by AMO. OMA’s lesser-known twin, AMO is vital to OMA’s approach, allowing the firm to delve into a world of context and explore possibilities beyond the built form.
It was with this in mind that we sat down with Reinier de Graaf, a partner at the firm. In addition to the building and masterplan projects he also manages on the OMA side of things, de Graaf has been the director of AMO since 2002, overseeing a diverse portfolio of projects. Over the past few years, AMO’s energies have fueled the creation of the curriculum at Strelka; a “roadmap” for a de-carbonized power grid for the EU; and an exhibition that celebrated the architect as civil servant.
From our very first question (what is OMA’s mission?), de Graaf answered with his characteristic aversion to “general terms,” explaining that “[OMA's] mission is to explore unexpected subjects [...] without a preconceived mission.”
“The Community” might be the most frequently used term over the last 50 years of Architectural and Urban discourse. For decades, “the community” has served as a legitimization for anything from Team X to New Urbanism, from Celebration to “vancouverism”. But what is “the community”? Where should we look for the proper definition? How did communities appear in the past and how do they form today? Can ‘the community” influence the design of its own space, territory or context? If yes, what could be the relationship between the community and architecture in the future?
In his Strelka talk Reinier de Graaf is trying to answer these and other, even more complex questions.
Via the Strelka Institute.
“Forty years ago the public cause proved a powerful source of inspiration. Given the numbers of architects that chose to serve it, one might even speak of a common ground. In the age of the ‘starchitect’, the idea of suspending the pursuit of a private practice in favor of a shared ideology seems remote and untenable. In the context of the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, this exhibition hopes to provide a small contribution towards finding that common ground once more…” – OMA Partner Reinier de Graaf, August 2012
Throughout Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s, large public works departments employed architects to design a multitude of public buildings in an effort to serve the public cause. Reinier de Graaf describes this “heyday of public architecture” as “a short-lived, fragile period of naïve optimism – before the brutal rule of the market economy became the common denominator.”
OMA partner Reinier de Graaf explores the relationship between the megalopolis and politics at the Berlage Institute, where he conducted a one-week masters class devoted to the concept of Megalopoli(tic)s – “a very large ambitious political structure dealing especially with the act of governing complex metropolitan areas”.
De Graaf begins by stating we must “think globally”. In 1950, New York and London were the only cities with more than 8 million inhabitants. Currently, there are 26 cities of over 8 million people and by 2020 there will be 37. In terms of population and GDP, countries have been surpassed by cities and cities have been surpassed by corporations. De Graaf states that the city is the physical manifestation of globalization, and as cities continue to rapidly grow, it is imperative that we question the logistics that go into governing them.
Imagine Doxiadis’ global Ecumenopolis city (1967) that depicts the city as no longer a product of nations but rather a international product, which he envisioned as a conglomerate of urbanized regions straddling the world.