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AD Interviews: Hubert Klumpner / 2015 Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture

08:00 - 2 January, 2016

At the opening to the 2015 Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (UABB) we took a moment to speak with Hubert Klumpner, one of the event's six curators. A professor from the ETH Zurich Swiss Institute of Technology and partner at Urban Think Tank, Klumpner, together with Alfredo Brillembourg, spearheaded the curation of "Radical Urbanism," a sub-theme of the entire Biennale's wider theme, "Re-Living the City."

"...we believe that we have enough buildings, enough construction, enough infrastructure. And it is now time to consolidate it and find the qualities within the built. This is not against future production, it is more about a consideration of what we really want in cities." - Hubert Klumpner

Read on to learn how the "Radical Urbanism" exhibition reveals what we can learn from the interventions and ad-hoc, bottom-up initiatives. Also, don't miss Klumpner and Brillembourg's essay, "The Evolution of Radical Urbanism: What Does the Future Hold for Our Cities."

The Evolution of Radical Urbanism: What Does the Future Hold for Our Cities?

14:50 - 4 December, 2015
The Evolution of Radical Urbanism: What Does the Future Hold for Our Cities?, Metro Cable Caracas / Urban Think Tank. Image © Iwan Baan
Metro Cable Caracas / Urban Think Tank. Image © Iwan Baan

Earlier today in Shenzhen the 6th Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (UABB) opened its doors to public. Under the overall theme "Re-Living the City," curators Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner of Urban Think Tank headed up the "Radical Urbanism" exhibit in the main venue. Brillembourg and Klumpner invited the exhibition participants to show how we can learn from ad-hoc and "bottom-up" initiatives for alternative urban solutions. In the following essay - originally printed in the UABB 2015 catalogue - the curators call for us to "rethink how we can operate within the city, learn from its emerging intelligence and shap[e] its outcomes to radical and tactical ends."

The notion of a radical urbanism draws us unavoidably into the realm of the political. Imagining a more equitable and sustainable future involves an implicit critique of the spatial and societal conditions produced by prevailing urban logics.[1] As such, we are not only reminded of Le Corbusier’s famous ultimatum, “architecture or revolution,” but its generational echo in Buckminster Fuller’s more catastrophic pronouncement, “utopia or oblivion.”[2] Both were zero-sum scenarios born of overt social disjuncture, whether the deprivations and tensions of the interwar period, or the escalating conflicts and ecological anxiety of the late 1960s. While the wave of experimental "post utopian" practices that emerged in the early 1970s positioned themselves explicitly in opposition to perceived failures of the modern movement, these disparate groups shared a belief – however disenchanted – with their predecessors in the idea that radical difference was possible, as well as a conviction that a break was necessary.

Buckminster Fuller's Montreal Biosphere. Image © Flickr user rodmaia licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 The Plug in City by Peter Cook of Archigram. Image © Peter Cook via Archigram Archives Kisho Kurokawa's Nakagin Capsule Tower. Image © Arcspace Houses built using the Walter Segal system in South London. Image © Chris Moxley +9

Documentary On Torre David, Once The World's Tallest Slum, Released Online

15:00 - 28 October, 2015

In 1994, after the death of its main investor and a national banking crisis that left Venezuela's economy stagnated, the construction of Caracas' Centro Financiero Confinanzas - known popularly as the Tower of David - was paralyzed, leaving the building completely abandoned and on 70 percent complete.

Neglected for more than a decade, the 45-story, 190-meter-tall skyscraper became the makeshift home for a community of more than 800 families, becoming the world's tallest "vertically organized favela," with basic services to the 22nd floor and including even barber shops, kindergartens and dentists.

The documentary Torre David (now available to watch in full for a small fee of $3) was filmed by Urban-Think Tank, presenting the particular life of its residents before the tower was evacuated in 2014. The film is part of a larger research project that has led to new a book and numerous exhibitions, including the exhibition winner of the Golden Lion at the 2012 Venice Biennale.

Click here to watch the full documentary.

News from Nowhere: Zürich Laboratory

19:30 - 27 October, 2015
News from Nowhere: Zürich Laboratory, The Mobile Agora from the "News from Nowhere" exhibition. Image by Urban-Think Tank at ETH Zürich
The Mobile Agora from the "News from Nowhere" exhibition. Image by Urban-Think Tank at ETH Zürich

The Korean artists, MOON Kyungwon & JEON Joonho have teamed up with the design collective, Urban-Think Tank, based at ETH Zürich, to launch the newest version of the ongoing project, “News from Nowhere.” Past versions have appeared in documenta (13) in Kassel and the Sullivan Galleries of the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 2013. The “News from Nowhere: Zürich Laboratory” establishes an interdisciplinary and participatory platform to discuss the urgent social, political and economic issues. Located in the Migros Museum for Gegenwartskunst, the “News from Nowhere” exhibition brings together artists, architects, designers, scientists, and documentarians in order to discuss issues facing contemporary society. 

Callous Indifference or Fetishizing Poverty: What Exactly Can Architects Do About Slums?

00:00 - 24 September, 2014
Callous Indifference or Fetishizing Poverty: What Exactly Can Architects Do About Slums?, The Torre David in Caracas, the subject of Urban Think Tank's research for the 2012 Venice Biennale. Image © Iwan Baan
The Torre David in Caracas, the subject of Urban Think Tank's research for the 2012 Venice Biennale. Image © Iwan Baan

In an excellent essay for the Architectural Review, Charlotte Skene Catling deftly ties together a number of recent debates in the field of morality in architecture, from the false accusations aimed at Zaha Hadid by critic Martin Fuller to recent debates over whether architects have any responsibility to tackle poverty, an ostensibly political issue. Taking aim at one article in particular - in which Dan Hancox argues that architects such as Urban Think Tank who engage in humanitarian work are often 'fetishizing poverty' - Catling dissects the work of many of those in the field to find that they in fact do vital work to connect the top-down and bottom-up approaches that would otherwise never meet in the middle. Or, as Urban Think Tank's Alfredo Brillembourg says, in opposition to the horizontal city of the 19th century or the vertical city of the 20th, "the 21st century must be for the diagonal city, one that cuts across social divisions." Click here to read the article in full.

Urban Think Tank Responds to the Forced Eviction of Torre David Residents

00:00 - 23 July, 2014
Urban Think Tank Responds to the Forced Eviction of Torre David Residents, Torre David. Image © Iwan Baan
Torre David. Image © Iwan Baan

Following yesterday's news story about the forced eviction of the thousands of inhabitants living in Venezuela’s Torre de David (Tower of David), the world's tallest vertical slum, Urban-Think Tank has issued a statement. The group, which spent two years researching the remarkable urban space for their Golden Lion-winning Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2012, has spoken with residents and hopes to provoke the architectural/design communities by adding their voice to the debate. Read the full statement, after the break. 

Barcelona Commemorates 300 Years of Catalan Spirit With 7 Public Installations

01:00 - 29 June, 2014
Barcelona Commemorates 300 Years of Catalan Spirit With 7 Public Installations, Identity / URBANUS. Image © Marcela Grassi
Identity / URBANUS. Image © Marcela Grassi

Every year, citizens of Catalonia commemorate the events of September 11th 1714, a key date in the War of the Spanish Succession that has come to symbolize what Voltaire called "the Barcelonans' extreme love of freedom." With this year marking the 300th anniversary of these events, Barcelona Cultura enlisted the Fundació Enric Miralles to curate 7 public installations around the city as part of its Tricentenari BCN program.

The result is BCN RE.SET, organized by Benedetta Tagliabue of the Fundació Enric Miralles and stage director Àlex Ollé, which invited guest architects from countries all over the world to colloborate with local universities and create installations symbolizing 6 political and ideological concepts: identity, freedom, Europe, diversity, democracy and memory. These installations will be in place until September 11th. Read on after the break for descriptions of all 6 installations.

Europe / ETH Zürich + Urban–Think Tank. Image © Marcela Grassi Diversity / Yael Reisner + Peter Cook. Image © Marcela Grassi Freedom / Anupama Kundoo. Image © Marcela Grassi Memory / Grafton Architects. Image © Marcela Grassi +15

Urban Think Tank Takes on Housing in South Africa's Townships

00:00 - 20 March, 2014

Despite 20 years of government promises to improve the quality of housing following the end of apartheid, for many in South Africa's townships there has been little noticeable change. This is not to say that the South African government has not been working to meet these goals; however, the scale of the problem is so large, and with population growth and migration, the challenge is only getting greater.

That's why Urban Think Tank, in collaboration with ETH Zurich and South African NGO Ikhayalami, have worked together on a design for a more immediate, incremental solution called "Empower Shack."

Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities / Urban-Think Tank & Iwan Baan

00:00 - 29 January, 2013

Torre David, a 45-story skyscraper in Caracas, has remained uncompleted since the Venezuelan economy collapsed in 1994. Today, it is the improvised home to more than 750 families living in an extra-legal and tenuous squat, that some have called a “vertical slum.”

Urban-Think Tank, the authors of Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities, spent a year studying the physical and social organization of this ruin-become home. Richly illustrated with photographs by Iwan Baan, the book documents the residents’ occupation of the tower and how, in the absence of formal infrastructure, they organize themselves to provide for daily needs, with a hair salon, a gym, grocery shops, and more. 

Venice Biennale 2012: Torre David, Gran Horizonte / Urban Think Tank + Justin McGuirk + Iwan Baan

10:40 - 23 October, 2012
© Nico Saieh
© Nico Saieh

Last year, thanks to a photo essay by architecture photographer Iwan Baan featured in the New York Magazine, the world became aware of a dramatic urban context in Caracas, Venezuela, the result of a lack of available housing: The Torre David (David Tower). The tower, built as the headquarters of the Confinanzas Group during the economic boom of the 90s, was left unfinished after the company went bankrupt in 1994, placing the building in a murky legal void where its ownership was put into question. Since 2000, the tower has suffered looting and decay; the public take-over culminated with the occupation of the tower by more than 2,500 people in 2007.

For over a year, Urban-Think Tank studied how the tower’s mixed-use occupation worked, with improvised apartments, shops, and even a gym on the terrace. The community operates under the strict rules imposed by the informal tenants, who have been accused by many Venezuelans of being nothing more than criminals.

Invited by curator Justin McGuirk, Urban-Think Tank recreated ‘Gran Horizonte’, a restaurant in the Torre de David, at the Arsenale of the Venice Biennale. The restaurant serves the same traditional food as the original, while photos by Iwan Baan reveals tenants’ day-to-day lives, immersing visitors into the tower.

The installation explores how the informal settlement works in ways the building’s architect never would have conceived, and posits that the informal dynamics found in emerging countries could serve as a vital source of innovation and experimentation for urban problems in our hyper-urbanized world.

The project has been highly controversial among the Venezuelan architecture community, as shown by the letters and articles in local newspapers reproduced at the installation, and on the Internet. Most of these letters’ authors claim that the project supports the illegal occupation and depicts a distorted image of Venezuela’s reality. But, on the other hand, the Venezuela Pavilion at the Biennale showed only cheerful paintings and images of propaganda, avoiding its purpose: to critically observe and stir debate. The controversy between the two visions only further highlights the current polarity in Venezuelan society, particularly on this issue of urbanization.

For this project, Justin McGuirk, Urban-Think Tank, and Iwan Baan were awarded with the Golden Lion by the Biennale’s Jury.

More from the architects after the break:

ArchDaily Interviews: The role of the Architect at the Audi Urban Future Initiative

18:21 - 24 May, 2012

Last week we went to Ingolstadt, Germany, to attend the launch of the Audi Urban Future Initiative. The program, now in its second version, invited a group of six architecture offices from different regions of the world, all with big urban populations, to think about the future of mobility. During this stage, the architects presented their initial research and diagnosis of their respective regions. In October, the architects will present their projects and an overall winner will be announced.

During the event, we had the chance to talk with the architects and ask them about the role of the Architect in our contemporary society.

The first edition of this program took place in 2010, and included Alison Brooks ArchitectsBIGCloud 9J. MAYER H. and standardarchitecture. You can see J. Mayer’s winning entry previously featured at ArchDaily. More info about the program after the break: