LOBBY #3: Meaningful Defiance in a Disengaged Culture

© Anna Andersen / Regner Ramos

'Defiance' manifests itself in many forms: riots in Baltimore, makeshift housing in Rwanda, Pink Floyd in Venice and plants growing where they ought not sprout. To defy the norm is an act of rebellion and in architecture, doubly so. In the third issue of LOBBY, the burgeoning magazine from London's Bartlett School of Architecture, the notion of defiance and its incarnations are investigated in a collection of essays, interviews and discussions with leading and emerging thinkers in urbanism and architecture. From Swiss master Mario Botta to Carme Pinós, former partner to Enric Miralles, this latest LOBBY investigates the act of defiance as a core tenet of architectural practice.

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Known for its broad collection of narratives centered on a strikingly non-architectural topic, LOBBY presents readers with seemingly unrelated viewpoints that contribute to a larger narrative on the architects' role in an interdisciplinary society. Similar to its previous incarnations (Un/Spectacle and Clairvoyance), Defiance encompasses an eclectic mix of topics, including an essay by British-Tanzanian architect David Adjaye on the politics of social edification.

In keeping with the first two issues, LOBBY #3 is organized into six spatially-themed categories: The Exhibition Space, The Seminar Room, The Lift, The Staircase, The Library, and The Toilets. In an act of editorial irony, The Crit Rooma section seen in previous editionshas been forgone in favor of more robust content elsewhere, particularly in The Exhibition Space and The Seminar Room. Each section dissects an architectural nuance through the lens of Defiance, a term candidly defined by the magazine's Editor-in-Chief Regner Ramos as showing that "amidst political and social strain, anyone can give the finger."

The Exhibition space begins in the Rwandan forest. Located at the intersection of the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda, thousands of nomadic hunter-gatherer Batwa people face demolition of their makeshift homes. Thanks to a Rwandan task force implementing government approved housing, more than 30,000 Batwa have been ejected from their native land in forest in favor of tin-roof social housing. As the government seeks to defy Batwa traditions through the destruction of their nomadic culture, the Batwa respond in kind by destroying the unwanted housing. "The Batwa's destruction of the home is not just a defiant act; it satisfies their hand-to-mouth means of existence. Timber windows equals fire, and what is a window to begin with anyway?" writes Killian Doherty.

© Anna Andersen / Regner Ramos

The reader is then taken to Mendrisio, Switzerland, birthplace of architect and educator Mario Botta, a master of his time and apprentice to Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier and Carlo Scarpa. "I think we are, so to speak, orphans of the European masters of the city," says Botta as he explains his publicly perceived role as an architect of rebellious structures. "I believe in the return of architecture as a strong physical presence and as an act of resistance." Armed with several decades of practice, Botta's unique style simultaneously defies and gives praise to its surroundings, rarely adhering to the status quo.

In contrast to Botta's rebellious structures, David Adjaye remains firmly grounded in a socially conscious school of architecture. "As globalisation opens new opportunities for architects but increasingly threatens cultural specificity, engaging people and place with genuine empathy remains the truest act of defiance," says Adjaye in his essay Defiance and the Politics of Social Edification. Known for his ground-up approach to design, Adjaye's humanist structures are designed with particular sensitivity to location and users, making it no surprise that Adjaye's work began with housing projects for London's art communities. In LOBBY, Adjaye's focus remains squarely on the approach that architecture has drifted from its holistic purpose to respond to the needs of its users, arguing that defiance is necessary to foster architectural change.

© Anna Andersen / Regner Ramos

In 1989, Pink Floyd performed a concert at the mouth of Venice's Grand Canal, quite literally shaking the city to its core. Fans poured into the fragile city in the hundreds of thousands, hanging from lampposts and clambering onto rooftops to see the band play what would become their only Venetian performance. Enter The Seminar Room, where ArchDaily (and LOBBY) Editor James Taylor-Foster leads a discussion on the interplay between public events and the spaces they occupy. Through a series of essays situated in Venice, Versailles, Mumbai, Tokyo, Montréal, London and Belgrade, The Seminar Room reinforces the notion that the city has "the capacity to act as a ready-made, historically-layered stage and set for festive events of all scales to take hold."

In Venice, the public campi transform into performance spaces as the Biennale Danza takes to the streets. In Belgrade, the waterfront becomes the frontline as architects clash with foreign developers over the future of a storied quarter. In Mumbai, public spaces and streets are one and the same: spatial elasticity means traffic gridlock can become a playground within the hour. In Tokyo, roads disappear in the wake of pedestrian dominance by those seeking a divine presence. In Montréal, a public square of Rockefeller proportions failed to become a lively spontaneous space as planned, instead serving as a static landscape. In Versailles, visitor choreography inspires frustration, bewilderment and awe as selfie sticks and opulence battle for attention. Together, this clever collection of short essays tells a story on the true influence of planning and people on the life of the city.

© Anna Andersen / Regner Ramos

In The Lift, we're reminded of the lived experience of locals in cities inundated by tourists. From Rome to Athens, Beirut to Dubai, a layer of romanticism masks the mundane activities of ordinary people occupying the world's most visited cities. Rome, as Evan Rawn writes, is "perceived by visitors as a collection of monumental artifacts and rarely understood as a part of an inhabited urban fabric." In Athens, says Mrinal Rammohan, "The bucket-list approach to holidaying has intensified the obsession with image. Take that selfie, touch that stone, buy an 'I heart NY/London/Riga' tee, and look for the nearest exit to a McDonald's." The lives of tourists run parallel to locals: never the two shall meet.

Beirut, by contrast, dismantles tourists by force: negotiations rule the city's taxi system and directions don't come easily. To travel around Beirut, you must know Beirut. In Dubai, a barely-recognizable old city fights with the constant expansion of the new city, leaving residents of the former in its wake. Beneath a thick, polished veneer of tourist-friendly urbanism featuring Starbucks aplenty, locals defy the fetishization of cities they once shaped in favor of a local sub-culture, tourists or not.

© Anna Andersen / Regner Ramos

The Staircase delves into the meaning of physical and ideological barriers and defined space. The narrative begins in the centuries-old Jewish ghetto in Venice: a walled neighborhood of the city constructed as a means of protecting the population on the inside of the fence. Similar to modern gated communities, Venetian Jews sought to protect their earnings and guarantee safety through the creation of gates at all entrances that would be locked overnight. As writer Laura Vaughan points out, a curious phenomenon developed with the creation of a barrier along the periphery of the ghetto in which residents chose to live outside, defying established community standards in favor of independence from an ideal with which they disagreed.

In the same section (or 'room'), the reader witnesses the details of an unlikely narrative surrounding the theft of The Scream by Edvard Munch during the opening ceremonies of the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. In what became one of the most prolific (and anticlimactic) thefts of artwork in modern times, a second-storey window in Oslo's National Gallery was shattered with a hammer, the painting carried down a ladder, loaded into an escape vehicle, and recovered undamaged several months later. By a curious twist of fate, the opening ceremonies were held at the Olympic ski jumps which bore an an uncanny similarity to the method of theft: swiftly down a slope and into the mist. The most patronizing act of defiance was, of course, the thieves' note: "Thanks for the poor security."

Arriving at The Library—LOBBY's more lengthy, cerebral core—the ominous notion of 'starchitects' is tackled in the unlikeliest of locations: the US state of Ohio. Hidden in the Midwest, the University of Cincinnati is home to innumerable buildings by some of the world's most successful architects. An unexpected location for certain, the university features work by Michael Graves, Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, and Bernard Tschumi. The adjacent neighbourhood, by contrast, features largely unkempt student housing and widespread low-income housing. In a vehement crique of the notion of 'starchitecture,' writer Nnamdi Elleh argues that "'starchitectural' production destroys human imagination by creating fantasy worlds within its domains."

Certainly the most glamorous room in LOBBY's metaphysical spaces, The Toilets, come in the form of a foldout tucked neatly into the back of the journal. Pugin Trains: Deconstructing the Houses of Parliament proposes a whimsical alternative to London's immovable Palace of Westminster, envisioned as a nomadic federal government situated aboard one of the United Kingdom's notorious trains. The narrative follows a jaded and morally questionable member of the cleaning staff for the "locomotive democracy," offering insight into the sinister possibilities for a traveling parliament. All about the Pugin Pendelino, where Britain's political overloads travel in luxury while service staff await the dregs of the day's business.

LOBBY #3 is now available at bookshops and online. Find out more, here.

© Anna Andersen / Regner Ramos

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About this author
Cite: Finn MacLeod. "LOBBY #3: Meaningful Defiance in a Disengaged Culture" 23 Oct 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/775721/lobby-number-3-meaningful-defiance-in-a-disengaged-culture> ISSN 0719-8884

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