It is in moments of disaster - natural, military, or otherwise - that the value of our built environment as a form of cultural identity comes most noticeably and tragically to light. The fire that ripped through Brazil’s Museo Nacional on Monday night destroyed not just invaluable historic artefacts, but a building that stood as a symbol for both a country and a people. The erasure of the urban landscape is the erasure of identity, culture, and people.
It is notable, then, that new construction is often advertised as way for neighbourhoods to form or revitalize local identity. Skyscrapers in particular are considered icons around which urban and even national identity can hinge - imagine New York without the Empire State Building, Paris without the Eiffel Tower, Kuala Lumpur without the Petronas Towers. This week’s stories touched on the ways in we entwine our identities with our built fabric. Read on for this week’s review.
The fire at the Museo Nacional in Brazil is a critical loss for architects, historians, and world citizens alike. It’s unclear how exactly the blaze began, but reports indicate that funding for safety apparatuses had been reduced in past years. The Institute of Architects for Brazil (IAB) called in an open letter for the creation and maintenance of a fund dedicated to building safety in light of this tragedy.
Future (to be) Made
Oceania seems to have its sights set firmly on the clouds. Following a widely publicised competition to shape the identity of Melbourne’s skyline, Auckland has announced finalists for their own downtown tower. The shortlist boasts names such as Zaha Hadid Architects, Woods Bagot, and Elenberg Fraser, each interpreting what Auckland’s urban identity might be in their own distinct ways.
ZHA have also applied their super-tall expertise in Africa, where their proposal for Egypt’s first official skyscraper has been given new life after nearly a decade on the shelf. The tower is planned for Cairo and it’s said that inhabitants will have views of the city, the Nile, and the even the pyramids. It’s here, on the banks of the river, that the country’s historic and contemporary identities are set to collide.
Architecture in our Own Words
Given architecture’s power in defining identity, criticism plays an essential role in investigating and translating it for a wider audience. But all too often criticism is academic and esoteric, reserved only for an audience that already understands the stakes. In an essay originally published on Common Edge, author Duo Dickinson explored the rise of popular architectural blogs that are redefining what - and for whom - architecture criticism can be.
The tightly entwined subjects of architecture and identity are also set to be the theme of this year's World Architecture Festival in Amsterdam from 28-30 November. Talks and discussions from voices including Rem Koolhaas, David Adjaye, Lesley Lokko, and Jeanne Gang promise to explore how architecture shapes and is shaped by cultural identity - questions all the more relevant in a globalized world.
Things You Might Have Missed
- Design Intelligence released their annual survey of American architecture schools, ranking the top ten undergraduate and graduate programs across the country. As next year's prospective applicants begin to consider their next moves, it's worth a reference.
- The Edward Cella Gallery in Los Angeles is currently showing an exhibition dedicated to R. Buckminster Fuller, an architect whose legacy continues to shape design decades after his death. The exhibition has revealed a set of previously unseen posters by Fuller himself - perfect inspiration for the dorm room.