Nowadays, architecture museums, galleries, publishing houses, foundations, and experimental laboratories all have rooms to show their backstage, bringing about debates and proposals of the future of architecture. This is all part of Future Architecture Rooms, a project launched early this week on the Future Architecture Platform which showcases a collection of online spaces, each hosted by one institution and one member of the platform. We talked with the concept curator, Anastassia Smirnova (SVESMI) to better understand how the idea behind this project emerged, and what innovations it can present in the way of working on exhibitions and architecture.
Victor Delaqua: Many occupations that take place in exhibition spaces such as museums and galleries go through behavioural norms that are internalized in the body itself. In this sense, can the virtual room present a rupture in the way of exposing ideas?
Anastassia Smirnova (SVESMI): We launch this online environment – a structure comprised of virtual rooms each hosted by one of the 27 institutions, members of the Future Architecture platform - with a unique video narrative in every online "residency".
In 27 Rooms, curators and directors talk about their current situations in times of crisis, show their working spaces and buildings, explain their methods, introduce their teams, and invite the audience to collaborate on the future projects. All videos are casual, original, often truly spontaneous and funny, never overly polished: they are antipodes of promotional PowerPoint presentations.
We wanted to preserve this real feel of behind-the-scenes storytelling with raw cuts, not entirely edited texts, and the air of uncertainty, while exposing the genuine atmosphere of each institution.
Yet, this is just the very beginning – a trial of sorts…
In the future, the hosts will be using their rooms in many different ways, testing formats and proposing alternative modes of communication. Rooms will show live events, organise parties, initiate alternative educational programs, provide open lines for feedback… Every Room will work as a kind of a magnifying glass, exposing the work of an institution in higher resolution and allowing for close personal interaction between a visitor and a host.
We believe that this online environment will help to make collaborations more tangible and direct, while sort of bypassing many norms, protocols, and hierarchies that usually slow down the exchange of ideas.
We will also keep adding new unorthodox Rooms with the new unexpected hosts, expanding the project beyond the Future Architecture platform.
VD: A room is configured by a limited space. Being only among the plans that conform this space has been one of the greatest challenges during quarantine, which has led many people to transform and experience different ways of occupying their places. In the case of the online environment, how will the transformations of these virtual rooms take place?
AS: Freedom of expression is at the core of the Rooms project. Each Room is basically a black box that can be (re)invented ad infinitum. We value all Room as spaces for things and actions yet unknown.
We provide a visually engaging conceptual framework – one for all, but every Room should live its own life with no censorship or pressure from above. The content of each Room can be textual or image-based, it could be a regular podcast or a project-based sequence of narratives: in any case, every host curates his/her Room differently and over time its character might change together with the very institution it represents.
We also have a few common Rooms, such as, for instance, the Lounge, that can be used by all hosts or by invited guests to organise events or broadcast ideas. Anyone can apply to organise an event in the common Room, so if you have one in mind – just contact us.
VD: Is it possible to talk about materiality in the virtual environment?
This project explores the very materiality of spaces and buildings as they can be experienced on the computer screen. It was born during the era of endless online conferences that exposed our own private rooms online. The opportunity to peek into these unfamiliar spaces of the others —and have our own projected outwards—was at once entertaining and unsettling.
In the project the Rooms become kind of portals, window, openings into the real and actually rather intimate working spaces of various institutions that might feel even more tangible than any actual exhibition hall or a museum lobby. That is why we say that Future Architecture Room, is an attempt to build an environment at the intersection of the real and the immaterial.
VD: To enter a room is to know part of the privacy of those who live in it. Thus, the environment brings a chance for other institutions to show unknown sides of their culture, backstage, etc. What can the audience expect in this regard?
AS: As we are at the beginning of what will be, I hope, a long adventure, some institutions are yet a bit timid to talk very openly about themselves and expose their own kitchens, so to speak. It is an effort to abandon the vocabulary of promotional advertising and talk about the problems, doubts, and confusion with as much gusto and sense as about achievements. Yet, I believe, we have chosen a good moment to start such a project.
Our era of quarantines and predominantly online communication, teaches us to not be ashamed of our own homes or of our critical situations.
I am sure that with time, the Rooms will be used even more sincerely as backstage labs and workshops for presenting real people, real work, real life behind institutional logos.
VD: What lessons can architects learn from virtual environments?
AS: That virtual environments with their specific materiality, their spatial aspects, their compositions, their rhythms, their users, and their functional programming can be also understood as architecture. They can and should be built by complex teams of designers and can provide engaging experiences beyond the habitual wonders of computer games and rigid structures of commercial websites.
You can access the Future Architecture Rooms by clicking here.