February 1, 2021
In Its Second Installment, The World Around Examines How Architecture Can Heal and Advance
The annual summit launched this past Saturday in residence at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum with a kick-off event featuring 19 presenters including Liam Young, David Adjaye, and Deborah Berke.
According to speculative architect (and Metropolis 2020 Game Changer) Liam Young’s presentation during the second installment of The World Around Summit, “When reality struggles to grasp the world, fiction might best understand our realities and find traction for the future.”
Cofounded last year by the New York-based design curator and critic Beatrice Galilee, The World Around, a platform that showcases a network of designers and creative thinkers, began its year-long residency at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum with a mission of uncovering “Architecture’s Now, Near, and Next.”
In the midst of an unclear future, the three-part digital symposium, moderated on January 30th by Galilee and the Guggenheim’s new deputy director of education and public engagement Cyra Levenson, examined how architecture and design can be used to comprehend the past and take immediate action for the future. A panel of 19 architects, designers, and thought leaders discussed 20 projects which articulate architecture’s role in addressing concerns—from environmental crises to racial discrimination in the industry—through means that included science fiction, storytelling, and graphic animation.
Design critic Alice Rawsthorn launched the first session, titled “Pollinators of the World Around,” with a hopeful run-down of design’s ongoing response to COVID-19. “One of design’s crucial roles throughout history has been to help us deal with emergencies,” she noted, emphasizing incredible pandemic responses, such as five Afghani teenage girls who designed emergency ventilators, as well as failures such as a Las Vegas homeless shelter which placed its residents on a parking lot within a 6-feet grid.
Many of the presentations hit on realities from unbeaten paths such as Feral Atlas contributor Kate Brown’s encounter with Northern Ukraine’s openly-traded radioactive blueberries contaminated during nuclear testing and filmmaker Fernando Frías’s 2019 feature, Ya No Estoy Aquí (I’m No Longer Here), about a dancing cartel in Monterrey. Buenos Aires-based multidisciplinary activist group El Futuro Imposible (The Impossible Future) delivered a fully animated presentation on social and environmental activism. In the face of what they called “a crisis of imagination,” they used animation as a tool to spread information and “give room for emotions, such as hope and optimism.”
A site of both cultivation and construction, land was the core subject in the second session, “Keepers of the World Around” which considered voices and histories from the original caretakers of colonized lands. The Berlin-based Burkinabe architect Francis Kéré cited a lack of a “material and climate responsible approach” as well as “local knowledge” as motivations for his design of the Burkina Faso National Assembly in Ouagadougou. “Indigenous form of governance” is urgently needed in post-colonial architecture, said Kéré, who embodies the ritual of meeting under a tree with his design for the building. Dubai and Tokyo-based firm Waiwai presented research into how to create an alternative to Portland cement from crystalized salt and minerals from the United Arab Emirates.
Session three, “Builders of the World Around,” was centered on art as a means to rethink civic spaces and the conversation steered toward new ways of creating dialogue while remaining sensitive to the needs of underrepresented communities. The final chapter featured a group of five participants including starchitects such as David Adjaye, SO-IL and UCCA, and Deborah Berke withs Jason Price. A focus on art centers branched out to include hospitable and inclusive design, as well as democratizing access to culture through inviting building forms. “Architecture is an art form that has to be remade and refined every generation,” said Adjaye. Berke added that art centers should be “not naive or precious, but real buildings that can take a beating.”
An online platform was a fitting medium for a panel exploring the urgency of decentralization in design thinking. The participants reported from 14 cities around the world and were able to interact with the audience during live discussions at the end of each session. Indispensable for any analog or digital affair, occasional technical issues during the streaming yielded its own potential for fictions or truths in audience comments, from those affirming a “right-wing troll move” to “algorithm lacking the capacity for imagination.”
Each session is available to stream on the nonprofit’s website.
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