Rebels with a Cause | The Architectural Revolution

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For most people, architecture is a discipline that is difficult to grasp. As consumers, our main interest lies in the tangible end product of design rather than the creative process behind it. Nowadays, this lack of awareness is slowly shifting to concern. Indeed, there is a substantial increase in public demand for transparency in terms of where materials come from and how things are made. The same can be said for architecture.

Over the last two decades, the design and construction industries enjoyed a period of bullish growth, pushed to the brink of saturation. Then came wave after wave of financial, real estate, economic and debt crises, crippling the multibillion-euro trade in much of the developed world. In effect, there exists a vast surplus of towers, houses and office spaces, most of which remain unoccupied or unfinished. Needless to say, issues regarding accountability and the future of these industries have yet to be addressed.

At the 4th edition of CreativeMornings Utrecht (29 June 2012), neo-idealist Thomas Dieben sought to confront the elephant in the room by tackling the question, what now? His lecture on The Intersection of Art and Science [1] provided a critical analysis on the collapse of the architecture bubble and more importantly, the new type of architect that is emerging. As co-founder of the Amsterdam-based design firm, denieuwegeneratie, Dieben and his team are a testament to their namesake (the new generation). Aptly founded in 2008, on the day Lehmann Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the bureau is convinced that sustainable design is the only responsible way forward in these challenging economic times.

According to Dieben, the architecture and design world became overly obsessed with the proliferation of icons and iconoclasts – a stark contrast from the post-war goals of reconstruction, modernity and the development of public spaces. Beginning in the early 90s, daring concepts and bold statements in architecture served as insignias of grandeur and prosperity. By the turn of the 21st century, the architects themselves were idolized for being avant-garde, leading to the coinage of the “Starchitect” neologism. Inevitably, this era of ostentatiousness came to an abrupt halt.

Parallel to the crises, Dieben argues that technological advancement and increasing global connectivity have led to significant changes in society, particularly in the way we work. As more and more economic activities are conducted online or are continuously outsourced to the lowest bidder, physical workspaces and offices are becoming obsolete. The former, institutional pillars of society (governments, banks, religious organizations) that were once generous patrons of architecture are now either enforcers of austerity, waning in influence or simply bankrupt (in some cases, all three). That the situation looks bleak is most definitely an understatement. On the other hand, a grim crisis such as this should never go to waste.

Bearing in mind the morals of the past, the new generation of architects stands poised to design ideas for the future. Architecture is now evolving into a multidimensional, interdisciplinary practice, Dieben claims, combining creative solutions with social research. The use of modern technology allows designers to collaborate on an international scale, furthering the debate on the future of architecture and promoting new ways of thinking [2]. Complex issues concerning quality of life, social mobility and the environment need to be addressed in order to implement strategies in sustainable design [3].

The transformation of vacant structures into vibrant, public spaces is a premium example. The edifice in question is suitably altered in terms of composition and purpose, without the extraneous financial and environmental costs of demolition. The objective is to augment as little as possible, sculpting an additional layer over the existing architecture. In doing so, the original identity and atmosphere of the space is reinforced by both its newfound design and function.

Temporality is another strategy that is progressively implemented. Dormant office buildings, industrial facilities and public spaces are either reinvented or erected for temporary use. This gives architects the opportunity to express their creativity while integrating sustainable concepts into their designs. Similar to transformation, the overall goal is to eliminate wasted territory by making it usable, if only on a temporary basis. This strategy promotes the efficient use of space, specifically in densely populated areas.

All in all, sustainability has become the driving force of the new generation. The architectural design of a 21st century building is no longer characterized by its opulence. Rather, it is flexible, multipurpose, easy to deconstruct, energy efficient and is fabricated from extremely local or recycled materials. Akin to the definitive styles of the past, this moral form of contemporary architecture is both reactionary and revolutionary, creating value in public life and improving society as a whole. ✌

[1] For the first time, all 29 chapters of CreativeMornings were united under a common theme: The Intersection of Art + Science.

[2] This includes the use of games and developing programs for the function of particular spaces.

[3] denieuwegeneratie’s sustainable design strategies include: transformation, flexibility, modularity and temporality.✍

☞ For more information on denieuwegeneratie, CreativeMornings Utrecht and CreativeMornings™, visit the websites listed below:


CreativeMornings | Utrecht and CreativeMornings™

Follow CreativeMornings Utrecht, CreativeMornings™ and phillipqgangan on Twitter:  @Utrecht_CM (CM Utrecht), @Creativemorning (CM Main) and @phillipqgangan

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