How to Live?
“Maybe life is just another great concept like space and time, ranged in the category of the possibility.”1
‘Freespace’, ‘Reporting From The Front’, ‘Fundamentals’, ‘Common Ground’, ‘People Meet in Architecture’2, however generous or directed one may read the five titles of Venice’s last Architecture Biennials, it is not hard to hear them sounding through the title proposed by its new curator Hashim Sarkis’ for the exhibition taking place in 2020/21: ‘How will we live together?’3.
And indeed, however exhaustive this way of questioning has become recently, as to be seen in architecture exhibitions, competitions or journalism, it just proves its case; as architects, we can neither doubt the recent call nor the mobilizing power radiating from the expression of these words in the realm of our profession. Architecture and life, life and architecture—how close they are, and yet, how difficult to make them meet each other!
Sarkis captures his recent quest as follows: “In the context of widening political divides and growing economic inequalities, we call on architects to imagine spaces in which we can generously live together: together as human beings who, despite our increasing individuality, yearn to connect with one another and with other species across digital and real space; together as new households looking for more diverse and dignified spaces for inhabitation; together as emerging communities that demand equity, inclusion and spatial identity; together across political borders to imagine new geographies of association; and together as a planet facing crises that require global action for us to continue living at all.”4
Let us keep two things in mind before addressing the described topics in their urgency for our time: First, how the generic question, referring here to Sarkis’ interrogative title, gets instantiated in the contemporaneity of the person stating it. And second, how it is precisely this immobilization that in turn enables the question to mobilize not just what is considered as future but also what is considered as past, known and unknown, at that very moment. ‘Make New History’5, the title of Chicago’s Architecture Biennial in 2017 formulates such equation quite well: ‘How will we live together?’ and ‘how did we live together?’—ultimately ‘how to live?’—how to address life contemporarily, not just to register but to get in touch! A revolutionary question with a casual feel, traceable throughout architecture‘s history, making it identifiable as one of architecture’s motors at large.
Contemporary proposals to approach this, as to be found in the contributions to the shows mentioned above, are diverse: social and technological, intellectual and emotional. However, here we want to build up from rearticulating Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s aim (1947), to bring these same components into balanced play, “to learn to see and feel them in relationship”6. A generalness pointing to one of the specific qualities of the architectural profession, being also reflected in Sarkis’ quest for a new ‘spatial contract’ fit for our time, and with the architect as its ‘custodian’ and ‘cordial convener’7.
Taking into account also the catchy mechanisms at work in the titles we have started from, and yet before dismissing them for exactly that reason; regardless of how strong or convincing this/next year’s exhibition will be/is/has been able to keep up on approaching today’s pressing issues in the proposed complexity, in Studio SOL we want to emphasize further that it is precisely such abstraction and generosity that coins the nature of the things we are asked to approach today, in our case architecturally.
The background to this shows itself by nature manifold, however renders itself in our concern visible as that “with the changing of societies on local, national and international scales owing to economic, ecological, political and technological developments and crises, a reorganized academic landscape can be observed to be emerging”8. One commonly seen as being motivated by the long-spanning transformations of what has early been characterized as ’post-industrial societies’9 (Illich 1973), was inversely addressed as ‘post-modern condition’10 (Lyotard 1979), and what is today being realized in a digital humanism, in “being human in a hyperconnected era”11 (Floridi 2015)—newly forming »informational« cultural identities with a novel chance and novel needs, challenging our living and built environments all-embracingly. Sarkis’ contextualization above can be read as one expression of such. ‘Anthropocene/capitalocene’, ‘eco-sophies’, ‘digital activism’, ‘algorithmic cultures and security’, ‘the inhuman’12, the broad thematic topics of post-humanist discourses as more elaborated others, also showing that however immediate and captivating the current architectural discussion might get, the questions it raises come with a track. Growingly in- yet, up to now, more extensively outside of our discipline.
The figure we aim to foreground here is the following: If with production, in relation to industrial societies, we can see forms of »industriousness« as playing the central role in people’s lives (private, public, professional; »productivity« as a means to qualify), with shifted terms towards an information paradigm, this referent changes and with it our relation to the world.
Countering the project of rendering the human being a master of nature, as ascribed to modern movements, we can think with contemporary philosophers like Michel Serres, that it is today through information, which “circulates through the inert, living and human world, where everything and everyone emits it, receives it, exchanges it, conserves it and processes it”13, how this scheme can be remodelled in a fruitful way. Information “constitutes the bedrock of thinking”14 and elevates that “thinking means inventing: getting hold of rarity; discovering the secret of that which has the huge and contingent chance to exist or to be born tomorrow - ‘natura’, nature, means that which will be born”15, human and non-human alike.
Hence, so we argue, to design and build with(in) such architectonic relation of world and imagination, we shall open up to perspectives that face a critical and inventive architectural practice. Furthermore, as architects, we shall take into account but not really focus on knowledge one already has or hasn‘t gained, instead concentrate all the more on information that surrounds us all equally in everything that can be known. We shall learn to act climatically, fearless and playfully augment the given, »data«, like an adventurer does, to find momentary stability, »stasis«, in the know-, live- and buildable plenty.
“Men may affirm this
and the plants perhaps
And on this earth alone
which is ours
The sun master of our lives
far off indifferent
He is the visitor – an overlord
he enters our house.”16
After travelling to America in 1936 and experiencing what he called the ‘urban chaos’, Le Corbusier was confronted with the same question we have started from, ‘how to live?’, and he answered it with a sign of the twenty-four hours cycle marking one solar day, entitled: “This is the measure of our urban enterprise.”17 In Studio SOL we pick up a similar gesture as Le Corbusier yet rooting it in an altered state.
Without a doubt, much has changed since »modern« times, specifically as we face today how modern infrastructures (social and technological, intellectual and emotional) exchange their proclaimed neutral state into at times very challenging characters. The differences appearing between Le Corbusier’s and Sarkis’ line of reasoning on a similar question, from within a similar environment and a distance of eighty years, can be seen as paradigmatic for this. “Knowing how to live is the fundamental question before modern society, everywhere, in the whole world“18, this is what Le Corbusier pointed out before making it a topic of ‘habitation’. Sarkis picks up on this question today, making it timely a topic of ‘in-habitation’19. In the Studio we address the latter with parts of the former, working on living-spaces just under the sun.
In today’s still foremost urban driven architectural discussion, interiors are mostly considered of minor importance. While, thinking with Andrea Branzi, “their design should instead be seen as a way to update the city with functions and activities which architecture [from an enhanced urban planning point of view] is traditionally unable to provide for”20. In a way, as the backside of the same coin, interior-architecture, to be distinguished from interior-styling and industrial-design, comes with a rich history of forms and techniques of imagining an architecture that, other than wanting to provide a stage, is able to take an active role in life and in generously imagining it. “An interior is a concept, and the quality of the space or habitat is made up of the quality of the objects which are inside and of the materials that make it up.”21
Approaching subjects temporally and with a point of view up-close, interior-architecture offers traditionally the sensibilities and quickness to invent and embody forms of togetherness. While on the same time it is still up to us to update it into a craft with a technologically augmented and climatically mixed view of what can be considered as inside, or »interior« from Latin »inter-« ‘among, between, betwixt, in the midst of’, today; to learn to see how every room can connect to the whole world and how in turn every room can bring the whole world with it.
1 FRIEDRICH HEBBEL, TAGEBÜCHER - BAND 1, DE GRUYTER, 2017
3-4,7,19 WWW.LABIENNALE.ORG/EN/NEWS/BIENNALE-ARCHITETTURA-2020-HOW-WILL-WE-LIVE- TOGETHER
6 LASZLO MOHOLY-NAGY, VISION IN MOTION, WISCONSIN CUNEO PRESS, 1947
9 IVAN ILLICH, TOOLS FOR CONVIVIALITY, FONTANA/COLLINS, 1975
10 FRANCOIS LYOTARD, THE POSTMODERN CONDITION, MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1984
11 LUCIANO FLORIDI (ED.), THE ONLIFE MANIFESTO, SPRINGER, 2015
12 R. BRAIDOTTI; M. HLAVAJOVA (EDS.), POSTHUMAN GLOSSARY, BLOOMSBURY PRESS, 2018
13-15 MICHEL SERRES, “INFORMATION AND THINKING” (TRANS.: J. VISSER), LECTURE AT PHILOSOPHY AFTER NATURE UTRECHT, 2014
16 LE CORBUSIER, POEM OF THE RIGHT ANGLE, HATJE CANTZ, 2012
17-18 LE CORBUSIER, WHEN THE CATHEDRALS WERE WHITE, MCGRAW-HILL PAPERBACK EDITION, 1964
20-21 WWW.DOMUSWEB.IT/EN/DESIGN/2018/01/18/ ANDREA-BRANZI-PREHISTORY-IS-NOT-OVER. HTML
This text gathers the opening words to VOICES — A Series of Talks on »How to Live?«:
#1 Vera Bühlmann
#2 Kristupas Sabolius
#3 Gabi Schillig