Design and Politics: the next phase
2 - On the Surface of Architecture?

28 July 2011

The second in a series of seven thematic debates taking place in 2011/2012. 'Design and Politics: the next phase' was initiated by ANCB The Metropolitan Laboratory in collaboration with Henk Ovink, Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. Making the physical city has become more of an 'urban technique' as material researchers and developers increasingly collaborate with designers, architects, and engineers to apply new materials and technologies. But are these instrumental collaborations emerging in response to opportunities presented for architectural design or to a societal demand for sensory stimulation in city experience? Is the surface of the city replacing urban structure as the new meaning of urban fabric? How can we make city out of skin?

Part I: Introduction

Part II: Statements and Discussion

Part 1
Welcome and Introduction
Hans-Jürgen Commerell
, Director, ANCB The Metropolitan Laboratory - 00:00 - 02:58
Áine Ryan, Programme Manager, ANCB The Metropolitan Laboratory - 03:00 - 08:33
Henk Ovink, Director for National Spatial Planning at the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment - 08:34 - 15:29

Part II
Thomas Auer
, Partner, Transsolar Climate Engineering, Stuttgart - 00:00:00 - 00:07:06
Joop Paul, Director, ARUP Amsterdam, Professor of Structural Design Technical University Delft - 00:07:15 - 00:12:16
Florian Idenburg, Founding partner, Solid Objectives - Idenburg Liu (SO-IL), New York - 00:12:24 - 00:17:44
Stefan Behnisch, Founding partner, Behnisch Architects, Stuttgart - 00:17:50 - 00:23:15
Pauline Terreehorst, Author and advisor on urban culture, former director Utrecht City Museum - 00:23:25 - 00:31:08

Podium Discussion
moderated by Henk Ovink, Director for National Spatial Planning at the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment - 00:31:09 - 01:52:39

Henk Ovink launched the debate with the assertion that making city has become a matter of ‘urban technique’ as material researchers and developers collaborate with architects and engineers to apply new materials and technologies at all scales. He then posed a series of provocative questions: Is the surface of the city replacing urban structure in terms of emphasis? Is this focus on skin driven by technology or culture? How can we make city out of skin? How can skin engage with politics?

The podium presentations that followed raised a number of issues, such as the fact that ‘ecological concerns are driving the emphasis on skin but the totality of urban fabric must be transformed’ [Thomas Auer]; ‘sustainability must be accompanied by a sense of place’ [Joop Paul]; ‘building skin now carries temporary information rather communicating fixed symbolism’ [Florian Idenburg]; ‘until it is mastered technology will dominate the treatment of skin’ [Stefan Behnisch]; and the need for ‘a cultural policy for open, polyvalent playscapes engaging all of the senses’ [Pauline Terreehorst].
The discussion began with the observation that while pre-modern cities evolved holistically in response to local conditions, contemporary pressures have minimised the thickness of building skin and maximised the demands placed on it. Against this trend, several participants advocated for comprehensive ‘rules’ for climate-responsive city making that are informed by rigorous ongoing debate among professionals and an educated public.

It was agreed that building performance assessment and the establishment of empirical targets are required to guide the incremental urban renewal that has replaced the creation of new structure. However, there was equal support for qualitative analysis according to collective values identified through public discussion. In this context, it was agreed that contemporary architectural education fails through its overreliance on technical tools. It was suggested that architects must be educated to operate in political terms and mediate complex discussion processes. It was proposed that these skills might allow designers to make more constructive use of their power to experiment and provoke debate.

Throughout the discussion, a secondary thread rejected a focus on the material in favour of the provision of space for the imagination, cultural expression, and the unplanned. This led to a general acknowledgement that the public realm is critical to the experience and quality of the city.

Summary by Matthew Beattie for ANCB The Metropolitan Laboratory

We would like to thank the following institutions and enterprises for their generous support:
Netherlands Ministry for Infrastructure and Environment
Netherlands Architecture Fund
Netherlands Embassy in Berlin
Pfefferberg - Haus 13
Kling und Freitag

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