The [architecture] coming insurrection*

Ethel Baraona Pohl and César Reyes Nájera

“Revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance. Something that is constituted here resonates with the shock wave emitted by something constituted over there.… An insurrection is not like a plague or a forest fire — a linear process which spreads from place to place after an initial spark. It rather takes the shape of a music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythms of their own vibrations, always taking on more density.”

― The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection.

The world has changed and so do the role of the architect. We’re facing new ways of thinking, of trading, of acting. On this arena of speculation, the first step when moving into this new scenario should be to realize that in the end, the crisis is just a way of governing and it’s up to us to legitimate it or not.

Under the existing dominant society, which produces the miserable pseudo-games of non-participation, a true civic and urban activity is necessarily. The re-emergence of Huizinga and Situationist’s homo ludens seems almost a need again, to discover new ways of interact with the city. The feeling that the [architecture] coming insurrection is close, can be smelled in the air, it can be perceived from autonomous organisation of the prosumers of the new culture, aside from existing political and ideological establishments, as we all together “can dispute institutions’ capacity to organise anything other than the management of that which already exists” [1] and because such institutions cannot prevent what they are not able to imagine yet.

The riposte of the revolutionary citizens to these old conditions must be a new type of action. Architects and related disciplines have a social, economic and political responsibility and is in our hands to give formal proposals as answers to the current situation. According to the political analyst Francis Fukuyama [2], the satisfaction of certain human beings depend on recognition that is inherently unequal, and this inequality is why our implication becomes a need. How can we avoid the historical pessimism mentioned by Fukuyama and change our paradigms? Manfredo Tafuri pointed on his book “Architecture and utopia: design and capitalist development[3] “Architecture now undertook the task of rendering its work “political.” As a political agent the architect had to assume the task of continual invention of advanced solutions, at the most generally applicable level. In the acceptance of this task, the architect’s role as idealist became prominent.” We can see that this need for political implication is nothing new; it’s now time to demystify complex ideologies and work from the basis of our practice. The city is here to stay, to grow, to de-grow, to change and transform; and the role of the architect needs to adapt itself to these transformations.

There are so many lessons that we can learn from the convulsed, immediate past that had left cities full of the undeniable presence of the so-called “in between spaces” [physical and non-physical], where there is another field of action for architecture, so we can try to address real challenges as a response to the current economic and geopolitical relationships. In times when the word “drone” is taking more importance than the word “dream”, it’s easy to understand that we need to act, and to act now. Not from our wonderful and shiny studios, but to go back to the street, to talk with people in a daily basis, to reinforce the presence of concepts such as “prosociality”, “urban empathy” and “relational”. We’re facing one of the most wonderful times in years, because there is an opportunity to take action. It’s time to think how we should be organizing to confront what already exists while working for the world to come. The close and direct relationship with other agents is more important than ever, because architects are just one more piece of a bigger puzzle called society. According to Keller Easterling on her essay “Zone: The Spatial Softwares of Extrastatecraft[4]: “Today urban space has become a mobile, monetized technology, and some of the most radical changes to the globalizing world are being written, not in the language of law and diplomacy, but rather in the spatial information of infrastructure, architecture and urbanism.” If Easterling is describing the real “now”, we can see the importance of the role of the architect to address real changes in the urban environment.

But how to do that? How to address a real change? There are new tools that we can use, the growing presence of digital media as communication tool, new forms of economics and trade, such as crowdfunding, social money and micropayments, based on the confidence and support of the network; are here to stay. Bottom-up urban strategies can be a real catalyst for change in our cities; the use of empty spaces are setting the stage for a new commons where urban conflicts can be solved by understanding the dynamics of each community. In cities as Madrid or Barcelona, which are being increasingly privatized, we have witnessed powerful citizen movements, and grassroots groups, including Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) and the housing groups from 15M assemblies, who are working to stop and transform the foreclosure processes, being capable of stopping housing evictions and even forcing legal framework changes.

Is this the age of co-op? The age of Adhocracy? Maybe is the age of conviviality. As pointed by Ivan Illich [5], "tools foster conviviality to the extent to which they can be easily used, by anybody, as often or as seldom as desired, for the accomplishment of a purpose chosen by the user." Thus, convivial tools should be accessible, flexible, and non-coercive and we all should have access to them. While the global economy seems to be collapsing, time has come to recover conviviality as a leitmotifof our work. To transform dissatisfaction into serious proposals to start taking back the city for the citizens, to remove the distinction of public and private in the urban environment, we must learn to "feel" the city again.

It must be very presumptuous trying to give answers or recipes to avoid this symptomatic crisis and to radically change the situation only from the conventional architectural practice. We must be humble enough to open our senses and start thinking about the city in new ways, beyond our formal-architecture-knowledge in a dérive, through a playful and constructive behavior, that can drive us to work for this necessary insurrection.

Text courtesy of the authors. First published in ‘The Last Issue’, Conditions, 2014.

dpr-barcelona is an architectural research practice based in Barcelona, dealing with three main lines: publishing, criticism and curating. Their work explore how architecture as discipline reacts in the intersection with politics, technology, economy and social issues. Their publications, both digital and printed, transcend the boundaries of conventional publications, exploring the limits between printed matters and new media. Their [net]work is a real hub linking several publications and actors on architecture and theory.

Ethel Baraona Pohl Critic, writer and curator [but she prefers Professional Amateur].

César Reyes Nájera PhD on Bio-climatic construction systems and materials.

*The Coming Insurrection is a French political tract about the "imminent collapse of capitalist culture", written by The Invisible Committee, and first published in 2007 by French company La Fabrique
Situationist Manifesto. Internationale Situationniste#4. 1960.[visited on January 2013]

Fukuyama, Francis. The end of history and the last man. Free Press, 1989.

Tafuri, Manfredo. Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development. MIT Press, 1979.

Keller Easterling,“Zone: The Spatial Softwares of Extrastatecraft[visited on June 2011]

Illich, Ivan. Tools for Conviviality. Harper & Row, 1973.