THE BARTLETT SCHOOL OF ARCHITECT, UCL
RISKING EVERYTHING 2019-2020
What happens when risk and architecture collide?
Today, the perceived risk of strange uncertain things is normally greater than the presumed risk of the status quo. This year our unit will develop a creative understanding of risk and the unknown, as a critical instrument and new form of design practice. Risk taking requires determination and persistence, but most of all optimism, trust and curiosity. Through a synthesis of making, drawing, animation and testing, we will investigate the role of risk in architecture as a process and experience of design.
We will examine the ethics and poetics found in risk taking, and explore how the practice of architecture can become a mediator between research and informed speculation. We are interested in the artistic potential of working with technology, not only as a performance-oriented design parameter, but also as a process charged with aesthetic potential, craft, cultural identity and an ambition for sustainability. How can risk manifests itself in our working methods and outcomes?
THERE ARE KNOWN KNOWNS. THERE ARE THINGS WE KNOW THAT WE KNOW. THERE ARE KNOWN UNKNOWNS. THAT IS TO SAY, THERE ARE THINGS THAT WE NOW KNOW WE DON’T KNOW. BUT THERE ARE ALSO UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS. THERE ARE THINGS WE DO NOT KNOW WE DON’T KNOW.’
William Robert Graham, NASA Physicist.
GENERATION ANTHROPOCENE: A NEW LANDSCAPE FOR SPECULATION
We are living in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, where humans are the dominant force shaping the planet and where our own acts of design have forever changed the composition of the atmosphere. Though the Anthropocene appears to mark the moment humans have come to overpower nature, it is also an opportunity for radical speculation and innovation.
Our transformation of urban, natural and (post) human landscapes are changing culture and daily life. Soon AI will programme our planet and we will be surrounded by architectural spaces that are entirely empty of people, such as unmanned ports, data banks and server farms. Temporally, it requires that we imagine ourselves as inhabitants not just of a human lifetime, but also of “deep time” – the dizzyingly profound eras of Earth history that extend both behind and ahead of the present. Currently, our globalised consumer society is risking rendering the earth’s surface beyond repair. What risks must we take as architects to facilitate an environment that supports a symbiotic coexistence between our buildings and ecology, and between technology and human beings? What types of shared spaces and landscapes will emerge?
This year our unit will set it’s compass north, and Stockholm and Helsinki will become the test bed of our explorations. The Nordic countries cluster at the top of league tables of everything from economic competitiveness, social health to happiness, its social model prioritising the concept of Jantelagen: Its essence is a culture that emphasises the virtues of achieving things collectively over the individual, shared risk. Welfare is not just an aid to those who are in need of it, but a central part of the life of everybody. The fact that there is a social safety net to fall back on if a venture fails to take off, offers freedom to innovate, experiment and cultivates an appetite for risk taking.
Finland announces plans to become carbon neutral by 2035, but by 2025, it will have become a bio-economy model country. Finland’s forests are its green gold – renewable raw material that can be turned into products that are recyclable and that tackle climate change, and that have billions of users every day. In the meantime, rising temperatures will melt its permafrost and cause water levels to rise in the Baltic Sea, not only making rich mineral resources accessible to the world, but also opening up the northern sea to new shipping routes and one-quarter of the world’s untapped energy resources.
The Nordics spirit to experiment and take risks is partly made possible due to isolation, yet large-scale deployment of fibre optic infrastructure ensures that even people and communities living on remote islands have unrestricted access to cutting edge technologies.
We will begin our journey in Stockholm. Positioned at the northern fringe of Europe and along the shoreline of the Baltic Sea. Built over 14 islands, we will crisscross its archipelago of around 24,000 islands, remote islets and skerries in the hope to spot the famous Northern Lights. Scientists claim that the Earth’s north magnetic pole is shifting so fast that it could end up in Siberia within 50 years. We will traverse the rich history of the city and visit architecture designed by, and for, risk takers such as the underground server bunkers once home to WikiLeaks, to the bold architectural endeavours such as Ericsson Globe - the world’s largest spherical building.
We will then venture by boat to Helsinki across the Baltic Sea via Finland’s vast and remote islands. Upon arrival, we will explore the country’s architectural visionaries and pioneers, encountering the undulating force of Alvar Alto’s buildings, the poetic functionalism of Leiviskato, the unexpected Temppeliaukio Church excavated entirely out of rock, the serene Kamppi Chapel of Silence, the towering Olympic Stadium by Lindegren and Jäntti and the surreal Island fortifications of Suomenlinna.
Our focus will shift from the city to remote islands, taking a trip deep into the folklore of its past, and forward into the country’s vision of a sustainable future. We will explore extreme seasonal and climatic shifts, from the proliferation of algae blooms, dead zones to its frozen coastlines. Here we will attempt to walk across the ice to explore remote landforms with timber cabins, saunas, floating structures and experience life on the edge. The Nordic archipelago will become our source of inspiration. Our research and architectural response will be situated between nature and technology, culture and instinct. We are interested in exploring the fragile relationship between human occupation and the Nordic wilderness.