The idea of architecture as multidisciplinary and socio-politically engaged underpins this reader. The editors, Markus Miessen and Shumon Basar, have brought architectural theorists together with historians, anthropologists, activists, curators, policy-makers and other experts under one conceptual umbrella as ‘spatial practitioners’. In the introduction they declare: ‘rather than being yet another publication dealing with the state of contemporary architecture as a crisis of style or shape, this book attempts to dismantle the idea of “the architect” being the one in charge of space.’ Many of the contributors are associated with the relatively new Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths College, London.
The book’s no-nonsense layout, interspersed with contributions by visual artists, was created by graphic design team Åbäke, who used their ‘Olive Nouveau’ typeface. The jacket apes an old schoolbook: an atlas of sorts, but one that maps an extended academic circle and its response to a built world being radically reshaped by conflict and globalization.
Accordingly, the book deals with subjects as diverse as the experiences of a UN aid worker in Iraq, the geo-politics of water in Nepal, Berlin’s ruined centre, a day around the Gate of Damascus in Jerusalem, the European Kunsthalle in Cologne and Rebecca Gompert’s extraterritorial floating abortion clinic. In some sections the writing tends to be a bit leaden, but by way of recompense there are also contributions that are hard-hitting and cogently argued, for instance, Stephen Graham’s ‘Remember Fullujah: Demonizing Place, Constructing Atrocity’, a sharply honed critique of military strategy, orientalist dehumanization and urban warfare. (Did you know that the US army offers a kind of recruitment-driven free computer game called America’s Army, which apparently includes simulations of ‘counter terror warfare in densely packed Islamic cities’?) Equally tough is Eyal Weizman’s essay ‘Architecture, Power Unplugged: Gaza Evacuations’, which examines the arguments and proposals for new uses, or the demolition, of evacuated Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip: a complex situation that Weizman calls ‘a rare opportunity to question […] the possible reuse of architecture, in particular the architecture of exclusion, violence, and control at the moment such architecture is unplugged from the socio-political-military power that had been sustaining it’.
Visual arts related contributions include Celine Condorelli and Beatrice Gibson’s ‘Mumbai City Dictionary’, a documentation project about orientation in a mega-city where the GPS signals are scrambled and no map exists. In his essay ‘The Museum of the Future’ Peter Weibel argues for ‘unpredictable, incalculable, high-risk but risk loving’ institutions. Last but not least, Hans Ulrich Obrist heads up the book with a preface that includes a list of definitions of the future by artists, architects, science fiction authors and futurologists. Two favourites: ‘the future is overrated’ (Cerith Wyn Evans) and ‘the future will be repeated’ (Marlene Dumas).