What’s up? 15 young european architects

Fifteen firms of young European architects show their most relevant works and meditate on the current conditions of design production. While pragmatically anchored to the present, this generation confronts the transition to a different, more cooperative and social, existential situation: to an architecture that can overcome the obsession for individual self-representation and formal and stylistic research in order to contribute to an ecology of interaction.

WHAT’S UP? is a call to attention. An invitation to look at what is happening in the European architectural scene.
Young people’s slang is used to describe a new generation of talented architects who know how to turn the tables on prejudice and reticence.
The book was designed to arouse curiosity and stimulate architectural critique by channeling it towards the results achieved by young generations of designers; the goal is to document and testify to the organizational capabilities and cultural training of younger firms in the context of an equal and not rash comparison with colleagues who have been active for a long time, through the tools of ideas and work procedures.
The selection involves 15 European firms whose members range between 30 and 40 years of age, described with a text and the publication of two of their projects, the first one they developed and the one they consider most significant. The selection was based on anagraphical aspects but also on the firms’ contribution to the current debate on the state of architecture.
Among the various selection criteria was the number of works carried out in connection with years of activity, as well as the will to identify projects with different functions, from which heterogeneous shapes, inspirations, intentions, results, materials and colors emerge. For some States, in cases where content was equal, another selection factor was a studio’s presence in the media.
While different educational backgrounds, project methodologies and action ranges emerge from the interviews (some plan mainly sport or religious buildings, others work in the poorest areas of the world), all firms equally highlight the importance of architectural research, interdisciplinarity, professional collaboration and context.
To listen to professionals who will try to plan future cities is as interesting as recording the experience of well-known architects.
I hope it will be evident that what caused this book to develop is my belief in freedom of expression and in the enthusiasm of young generations, in their ability to change predominant values, in the sacrifices made in the name of the passion for their job, and in the courage and recklessness of so many professional choices that characterize the beginning of one’s career.
Despite the unpromising economic and political situation we face today, I believe that tenacity and talent always provide astonishing results, and that listening to inexperienced architects’ original voices and ideas can be a winning weapon to create varied and more stimulating places.

Salvatore Spataro

The same music

Every time I hear the echo of Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd from my son’s headphones the familiarity of recognition merges with the surprise of an unexpected continuity of taste between generations. If they had told me forty years ago I wouldn’t have ever believed it: rock music was revolutionary form, ideological belonging, affirmation of identity and opposition to the old: simply unthinkable to share aesthetic pleasure with one’s parents. Broadening the gaze, one notices the same musical phenomenons of duration, or of postmodern copy and paste, cross the most varied forms of expression, and architecture isn’t an exception. But we can’t say that general or specific conditions have remained the same. This volume, dedicated to fifteen young architecture firms, gives voice to the first generation of digital natives, fully fluent in radically new languages, comfortable in a change comparable, for its explosive potential, to the one produced by Alberti and Brunelleschi. And it’s not just a matter of tools for specific disciplines, but of a total transformation of social interactions and forms of communication. The fact that all of this hasn’t (yet?) produced a recognizable space aesthetic is an unexpected as well as significant phenomenon. Some people sense in the characteristics of the web, in the extreme precision with which search engines return exactly what you look for, in the progressive isolation in social networks constructed by “likes”, the disappearance of the fuel for innovation, of the casual collisions with the unexpected to which the pre-digital epoch constantly exposed us. Others assign an important role to the consequences of the numerous crises (environmental, economic, ideological, demographic…) and to the just as many fall backs that ensued: especially in project-based disciplines, for which the “new” is less and less a socially recognized and shared value.
These reasons being true or not, it is evident that we are in a transition phase and the best way to understand it is to listen to its protagonists. A first fact that emerges from reading this book is precisely a certain marginality of the generational issue, as if the Freudian need to eliminate fathers has all of a sudden disappeared. Perhaps the early engagement with the concreteness of construction played a role in orienting the various approaches here collected towards a healthy proactive pragmatism, for which the expression of a specific position doesn’t necessarily have to pass through the emancipation from known paradigms. Activity that, in more isolated and sheltered fields such as academia, is actually still practiced with enthusiasm (even if there, usually, they try to eliminate the fathers exhuming the grandfathers…). The ambition which instead appears to be most shared by these young working architects is simply to do their work at their best, trying to maintain a certain integrity in regards to contextual conditions. Positions vary, from idealism at the limits of ingenuity to professionally realist approaches, but all are imbued with the will to take a distance from the cynicism and individualism we usually associate with the role of architects. The widespread distrust towards archistars’ ways and goals doesn’t therefore appear to be a perfunctory statement by those who, having been excluded by the game, declare their lack of interest in playing. It’s a different orientation, less obsessively directed towards individual self-representation via the shape of constructed outcomes. For these youngsters the project isn’t anymore a heroic act, à la Howard Roark, the fictional and romantic architect played by a tough Gary Cooper in Fonte meravigliosa. It’s not the result of the rare talent of a Gehry, or of a technological persistence, that sustains its feasibility. He doesn’t even rely on the paradoxical reversal of reality through its own contradictions, a narrative device on which Rem Koolhaas and his many pupils built their success. If, in the end, we manage to recognize a generational specificity, we must look for it for it in opposites: in a different existential condition, more collaborative and social, more careful to participate in a sort of ecology of interaction, in space and time, in choices and areas of expertise. A generation not particularly oppressed by its past or anxious to shape the future, and thus quite rooted in the present, precociously aware that in a rapidly transforming world the quality of the voyage is more important that reaching goals that are less and less identifiable.

Review by Giovanni Corbellini
Padova, 5 July 2012

About the author(s):

Architect MsD and PhD in Industrial Design, Marinella Ferrara is a senior researcher of Politecnico di Milano (Design Department) and an assistant professor at the Design School of the same institution. Her research are directed to the relationship between design and technological innovation. She is the author of several books and essays that link micro‐stories to the macrostructures for rethinking of the relationship between design and materials as a dynamics of the socio-technical innovation process.She is investigating in order to define the strategic role of design as driver for innovation trought interdisciplinary process. She has opened a personal focus on Mediterranean Design considered as emblematic expression of the contemporary geo‐political complessity. Other topics are: self-production design, relationship between design and crafts, the women’s Design in the mediterranean countries.


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