LIBERTY, EMERGENCY, PARANOIA
By Camilo Restrepo O.
No longer understood in a local manner, the planet, supposedly, is interconnected.
What happens in other countries can have repercussion in the economy or
in local cultures in a matter of minutes; it follows that certain cultures
are epicenters and others peripheries and, therefore, that reactions in
the former are felt on the periphery. Although this is everywhere spoken
of, and all media seem to push it as ideal, in some of the “third
world” countries this situation is not absolutely certain.
The daily events of our geography give us no time to think things through
In a country where it is simply a news day like any other independently
of whether a new drain on petroleum reserves is discovered, or if guerrillas
or paramilitary operatives attack a town, destroying it, or if corrupt
public officials embezzle from the government once again, or if one more
of the “top” models effects another aesthetic operation; the
media and society alike pay no attention, while in the end, the system
proffers an unconscious operation of continuous, collective escape: “let
whoever is able save themselves, however they can.”
Amidst this stampede, spatial relations and the limits of the city and
the country confound us. These undo and strengthen one another, putting
in the veracity of the system and the manner of operating therein in quotes,
as much for architects as for the inhabitants themselves.
The state does not predict the development of cities, the majority of
which have no guide for the development of public space. On the other
hand, municipalities do not invest money in works of architecture, and
architecture does not play or signify a role in the image that our culture
projects of itself; it is not a form of self-representation or identity.
Our city’s cultural authorities, such as museums or cultural spaces,
are almost invisible, monopolized or in the best of cases antiquated systems.
So that, finally, we have no reference besides self-reference.
Against this background, the city is dead, entombed, and as such open
to receive any type of speculation, be it in real estate, or cultural
and spatial. Under these factors, the city is simply an accumulation of
people, cars, buildings. Cities, at the end of it all, are the reflection
of their inhabitants and their social, cultural and economic structure.
But in this situation when the city receives and welcomes whatever force,
it is understood, then, that the future of these urban territories remains
in the hands of whoever develops and reclaims them; that is to say, it
is indeterminate. Our cities cannot give themselves the luxury of self-indeterminating
themselves until we destroy them and/or building themselves according
to the real estate boom it falls to us to live.
In what way can architects plan other forms of intervening in the city?
The architect-thinker, -actor and -traveler knows how to negotiate his
operative models with the economic pressures of investors, the lack of
control, and the interests and political ignorance of the current public
It is necessary to carry out a plan of action (1) to analyze, understand
and intervene in certain phenomena of the city that impede the implementation
of new devices. Possibly, comprehending where and in what way the insertion
of other variables is feasible, it will be simpler to generate epicenters.
It is not just the analysis of the physical system that produces options.
In fact, it is in the systems of information and discussion where it is
urgent to construct areas for the existence of a responsive, multipolar
critique. Because for architects and their affiliated professions, the
world still is not a web. Some believe and labor desiring a clear field
from which they can shoot from a trench, under the pretext of experience
and ambition. In this way, there is no interchange of information, no
variables. From here emerges the static-ness of the system, the invariant
of our situation.
“A profession which, in essence, only complains, will never be capable
of realizing any constructive contribution.” (3) In these conditions,
it is not possible to continue believing that architecture is, “[t]he
wise and beautiful play of volumes beneath the sun,” but rather
of situations and systems: night, day, rain, mist, temperature, materials,
desires, economy, movement, etc. It would be an error not to think this
way: the city, through its affectations, phenomena, necessities and organizations
is ever more radicalized in its forms of development and in its structure.
Perhaps the vagueness that the city offers is a possibility of action
on a metropolitan scale which few world cities world can offer. Possibly
intermediate cities, such as ours, peripheries to the world of epicenters,
offer greater liberties and possibilities. A new field of action. New
areas of work and intervention. Our cities present few areas that are
absolutely consolidated; a lack of a historical centers preserved and
respected; the fact of not having to respect the borders between municipalities;
all this offers spaces for liberty of action, which under an adequate
plan of DEVELOPMENT can produce other ways of relating among ourselves
and constructing another look and possibly another form of city.
“Without doubt, we are assisting the split of architecture’s
ambitions from contemporary society.” (4)
In our environment it is possible that it not be a split, because the
two have simply never been united. It is even better if we assist in the
opening of interstices, intermediate space, negotiators between radicalized
poles. In these “inter-stices,” the relevant thing is the
creation of groups of action that think, act and prepare a “sub-version”
of the establishment. This can be the manner of operating, of considering
what is important and how to carry it out.
It is then when the operative dilemma arises: From what and how is architecture
made when it is thought globally, but lives locally? An architecture that
is capable of moving itself and changing according to the exigencies that
are made of it on different, multiple fronts?
Architects can reevaluate the practice of architecture and redeem its
participation. For this to happen, it is necessary to create new (5) programs,
new situations (6) (new manners of inhabiting, of entertaining oneself,
of moving oneself, other zones of intervention) that identify contemporary
necessities. Programs that demand the participation of architects as something
indispensable, letting the necessities spring from them, going a little
further forward. This is a phase that should be complemented by the development
of new legal politics for the use of land, the creation of resources for
the development of public space on the part of administrative establishments,
and the creation of mixed entities (public-private) for educational investment
These personal ideological diversions do not pretend to be a “must”
or a “should,” in the manner of a dogma or the only path to
face some situations that might permit one to work in another manner,
a manner a little more in harmony with the forces and currents that alter
us and guide our operative, socio-cultural reality. On the contrary, it
is the possibility of searching out new ways to look at the construction
or the interpretation of new corridors of action. To reevaluate aspects
and places, programs and memories that in some way always have been suspended
in the air or ignored, that for diverse reasons have not been preferred
or only understood and looked at in a feigned manner.
It is through the good use of these, still-ethereal, situations that make
it possible to undertake a re-definition of the city and the manner of
operating within it. The trick, possibly, is to have the ability to see
architecture as an open system of transference, where in a specific manner
one or more present, possible or desired situations intensify, emphasize,
interchange or cross with one another. And of being capable of capturing
these situations together.
It is, then, on the basis of manipulating systems of transference (7)
that this “new” manner can occur, the “new” programs,
so that the unexpected immediately takes a position that stimulates and
permits new liberties of spatial operation, making of these strategies
something possible that inevitably constitutes new forms of order.
A plan of action is an idea to be inserted in a system, an attitude that
can be as simple as the written protest for or against a phenomena, or
the imagining of new strategies of direct intervention on the city. In
a first phase, these do not need to be built interventions.
2) If it is possible to understand the manner of intervention in the city
through the implantation of multiple devices of ‘epicentric’
character, it can be speculated that on crossing the waves of influence
of these and on their dispersing themselves, these can appear as intermediate
spaces. These--in turn interconnected--can form a new net, a substructure
of new phenomena and conditions. Which would help to de-radicalize the
3) REM KOOLHAAS, Conversations with students, GG, 2002
5) That which by definition separates from what has already appeared,
6) The model of inhabiting should be able to extend itself: parks that
are covered with other building; the technological cowboys that considered
the field as (R)URBAN; the demystification of technics as architectural
ideology; the revalidation of the fact that architecture is made starting
7) Transference: It can be understood as the passage of phenomena and/or
situations registered or induced by one place to another. As well as augmentation,
collage, reduction, focalization, or whatever other type of intentional
by: Benjamin Davis
text was published in "Casa tomada" Magazine. in Medellín,