International Conference at RIBA

Seven hours of total talk time was streamed yesterday by Dezeen covering RIBA’s International Conference. Of course, no sane person could listen to all of it in one go, so it is impossible to do a proper summary of this mind-destroying marathon where amount of smart stuff was equal to amount of incredibly stupid remarks. For example, this small note from Dr Joan Clos, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme – “urbanisation became the new normal for people to live on this planet”, should have made everybody question if he is not a new Nostradamus. But then he quickly repaired the damage with his, surprisingly, open description on how and why mayors suck up to investors (which is too long and confusing to type here).

It was inevitable that during seven hours of talking somebody will give some stupid remarks. It is also inventible that you will yawn and will start looking for a pillow, however there were some sharper and more interesting presentations. Often these were the ones which surprised with honesty. Like self-critical notes by David Chipperfield: “[As architects] we have retreated from any ambition beyond our building plot” and plain open statement: “Masterplan is urban planning without a vision”. Sure, these and similar comments will not blow you away, however they were clear minded sober descriptions of existing situation.

“[As architects] we have retreated from any ambition beyond our building plot” –  David Chipperfield

Richard Sennett in his regard quickly summarized 3 key principles from Habitat III (United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development which promotes new vision for urban design): 1. Porous edges of communities. Focus on the edge not the center to prevent social separation. 2. Mixed use. 3. Colonization. Let people colonize structures and cities. Fill empty voids around infrastructure with activities. Colonize wasted, useless spaces.

If first half of the conference was all about talking and nothing showing, second part exploited advantages of modern projection capabilities and we could witness some projects. Presenters were architects who on some level could be called activists or they have made some socially engaging projects. Even though Urban-Think Tank gave very energetic and interesting talk about every slum in the world, arguably the main presentation of the evening was by Diébédo Francis Kéré – a hardly-known man behind this year’s Serpentine Gallery pavilion. It was very light, soft, personal talk about his projects. He described how building process itself could be inspiring and how people in remote villages in Africa see construction as a theatre. Inspirational and engagement part of building is much more important to Kéré than just meeting functional criteria.

If you have no urge to see all the talks from this conference (and you should not), then just pick the ones by your beloved architects or if you have none – tune in to Diébédo Francis Kéré. He was something different.

Diébédo Francis Kéré from 21 minute:

Full list of talks can be found on Dezeen.

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