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INTERVIEW

Exploring architecture

A. SRIVATHSAN

`Architecture is not about creating forms but about affecting life,' says Ole Bouman.


Architects must explore territories where architectural intelligence will make a contribution.



LOOK TO THE FUTURE: Ole Bouman

Ole Bouman is the editor-in-chief of the Volume Magazine published from Netherlands. Volume is an international collaborative project between three institutions: Archis, the Dutch architectural magazine, C-Lab the Columbia Laboratory for Architectural Broadcasting a think-tank unit of Graduate School of Architecture Columbia University and AMO, the research and design studio of the Office for the Metropolitan Architecture Netherlands. Ole Bouman also served as a critic for the Any Magazine, New York. Excerpts from a recent interview.

What understanding of architecture does your magazine promote?

To me, architecture is not an autonomous art object nor is it only about bricks and mortar. It is both a practical discipline and as well as metaphor to look at our world. It is an important cultural force and a vehicle for our social life. It is a channel through which we focus on issues that affect our life and through it we also think about solutions. It is a battlefield and an arena where many stakeholders lay claim. It is also about ethics. Architecture is an important intellectual activity and a cultural force.

How does this understanding manifest in print?

We do not present buildings as stand-alone objects against the blue sky and without people in them. Neither do we cater to the pride of personalities behind it. We do not show how buildings are built, like procedures and methods. What we look at is: why? We want to know why certain decisions were made in a certain manner and how it manifests in architecture. Why is an awkward question. It reveals the intentions and embarrasses the architects.

Each issue of the magazine is organised around a theme that is larger than architecture. For example we look at power. We ask what architecture does to the issue of power. Our pictures of buildings are not just documentary in nature but they are always contextualised and carry associative referential pictures. The writings are not just observations; they provoke debate, offer situations, scenarios, solutions and trajectories.

`Why' some time leads to excessive theorising. How do you cope with that?

Theory can end up as an isolated ghetto and a self-congratulatory mechanism, without aspiration, concern and sense or urgency. Our writers are not super specialists. I like writings and writers who can easily jump from one topic to other and connect them. I need writers with freethinking, one who can make proposals, who can be an essayist with surplus intelligence — who knows more than his/her own field. Writings must aspire to create social transformation.

This is not a new concept. For example, Modern architecture believed in social engineering. In what way do you think this period and your views are different?

The problem with the modern movement was that it reduced life to very simple parameters like traffic, leisure, living and working. We know that life and cities cannot be planned only based on this. We are now aware that there are many more complex issues. Cities are no more homogenous and we cannot afford to impose dream situations and dream scenarios. We are much more closer to realism than ever before. We are wiser from our mistakes, more open; understand nature better and also the role of market. What I propose is to look at architecture as a tactical intervention, as a means to challenge market realism and other suffocating practices. Architecture is not about creating forms but about affecting life.

Netherlands is now considered an important centre of contemporary architecture. The Dutch contribution to contemporary practice is its emphasis on the process of design based on data, analysis and scenarios. What difference has the Dutch paradigm made to architecture?

Some of the attempts to use data to transform the situation, to break open new debate, make issues visible and engage people through an architectural visualisation is a great achievement. Genuine exploration of things like Parallax, new spatial experiences using computers, man-man and man-computer relationship are appreciable.

There are equal if not more number of attempts that simply use data, process and technology to legitimise innovative forms, to promote individual genius and assert the autonomy of architecture. They have ended up producing landmark buildings than do anything about the situation. It is a trick to grab attention. Dutch architects were a force when they were open and explored creatively. I think they lost their edge when they got conscious of being a Dutch.

You were part of the ANY conferences that attempted to chart a new agenda for architecture. You coined a popular aphorism, "Do not save architecture but spend it". What do you propose by this?

Architects are feeling a sense of siege. They look at how market and others have taken up their profession; all they are left with is to use architecture as an aesthetic device. I understand this situation but I am not for any kind of protectionism of the profession or making it autonomous. Instead what I see as a part of the future is to open the boundaries of disciplines. Architects must explore territories where architectural intelligence will make a contribution. New media, animation, publication and politics are some of the territories I have in mind. If I use the analogy of money, instead of safekeeping, invest the money, spend it and multiply the assets. To me, this is a possible future for architecture.

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