Andrea Branzi and Eva Le Roi (part of Venice Biennale’s Luxembourg Pavilion)
«Post-city», the theme proposed by the Luxembourg Pavilion for the XIII Biennale of Architecture in Venice requires a long process of reflection and research. Part of the «Common Ground» topic initiated by David Chipperfield, it must not be merely a striking slogan for the benefit of architects who have never reflected on this subject and whose sole concern is to «construct» as many parts of the town as possible…
Already at the XIth biennale a similar topic was proposed to leading architects: «Architecture beyond building». This was interpreted as a kind of improvised vacation, an excursion into the unknown territory of Art by professionals whose main ( and legitimate ) interest was in constructing square kilometers of «buildings»
My purpose in making these introductory remarks is to stress that this topic highlights one of the central aspects of the crisis of architecture in the XXIst century. The Post-City is neither a utopia nor science fiction, but the most realistic mirror of what already exists.
To put it plainly: The Post-City is not hypothetical possibility for the future, it is the city of the present. A city in which architecture has lost its role as a «central scenario of history» and has instead become «non figurative « that is to say an accessory, cataconic, inexpressive presence. Its role is limited to that of creating «exalted and isolated icons» that do not bear witness or anyhting or produce shared emotion. Realities that are rapidly submerged in social indifference, are already old when they are born and convey messages that are increasingly self-referential.
The city is no longer «an ensemble of architectural boxes» but an invasive and sprawling plancton of information, relations, services, consumer goods and persons. These realities produce an enormous expressive energy that is seductive and uncontrollable and derives architecture of space and of its role.
The Post-city is the most obvious sign of the great transformation that has characterised design in the XXIst century, the transition of Western society from architectural civilisation to consumer civilisation. It is an extreme effect of the Industrial Revolution. In the last century it was erroneously interpreted as the central role of the machine, the factory and the rationality of artificial technoologies.
The «consumer civilisation» is the result of the huge productive effort of the entire industrial apparatus, which has created a devastating, anarchic and unpredictable environmental effect. The markets for this civilisation today extend from China to South America, and the phenomenon goes by the name of globalisation.
The Post-City mut be understood as part of this new historical framework, existing within this molecular and dynamic reality consisting of commodities. The exportable nature of the commoditites fluidifies the world’s territory, in which national borders are becoming blurred, becoming an opaque tissue, traversable, non-specialised, operating in «post-Fordian» fashion. It is the product of a «creative» society, which, in order to compete internationally, must daily produce innovation through entrepeneurial activity for mass consumption.
A city in which everything is contaminated and hybridised, as in the Oriental megalopolises in which the living live together with the dead, technology together with sacred animals, fiction together with theology.
A society that is not developing in a single direction but is looking for provisional, reversible and incomplete solutions in order to positevely manage the state of permanent crisis in which capitalism is developing. The Post-City is the city of capitalism, where the only laws are those of the market and the market is entirely identified with society; where the apparent liberty of the individual coincides with the apparent liberty of everyone…
The historical reality that I am trying to describe is not an apocalyptic reality. It is not the end of history; on the contrary is it the beginning of a new story in which design ( lacking direction ) must reflect its deep foundations ( which are not the professional ones ) on the basis of its own existence, in the face of a society of 7 billion people who want «everything and the opposite of everything», who are attracted by novelty but also hostile to it..
Globalisation is not producing a uniform mentality or universal peace. On the contrary, it is leading to violent ethical or religious conflicts based on support for or opposition to cultural hybridation, support for or oposition to the contamination of traditions created by the invasive power of the economy ( and of arms ).
This society is standardised in appearance only. In reality it is a society that constantly has to experiment on and with itslef, its own imperfections and inadequacies, probing its own anthropological foundations but also trying to ensure that they do not become insurmountable walls.
It is a society that must overcome modern rigidity and false oppositions between town and country, agriculture and architecture, tolerance and intolerance.
The Post-City consists of a territory lacking an external reference point but teeming with connections, conflicts and contradictions, in which everything is provisional, where billions of images and of messages converge and interact but even in their totality still do not succeed in building a «new cathedral»