An architectural project is always about the definition of three fundamental aspects: how it is constructed, what it represents, which use it enables. Through these decisions architecture engages with the three spheres of the human condition: architecture is labour, as the very material effort of designing and constructing; architecture is work, as an object that can represent something other than itself; architecture is action, as the stage where human activity take place. A project is thus the articulation of power in the forms of hierarchy or cooperation, exploitation or solidarity, individuality or commonality that architecture establishes in its production and presence.
However, the most prominent character of our contemporary condition is the blurring of boundaries between the spheres of the human condition: labour, work and action are melted in the time-space continuous of capital, where no friction is allowed, no matter resists, no other rule is permitted. Our lives are captured within a continuous production line that endlessly trains our language, our capability to think, speak, remember and perform. Life circulates within the flattening horizon of growth producing the endless interior of urbanisation: building is everywhere, architecture is absent.
Within this overwhelming flow without end, unexpected urban conditions and collective rituals continuously surface as spaces of resistance outside the economic logic of urbanisation. These rituals of exchange and production of knowledge demand an architectural project that could host and represent them in the public sphere as alternative examples of collective life.
Savage Architecture is about imagining museums of the everyday that can stage the savage power of being human together.
Theatres of the Everyday
The histories that museums expose are rooted in human actions. The material culture that museums display is the outcome of everyday activities that a particular community performed in order to live: from hunting weapons to cooking utensils, from garments to written or visual documents, from art to technology, what we see in museums is a specific picture of an historical everyday. Furthermore artefacts and documents can be selected, organised and made accessible to the public with an illusion of objectivity, because of the temporal distance between those rituals and customs and today: such distance is at the core of the institutionalisation of knowledge.
Museums are mechanisms to construct a shared history. By selecting, preserving, displaying and making accessible a range of material cultures, museums not only address the public, but also define the perception of the individual with respect to the collective, of the people with respect to the territory, of the citizen with respect to the institutions. Spawned from the urge to define a national identity, the museum has always operated as guardian of a collective memory, as an apparatus that can construct and manipulate common knowledge. By preserving artefacts and constructing narratives, museums allow knowledge to be transmitted and accessed across generations. However this process is never neutral, and needs to be continuously challenged from the perspective of today.
The current acceleration of information production and exchange, fostered by the booming of social networks, challenges the traditionally stable, universal and coherent narrative proposed by the museum. In such perpetual everyday culture has become mostly a branch of the global financial market, a flux of information that requires smart communication and the management of prestige for the manipulation of economic value more than aesthetic, ethic or historical considerations. From this perspective museums still retain a powerful strategic role, perfectly reflected in the paramount importance that such typology played in triggering urban renewals and consecrating the “starchitects” of the last two decades. However the museum mission as public space open to the city and catalyst of the collective production and exchange of knowledge is quickly declining, substituted by digital platforms that are more inclusive towards community networks and marginal practices.
Acknowledging the crisis and the need of a civic role for the museum, ADS10 intend to challenge its institutional role, looking at how it can participate to the construction and representation of everyday practices in the city. The museum is an archive, a collection of object and documents, but also cultural space, a community centre, a research facility and a school where archiving, preserving, exhibiting, curating and producing knowledge at large are understood as actions that can enable diverse social groups to gather and participate to the collective life of the city. Rather than institutions for the preservation of the collective memory of a nation the museum can give voice to the multitude of different lives that inhabit the contemporary city: a theatre of the everyday that stages the labour, work and action that are continuously and collectively performed in the city.
One of the most striking examples of a museum where architectural form is able to turn the power of the institution into the potential of public space is the MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo), designed and realised by Lina Bo Bardi between 1957 and 1968. The Museum hosts the most important art collection in South America, yet it would be an important but relatively traditional cultural institution, if housed in a conventional building.
Walking along the bustling life of Avenida Paulista, squeezed between two lines of amassed high-rise buildings, one is suddenly confronted by a 70 meters long glass and concrete case fluctuating 8 meters above the ground. The volume exceeds the building line and lets the sidewalk flow under its 30 meters wide belly into a belvedere overlooking a valley of anonymous towers.
While the floating box contains the main gallery and office spaces and the semi-sunken podium hosts the auditorium, the restaurant and other exhibition facilities, the fulcrum of the project is the empty public space, the vão livre – free void – as Lina Bo Bardi called it. Suspending the volume of the museum, Bo Bardi turns the technical possibilities of pre-tense concrete into a deliberate epic gesture that exceeds any functional and programmatic preoccupation. The empty space of the MASP is vão – vain, useless – without a predefined function, but at the same time clearly defined in its form and therefore opened to unpredictable uses. As such the vão livre opposes the emptiness demanded by the smooth circulation of free market but also exceeds the Miesian negative abstraction, where absence itself is the work to be exhibited. On the contrary the void is free inasmuch as it captures the incessant flows of Avenida Paulista by staging the potential of collective relationships. Grafted at the very heart of the Brazilian economic space, the MASP opens a physical and symbolic hole in the continuous surface of capital: through its architectural form the museum reclaims a political space and horizon for the city. Liberated from the pervasive ideology of program, that is to say of predefined social and economic relationships, architecture stands in its savage monumentality, exposing in its paradigmatic form the tension between the definition of a territory and the constant possibility of its collective re-appropriation.
At the end of the 1990s Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal win the competition for the refurbishment of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, one of the buildings designed for the Exposition Internationale of 1937. Located in a strategic position overlooking the Saine and the Tour Eiffel, the building had been transformed countless times to accommodate the needs of multiple institutions. The original character and organisation of the architecture has turned into a stratification of social and political changes.
Lacaton&Vassal interprets the competition brief of turning the building into a centre for contemporary art open from noon to midnight, through a strategy of “light post-production”: they propose to enhance the historical, aesthetic and physical quality of the building through very minimal transformations, mostly catered towards accessibility and safety. The project embraces the very reduced budget but, more importantly, proposes a radical idea of refurbishment: a process of reduction to the bare form and necessities that would turn the rhetoric neoclassical architecture into the naked space of a factory. There is no concession to the architectural sign; on the contrary the construction process is more of an atonement ritual that takes two years to be performed. The Palais de Tokyop opens in 2002 as an empty structure, a museum without a collection, without an archive, without a history but open to the everyday, to the unpredictable outcome of the present. In the idea of the president of the museum Pierre Restany and of the two directors Nicolas Bourriaud and Jérôme Sans, the Palais de Tokyo would be a contemporary space in a literal sense, a space that is built and modified day by day according to emerging needs. Like in a Grand Bazaar of ideas and performances the architecture is just the framework for the ever-changing mix of colours, light, vapours and smells that a crowd of things and people can produce. The architecture is immobile; life changes through the continuous invention of collective rituals liberating artists and public from codified conventions. The museum finally turns is a public space, the stage for the everyday life of a community.