thoughts on our urban future

What’s emerging in architecture?

A review of a Pecha Kucha event organised by the Emerging Group.

I attended an event organised by the Emerging Group the other night. It was basically a night where a series of speakers presented their views, ideas and explorations about what is emerging in the practice of architecture or, put in a different way, what is new out there and where we may be going, what are the different responses to changes in the world we all operate in. All presented by young architects and designers, the new generation of people who are now beginning to take over the architectural ‘world’.

Using the Pecha Kucha presentation technique, various speakers had each 6 minutes to tell the audience what they were about. The first speaker of the night was a representative from Architecture for Humanity, who talked a little bit about the work they do and how they organise themselves, each chapter (as they call their ‘branches’ in each location) basically functioning independently whilst at the same time benefiting from the knowledge of the collective but not depending on a centralised base to organise their work or decide on how to go about it, with a focus on working locally and making the most of local resources.

The second speaker was from a local practice called 00:/ (I wonder how they introduce themselves on the phone), which from a practice point of view I found the most interesting talk of the night. From what I understood, they really strive to find innovative ways of doing architecture – meaning they take the idea of architecture and expand it beyond its traditional boundaries into strategy and entrepreneurialism, not necessarily designing buildings (although of course they also do that), but designing ways of solving problems and of finding solutions and different ways of using space – as they described it ‘unlocking assets’. I haven’t seen their projects in detail, but their approach did sound very interesting indeed.

The next speaker was from RARA, who I already knew through an ex colleague who is one of the founding partners. They also focus on finding ways of being entrepreneurial and although they sit much closer to the edge of the architectural contact network, they have received a fair amount of press coverage because of their optimistic and humoured response to the huge wave or redundancies among architectural staff caused by the economic crisis. Focused on providing space for ‘the redundant architects’ to create their own stuff and encouraging creativity at low cost, they were the nights more directly related organisation to the challenges faced by the architectural profession as a result of how the economy has performed in the last 2-3 years.

Two speakers from the RIBA followed suit. The first gave an introduction to the institution’s Building Futures initiative, which looks at the built environment professions’ future in the face of a world that is rapidly changing the ways we live and work, and which, interestingly, concluded that architecture in the way we have traditionally understood it will not exist in 20 years time, identifying things are moving towards more interdisciplinary and strategic ways of working, where people and organisations’ capacity to adapt will be key to their ability to function and survive within the built environment professions. The second speaker gave the last presentation of the night, presenting another project by the RIBA which focuses on the role of information technology and how it is changing the way we do architecture, from BIM to the ability to process complex datasets and general access to information, as well as the creation of content and its organisation and systematic analysis – which can in turn inform design and problem solving.

To end the night, there were 3 presentations where some of the groups invited the audience to participate in some specific projects where they felt they needed collaborators. I guess that was the point of the night, to inspire and inform but especially to foster potential relationships and find ways in which people may be able to collaborate with each other.

I really enjoyed this event. It really was about passionate young professionals doing their stuff, and although the audience was small (around 50 people or so, maybe?) and the speakers varied, there were some common themes that made the whole event cohesive and very interesting indeed. It was clear this is a generation for which the use of technology comes naturally, both as a way of connecting with others but also as design tools. I felt there was a tacit understanding of architecture a collective creative process which is embedded in a much more complex reality that we need to respond to, and we have to make the most of the tools that exist around us, which is already happening almost unconsciously. A lot of people who were interested in taking architecture forward and pushing its boundaries, responding to the current economic and social dynamics with new ideas and initiatives.

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