20 April 2021

West Berlin Marxist Architecture Groups at the turn of the 1970s

The Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL)

Respondent: Beata Labuhn (The Oslo School of Architecture and Design)

In 1963 West Berlin city council launched a gargantuan urban plan to clear 56.000 deteriorated houses mostly inhabited by working-class communities, who would be relocated in costly, isolated and substandard modernist estates. The consensus around this plan was interrupted only in September 1968, when a group of Marxist architecture students from the West Berlin Technical University denounced the classist nature behind this urban transformation. Inspired by the surrounding political uprisings and confronted with rising issues of unemployment and exploitation, between the late 1960s and the early 1970s Marxist architecture groups participated in the organisation of several groundbreaking social and political activities. These were not limited to protests, exhibitions and counter-seminars inside the Architecture Faculty, but included the participation in a grassroots campaign challenging the West Berlin urban plan and in the – possibly – world first radical architects' trade unions. For the grassroots campaign, they rented and managed a space in an about-to-be-cleared area, in which they hosted a series of political, cultural and recreational activities to build community awareness and to oppose the incoming redevelopment plans. On the other side, they also contributed to set up a union of architecture workers, which allowed students and architects not only to fight against unemployment, overwork and precariousness rapidly spreading from the late 1960s, but also to coherently and originally connect urban campaigns and industrial struggles. Throughout these and other experiences, West Berlin Marxist architecture groups continuously discussed the agency of their disciplinary knowledge and repetitively adapted it to fit their social and political aims. In this way, they demonstrated how the relationship between architecture and politics is not established once and for all, but can always be transformed and radicalised through the intersection with most urgent economic, social, cultural and environmental conflicts of the moment.  


Giving Form to the Void. Brazilian
Modern Architecture and the Archetype of the Cover

Architectural Association, London

Respondent: Ciro Miguel (ETH Zurich)

In the extraordinary variety and richness of Brazilian Modern architecture, a common trait emerges with startling clarity: an obsession for the large span and the act of covering the ground. From the abstract surfaces of Oscar Niemeyer to the exposed concrete planes of João Batista Vilanova Artigas, from the monumental gestures of Lina Bo Bardi to the self built vaults of the Grupo Arquitetura Nova, from the technological sheds of João Filgueira Lima to the territorial signs of Paulo Mendes da Rocha, the archetype of the cover has been deployed in countless variations as a means of giving form to a void.
Through this paradigmatic gesture, Brazilian architects assumed an ambiguous positions: on the one hand, they celebrated technique to serve the ideological promise of development; on the other hand, they used architectural form to propose modes of gathering, living and building that challenged a universal idea of progress and offered a resistance to the uncontrolled expansion of urbanisation. By looking at the formal and technical choices of some exemplary projects, the talk will discuss the key role played by the archetype of the cover in sublimating the contradictions generated by the unfolding of capital in modern Brazil.

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