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With the participation of Andreas Angelidakis, Carlos Bayod (Factum Art), Nerea Calvillo (C+), Lluis Alexandre Casanova and Marina Otero (After Belonging Agency), Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe (Cooking Sections), Teresa Galí-Izard, Marteen Gielem (Rotor), Anab Jain (Superflux), Lydia Kallipoliti, Mireya Luzarraga and Alejandro Muiño (Takk), Nacho Martin (Mi5, IED), Lee Moreau (Continuum), Anna Puigjanner (Maio), Philippe Rahm (Philippe Rahm Architectes), Yoshi Tsukamoto (Atelier Bow Wow), Liam Young (Tomorrows Thoughts).

Discussing Innovation Foro

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, innovation has defined the relationship between culture, invention, production and economy. In the thirteenth century, ‘innovation’ was coined as a legal term to refer to scientific ideas that challenged religious dogmas. In the nineteenth century it was already regarded as the alliance between design and industry. In 1939, Joseph Schumpeter established the definition that has prevailed ever since: innovation as an act of intellectual creativity that entails planning a social impact as part of a business plan. At a time when the notions of the terms impact, social and business are evolving and diversifying, when new scientific, political, technological and economic paradigms are opening up new possibilities, it is timely to ask ourselves again: ‘What is innovation?’ and ‘What can it become?’

This was the objective of the Discussing Innovation symposium held in Barcelona as part of the programme of activities of Construmat 2017 on 23 and 24 May. The discussion was structured around four thematic tables featuring speakers of recognised prestige, all of whom are involved in research and architectural design.

Wednesday, 24 May

Discussion #1. Critical Description

An important segment of contemporary architecture has worked to attenuate the limits between design and description. In the work of Takk and Factum Arte, the creation of platforms of information is the main mission of design. In both cases they started from the need to recognise that the creation of archives which contain a collective description of what exists has a material dimension resulting from design processes. This design, as exemplified by Factum Arte, calls for technological innovation and even the development of specific technological tools, but it also entails a political challenge (as noted by both Takk and Factum Arte) as it inevitably contributes to the management of inclusions, exclusions, the distribution of roles and capacities, and accesses. In the case of Factum Arte, it has facilitated an understanding of how artworks and architecture act as receptacles of information, the management of which gives rise to conflicts that can only be addressed by the evolution of the material world. Takk explores the possibilities of ecological and cosmopolitan inclusivity as a brand new field of work.

Anna Pugjaner presents the context of shared equipment (mainly in the case of the collective kitchens) as a field of architectural invention, basing this approach on the study of situations found at different points in history and in different geographical locations. Participating in the learning from architectural tradition shows the possibilities that arise from considering the complementarity between the residential and shared quotidian infrastructures.

The conversation thus shows the collaborations and conflicts between three perspectives from which to present the management of information and the narration of innovation: the discussion of the materiality of the file, its technologies and its discourse; ethnography; and that based on following-up the paradigm shifts.

Liam Young poses a critical and narrative interpretation of a world in which, over the last few decades, the processes of technological innovation have been concentrated in the context of growing transnational corporations. His work also explores specific forms of resistance that have arisen in response to this concentration of innovation. This narrative gives a new sense of urgency and political value to the processes by which everyday matters such as communication, procedural transparency, extraction, material transformations and reproduction are evolving. And from this sense of urgency, detecting what alternative forms of politics exist. This final part of the intervention heralds the topic of the next discussion.

Discussion #2. Techno-natural policies

Nerea Calvillo, Philippe Rahm and Cooking Sections are working on revising the contemporary political status of what is ‘natural’ and its independence from what is technological. In the case of Calvillo, recognising a space for regulation, conflict, composition and activism in the aeropolis – the aerial territories in which human and non-human heterogeneous entities exist, interact and conflict. Territories in which interventions are always reactive (never self-referential, but rather responding to previous realities) and interscalable. Calvillo presents a series of experiments in which major transformations of the air are addressed by citizen fabrics in association with technological devices that operate on different scales. Philippe Rahm proposes a connection between the physiological and the climatic. An expanded and ecosystem-based vision of the metabolic processes which, in his work, offer opportunities for invention. He presents different cases in which the relationship between bodies and climatologies are redefined by the mediation of technologies developed by the office he runs. Cooking Sections explores the way in which the edible records and takes part in geopolitical processes and conflicts. The detailed study of a large number of cases of transnational displacements has enabled them to identify the way in which the socialisation of new presences triggers processes of adaptation and dispute in which the buried rationales that guide collective action gain visibility. Their work amasses a large number of archisocial inventions: institutions that present alternative markets, which devaluate real estate assets or reallocate them by means of extensive geographical daily actions.

Thursday, 25 May

Discussion #3. Operating in the present. Scaling

The After Belonging agency explores a growing contemporary condition: the subrogation of spatial, material, social and political belonging by displacement, migratory corridors and processes of inequality and/or exclusion. This mass transformation is the result of environmental stresses; the crisis in the nation-state model; and the globalisation of resources, impacts, communications, military capacity and economics; yet because of their dimension and the radical nature with which changes are imposed on the structure of contemporary ecosystems, it entails the need and the opportunity to plan an evolution in the way in which the practices of design and technological development are considered and practiced.

Lydia Kallipoliti’s work explores the relationship between happiness and toxicity from the Cold War years through to the present day. Examples such as the Disney theme parks help to identify the fact that the production of a ‘happy’ society was directly related to the development of sanitary systems that built areas of particular toxicity by segregation and by rendering a part of the material spectrum invisible. Design appears in these cases as a way of coupling environmental transformations with the production of specific types of subjects.

Through the development over time of a line of diapers, Lee Moreau presents the working structure and methodologies that follow the processes of innovation in industrial and business contexts. It also reveals how an issue as important as the role played by diapers in childcare triggers a whole series of techno-social adjustments that operate from the scale of the territory to that of the relationship of a child with its immediate environment or in the construction of its subjectivity. The project, very closely related to the processes that, from another perspective, are being studied by Lydia Kallipoliti and Nerea Calvillo, shows how the processes of innovation, instead of being based on problem-solving dynamics, are actually processes of permanent reconstruction of the social.

Marteen Gielen presents the result of an extensive project developed by the group to which he belongs, Rotor, para highlight the huge material flow of architectural components, fragments and equipment recovered from buildings in the process of demolition. His work is geared towards not only encouraging the reuse of existing devices but also reinserting them in value circuits by means of cataloguing and rebranding. This perspective also enables them to assess where material investment is located in existing buildings.

Discussion #4. Restitution

Anab Jain proposes using future scenarios, rendered by audio-visual productions, as a tool for taking the techno-social positions currently under discussion to the extreme. The work undertaken by her practice, Superflux, depicts the possible evolutionary trajectories of contemporary technologies and the disputes of which they form part. The realistic visualisation of these scenarios makes it possible to expand techno-social controversies to a wider and more varied audience.

Discussing Innovation Foro

Through her extensive experience working on architectural projects in which the geological, the botanical and the human are all articulated, Teresa Galí-Izard proposes shifting design from the dominion of results to the development of regulatory frameworks that allow changing and uncertain evolutions. Her work places a greater importance on maintenance, management and adaptability than on formal definition. This allows a dynamic and symmetrical understanding of the medium (symmetrical in the sense that the medium is seen as a participant in the changing interaction with others), which is no longer seen as a stable base upon which to interact but rather becomes an actor in itself.

The work of Andreas Angelidakis is implicit in the dependencies and collaborations between the online and offline worlds. Interactions that house the collective management of memory and the performance of identities. From this perspective it is possible to track the material dimension of the subject’s production. A field of work in which social networks have found fertile ground for expansion, and in which Angelidakis’s work allows the questioning of gender binaries and bodily exclusions to propose architectural devices that challenge norms and exclusions.

Yoshi Tsukamoto explores the potential for architecture in moving from the notion of the architectural device as an object to that of a mediator in relational ecosystems. This reorientation of architectural practices opens up the possibility of intervening in extended processes over time in which the architecture itself can take charge of the current evolution and crises in social fabrics. Tsukamoto suggests orientating this disciplinary adjustment while maintaining a material focus. In other words, taking into account the role played by material devices and the architectural adjustments involved in the development and implementation of social bonding networks. This approach has allowed his practice, Atelier Bow Wow, to mediate in the process of returning part of the population that was displaced as a result of the Fukushima earthquake.

In all these cases, innovation is presented as a reconstruction of a whole techno-social context, and at the same time it is a process that can only be achieved through the participation of a broad spectrum of agents. It is not an issue that can be detached from the socio-political tensions that gave rise to it, which the processes of innovation are reconfiguring. In all these cases they are processes that reinvent the relational articulations on which a series of ecosystems depend; and hence they are endowed with multiplicity. And it is through these dedications to innovation that design and intervention practices achieve political relevance.

Andrés Jaque is the founder of the Office for Political Innovation an international practice that works at the intersection of architectural design, research and activism. They have won the Frederick Kiesler Prize for the Architecture and the Arts 2016, the Silver Lion for Best Research Project at the 14th Venice Biennale and the Dionisio Hernández Gil Award, and the Architectural Record has chosen them as Designers of the Year.

They are the creators of the ‘Casa Sacerdotal in Plasencia’, ‘House in Never Never Land’, ‘TUPPER HOME’, ‘ESCARAVOX’ and ‘COSMO MoMA PS1′. Their project ‘IKEA Disobedients’ is the first architectural performance ever included in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) collection and forms part of a series of architectural experiments that focus on exploring architectural practices from the perspective of post-foundational policies: ‘SUPERPOWERS OF TEN’ – ZKM (2016), JUMEX Museum (2016), Chicago Architecture Biennial 2015 and Lisbon Triennial 2013; ‘SALES ODDITY’ – Venice Biennial 2014; ‘PHANTOM. Mies as Rendered Society’ – Barcelona Pavilion 2012; ‘Sweet Urbanism’ – MAK Vienna 2013; ‘Different Kinds of Water’ – RED CAT, Los Angeles 2013; ‘SWEET PARLIAMENT HOME’ – Gwangju Biennale, South Korea 2010; ‘Skin Gardens’ – BAC Barcelona 2009; and ‘FRAY HOME HOME’ – Venice Biennale 2010.

Their books include Everyday Politics, SUPERPOWERS OF TEN, PHANTOM. Mies as Rendered Society, Different Kinds of Water Pouring into a Swimming Pool, and Dulces Arenas Cotidianas; and their work has been published in A+U, Bauwelt, Domus, El Croquis, The Architectural Review, Volume, and The New York Times, among many other media; and exhibited in the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); the London Design Museum, MAK in Vienna, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, RED CAT Cal Arts Contemporary Art Center in Los Angeles, Z33 in Hasselt, the Schweizerisches Architektur Museum in Basel, the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine in Paris, the Hellerau Festspielhaus in Dresden, and Princeton University SoA.

Andrés Jaque, PhD Architect (ETSAM), Alfred Toepfer Stiftung’s Tessenow Stipendiat and Graham Foundation Grantee, is professor of Advanced Architectural Design at Columbia University GSAPP and visiting professor at Princeton University SoA.