Ila Berman and Ed Mitchell
The 101st ACSA national conference was held in San Francisco this year. As last year’s conference marked the 100th anniversary of the first program in architecture at MIT, this year’s theme “New Constellations/ New Ecologies” hosted by the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and co-chaired by its Director Ila Berman with Edward Mitchell of Yale University, projected new directions for education in the next century.
The conference advanced a set of architectural concepts in relation to six realms—matter, energy/ecology, form/space, technology, territory, and networks/populations—that have been undergoing radical transformations in our current culture, and reformulated them as the ‘New Constellations / New Ecologies’ around which the conference was organized:
Waste(lands) + Material Economies
Energy circuits + Artificial Ecologies
Genetic Systems + Non-standard Modes of (Re)Production
Exchange Terminals + Interactive Technologies
Populations / Networks / Datascapes: From Cloud Culture to Informal Communities
These six broad themes of the paper sessions were structured to shift the general terms of architectural discourse and to provoke projection on how these concepts might be affecting the future of architectural practice and pedagogy.
Autodesk hosted early events sharing with the academic community its research work in architectural delivery but also in innovative product design, film animation and representation. Their gallery of recent work and funded projects was an apt beginning for the type of research that characterized the conference that followed.
The opening keynote address by Francois Roche provocatively challenged conceptual conventions and framed issues relevant to several of the topic areas of the conference, from waste materials and synthetic ecologies to genetic systems and new interactive technologies. Roche who is known for his controversial writings, films, installation work and architectural projects exemplified an inventive practice which works outside the conventional political structures of cultural production while blurring the boundaries between human, natural and technological products. Often highly experimental, his work with R&Sie(n) Architecture Studio and New Territories / [eIf/bʌt/c] challenges notions like sustainability and the nature/culture divide. The firm’s creation of artificially entangled “living architectures” are evident in a range of projects, from the programmed indeterminacy and intricate robotic secreting tentacles of I’ve Heard About, to the 1200 hydroponic ferns in suspended glass bubbles that constitute a truly wild eco-facade in I’m Lost in Paris. A far cry from the green roofs and living walls that have become commonplace in our current projections of a new urban agropolis, these projects produce intensively material dystopic environments that undermine the clear definition of the architectural object, while establishing new forms of responsive self-generation whose modes of emergence and behavior refer more to vital animate beings than to the technologies responsible for their very creation. Nature is integrated in the work as a protocol, or algorithm constantly interacting, altering and transforming architectural form, identity and the political field in which the work is situated.
Participants in the conference found that moving between sessions one could discover productive and provocative dialogue between what might have seemed to be disparate modes of practice. Designers working in the field of technological and material innovation shared interests with urbanists and ecologists. Social geographers and historians identified shared interests in question of the political and legal status of both architecture and the city. The programming of the conference was diverse and dynamic. It included more than 30 paper sessions and close to 100 peer-reviewed papers presented by faculty from architecture schools across North America, in addition to special focus sessions, tours to architecturally and culturally important San Francisco buildings, workshops, and an award ceremony to honor architecture educators and professionals. The published proceedings of the conference are available in a substantial book which was produced for the conference and available from the ACSA.
The closing night was highlighted by an exhibition of fifty-four research and design projects installed in the central “nave” space at CCA. Greg Pasquarelli principal of SHoP was awarded the Tau Sigma Delta National Honor Society Gold Medal. SHoP, structured more conventionally than R&Sie(n) is no less experimental in its research and invention in its built work. Pasquarelli highlighted the levels of risk that the firm has taken on, expanding the scope of work handled by the architects to include fabrication, investment and proactive engagement in the public sphere. He shared stories of the firm’s early work and its evolution into a large office capable of delivering large scale public and private work which included the Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, a two-mile esplanade and park along the East River Waterfront, the Innovation Hub Government Complex in Botswana, Africa, The Porter House and recent commissions on the Brooklyn waterfront.
The dialogue engendered by the discussions during the week was empowering and lively and the general feedback was that the level of work and invention appropriately positioned future discussions and conference topics that should lead to productive turns in both teaching and practice. It was a truly exciting conference for all involved and a great way to start the next century of architectural education!