50 years of ARCH+ – a review & outlook.
The magazine ARCH+ is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. ARCH+ was originally founded as a critical counter-point to the usual journals dealing with architecture and urban planning, where coverage of new projects and new conceptual or technical details filled the pages. ARCH+ was intended to look behind the scenes, bringing analyses of the forces that created and shaped these projects. A critical journal with the then explicitly formulated goal of identifying and supporting the contribution of architecture and urban planning to good living conditions for a more humane society. At the time, 50 years ago, such a more humane society was called ‘democratic socialism’. Let’s leave out this term, which wound up in moth balls after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and focus solely on the goal of a more humane society and ask the question again: Will ARCH+ meet the objective of contributing to more humane living conditions in the built environment? Does today’s ARCH+ make a contribution to this? A contribution with, on the one hand, critical analyses of the framework conditions of the production of the built environment and, on the other hand, with the presentation of steps towards this goal, i.e., with projects, techniques and procedures for the realization of this goal?
ARCH+ has developed excellently in the 50 years of its existence, the booklets are impressive. Laurels from all sides! Especially the issue on ‘Right Rooms’, which I was finally able to read in detail, thanks to the COVID-19 timeout, does justice to this, with, among other things, a long overdue criticism of some of the heroes of German architectural history. But I would like to see more and even deeper critical-analytical contributions of this kind.
Architecture and urban planning have undergone major changes in every respect in recent decades, both in the organizational form of offices, the structure of contracting and construction industries and, last but not least, the social significance of architecture and design – and all this against the background of major changes in environmental conditions such as climate change and scarcity of resources. However, climate change and the extensive consumption of resources in particular, not just phenomena of recent years, have found only limited resonance in construction and have not led to truly efficient solutions to these burning issues. Why not? Different? How? A broad field for profound critical analysis that lies largely unexploited.
The objective, half a century ago, of ARCH+ as a critical-analytical journal for architects and urban planners was certainly a somewhat one-sided affair, due to an immense lack of knowledge in the field of critical theory. It largely ignored the questions of design and of shaping. But wouldn’t such analyses be absolutely necessary, at least, as one of the sections of the publication strategy of today’s ARCH+? Representative “palaces” are still being built using tremendous amounts of energy and materials. Buildings for a world in which the recycling of materials is the starting point are still to be found only in exceptional cases. Climate change is being counteracted with thermal insulation, as though people in the future would only stay inside buildings and heat could be extracted from the human environment, etc., etc… Where are the analysts, the experts among the architects and urban planners, who with razor-sharpness dissect the phenomena that pose the big questions about the causes of this inertia in their field and get to the bottom of the problem. Why are adequate and efficient answers formulated so inadequately – and if elements of this are found, why only in such rare cases? This is a fallow field for a professional journal that has set itself the goal of creating a living environment that is both humane and environmentally compatible.
Architecture and urban planning are highly complex matters. It takes a collective of a broader spectrum of interests and qualified specialists to illuminate them in their entire breadth. In this way accents are not set one-sided, which would otherwise have a cloaking effect, and even more: which blind us to the effects of the built environment on people and society, this is still a largely unventilated interplay. It blinds us to the effects on nature. The latter, the interplay with nature, is in my eyes a very central theme under the current conditions of a worldwide overload of “Gaia,” to use Lovelock’s image. 20 years ago I developed the term and the concept Biotope City as a vision of a city in harmony with the natural conditions of our being at that time. It is about creating a densely built living environment in our densely populated world, which also leaves sufficient room for nature’s regenerative forces in the city itself – for mutual benefit. The concept is now being brought to reality in the Biotope City Wienerberg in a first big attempt, pilot project of the IBA Vienna 2022, highly compressed with 1,000 apartments, housing follow-up facilities, school, hotel, offices, car-free and greened not only in the entire outdoor space, but also on and around the buildings. A new urban quarter on the way to a new relationship between man and nature.
In the 1980s, the term urban ecology was once found in an attempt to provide a comprehensive view of the built environment and the relationship between man and nature. Since then, there has been a special subject called urban ecology – and there are urban ecologists, who do not come from architecture/building, but from biology, and who are only allowed to appear as a marginal phenomenon in building projects. Has ARCH+ Urban Ecology gone beyond one disciplinary topic among many others to which a booklet is dedicated? Has it been understood that all our planning and building must be put back into relation to the regenerative conditions of nature of which we are a part? Add to that, mustn’t the architectural discussion be subjected to a new current critical layer? This is not about a naive-romantic, yearning look.
It is about new demands on the construction of our built environment, which embeds both the use of the most advanced technologies as well as these technologies themselves and the entire construction production in a comprehensive recycling process – and this in interaction with nature.
This means a new view of architecture and urban development that not only encompasses planning and production in their technical, economic and social dimensions, but also encompasses the aesthetics of architecture and urban development. Let me summarize it this way:
We are at the beginning of a new form of built environment and a new urban and architectural beauty in which city and nature flow into each other, overlap each other. I would like ARCH+ to make a forward-looking contribution to this.