For the exhibition Mutations (designed by Jean Nouvel) the Arc en Rêve architecture centre in Bordeaux, France, allowed a group of architects, photographers, film-makers and critics to record the current state of urbanism. Curators Rem Koolhaas, Stefano Boeri and Sanford Kwinter assembled a huge collection of images, sounds and data for the exhibition covering some 2,500 square metres. Accordingly, the exhibition can only be interpreted as a compilation of samples. Among the issues highlighted are the explosion of the Asian City, the strength of the African anti-city, the indifference of the American City, and the dynamism of occupation by small groups in the European City.
Main elements of the exhibition have been drawn from the various projects developed in the 'Harvard Project on the City', which previously carried the more apt title 'Project on what used to be the City'. This research project by Koolhaas examines the effects on the city of changes in society (or rather: the urban territory previously called the city). The power and concentration of commerce often seems to be the determining factor behind the highly diverse mutations generated. In the Pearl River Delta, a 'special economic zone' in China, this is expressed in a mass of urbanised landscape that is expanding at a rapid pace. Or take Lagos, a city that despite its lack of essential infrastructure at all levels (financial systems, motorways, sewage systems) is nevertheless a 'successful' example of an African city - successful if you look at the growth of its area, its population, its economic growth. From the point of view of Western planning, such a city is totally unimaginable.
Sanford Kwinter has taken the ground floor, right behind the entrance to Arc en Rêve. The statistics he displays on long and winding rows of screens offer a glimpse into the character of the inhabitants of American cities. The refreshingly designed project offers a decidedly unromantic portrayal of these residents.
USE (Uncertain States of Europe by Stefano Boeri) shows the relationship between territorial transformation and mechanisms of self-organisation as a backdrop to changes in the European City. In this section of the exhibition - comprising twelve case studies from around Europe shown on large screens - video fragments, interviews and texts linked to each location sketch a panorama of innovations and transformations that arise out of unplanned and scarcely controllable processes. Remarkably, in Paris, Belgrade, Helsinki, Bucharest, Pristina, and also in San Marino, the very same mechanisms seem to operate, often within sight of, but not controlled by, the authorities and planning agencies. USE accordingly reveals just how far removed the construction of the new Europe, as fabricated in Brussels and Strasbourg, is from local reality.
Mutations expressly avoids any attempt to offer a neatly catalogued and compiled survey of current urban transformations. And that is certainly to the exhibition's advantage. It staggers the visitor with an avalanche of images, sounds and film fragments: analogous to the very characteristics of the city on display. The bulky catalogue is therefore essential to be able go through all the components once again. It comes complete with a canary yellow jacket.