Performing the City

From 31st May to 2nd June, the Prototypo Seminar in Architecture entitled Performing the City joined in Oporto 36 distinguished architects to discuss the city in its several dimensions. We hereby present a review of the proceedings sent to us from Portugal

Curated by Paulo Martins Barata (Promontório Architects, Lisbon), with Gerrit Confurius (Editor, Berlim) and Luis Tavares Pereira (Architect, Oporto) with the support of the APM (Portuguese Management Association) and Prototypo (Portuguese architecture magazine there were organised in the Oporto Old Custom House, 6 thematic sessions during 3 days. More than 600 architects, students, and people from other fields attended this successful event. At the end there were no final concluding statements as lectures represented very different and individual ways of interpreting the city themes. To better understand this, here follows a selection of the dominant issues presented and discussed in each session

Session 1: Semantics of Place

Kurt Forster (moderator); John Palmesino, Álvaro Siza, Stanislaus Von Moos ,Marcel Meili, Pedro Cabrita Reis.

Kurt Forster summarised in the of end this first session the overall opinion that places are not isolated or autonomous but related to several different things that may even not exist yet. Álvaro Siza sees an important relation between the place and the idea or project, although he recognises two different approaches to this: some places need an idea and some ideas need a place. Meili spoke about unity in the helvetic diversity and how there was still an acknowledgement of identity. Memory and history, copy and reproduction were key words in Von Moos' lecture on tourist attractions. He stated symbolism does not allow that places like the Louvre or Venice stop being visited. The 'touristification' and 'disneyfication' of the cities were some of the contemporary phenomena that architects should reflect about it.

Session 2: The City under Cultural Politics

Hubertus Adam (moderator); Wouter Vanstiphout, A. Pinto Ribeiro, Louis Paillard, Luis Fernández-Galiano, Winy Maas.

This session had two important points of discussion. One was about what each individual city has to offer; its different stimulus and images, and the way this may develop a 'Bilbao effect'. The other point of discussion was about the city and the development of urbanisation itself. After Paillard's presentation of the Peripheriques works, Galiano revealed some pessimism about the current state of architectural works, making a comparison between Constant and Breughel's babylons, and the contemporary ones that sprawl and waste away large quantities of resources. This was a permanent concern in Winy Maas presentation of some of his late office works. Yet, Vanstiphout and Galliano could not agree or understand the value of MVRDV the researches and their projects like Pig City. That led to a final provocation on how fifty years ago architects were unknown but powerful because they designed and reconstructed cities, and now, perhaps, they are only known and famous.

Session 3: The City and the Quotidian

Gerrit Confurius (moderator); Simon Sadler, Sergison & Bates, Hermann Czech, Jean P. Vassal, Manuel Mendes.

The statement more ethics, less aesthetics (remember the last Biennial in Venice) could be the general statement in the lectures on this session's theme. While Gerrit Confurius drew attention to the possible quality of the non-spectacular, Simon Sadler alerted that an architect should refuse to be a technician and a specialist and like an avant-garde try to interfere in the quotidian. The practical implication of this slogan had a quite good illustration with some of Lacaton and Vassal's works in Africa and France.

Session 4: City and Consumption

Gonçalo Byrne (moderator); Miroslav Sik, Beatriz Colomina, Rem Koolhaas, Vittorio Lampugnani.

Towards this theme there were mainly two confronting positions, taken by Koolhaas on the one side and Lampugnani on the other side. Facing a society of consumption that reveals temporary necessities, Miroslav Sik stood for a comfortable, durable and cheap architecture. Colomina's lecture was a kind of Twentieth Century overview about consumption and on how the information overflow has changed what is architecture today – 'everything is architecture'. Inscribing his presentation in the capitalist 'YES' regime, Koolhaas tried to draw attention to the need to develop a city or some sort of urbanisation that can deal with the dimension and renewal that is expected nowadays and for future. On the other hand Lampugnani defended that the city will be more important facing the information and technological scene and although the city is renewing it has not started from nothing – it has a memory and history that is to be adjusted and refitted.

Session 5: Planning as Landscaping

Bart Lootsma (moderator); Adriaan Geuze, Inês Norton, Carmen Pigem, Ben van Berkel, Hani Rashid.

From the more conventional project in Brescia presented by Ines Norton, to the extreme digitalscapes of Hani Rashid, through the minimal attitude of Carmen Pigem project in Barcelona, the exciting landscape works of Adriaan Geuze, and the effects of hybrid techniques used in architecture and urban planning of Ben van Berkel's UN Studio, this session was one of the most successful of the whole event. It has been accepted that landscape is a construction and therefore it must be planned and projected. Here different landscapes were presented, physic and digital ones, that make sense in different social and architectural contexts.

Session 6: Facing the Ordinary

Paulo Martins Barata (moderator); Kenneth Frampton, .Roger Diener, Yehuda Safran, J. Paulo Santos, Mark Wigley, Andreas Hild

Kenneth Frampton started this session launching seven points for reflection to an urbanism of resistance: megalopolis, landscape, sustainability, traffic, urban acupuncture, mega-form and politics. Facing this session's theme Mark Wigley called for the ordinary, the banal. He stands the banal is hyper designed, because the concept of designing all daily objects is generalised and that the banal can be an architecturul avant-garde. For Wigley, architecture is not just the production of buildings but, above all, the production of speeches, conversations and discussions about buildings. At the end Andreas Hild presented a movie about one of his office's work, leaving two statements to think about: 'if you can not change things you can change the way you look at them' and 'whatever you say may be true but it's not the unique'.