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Editorial View: Emerging Architecture

Architecture as a critical language with which to face the world

The annual ar+d Awards for Emerging Architecture present a compelling snapshot of the next generation of architects. What are their critical preoccupations? How are they addressing the wider challenges of practice? What’s their take on technology, society and the environment? When this awards programme started out in 1999, the world was a rather different place. There were awards for architects, but they were mainly for careers well spent; younger people rarely got a look in. These days, architecture might still be an old man’s game, but now there more ways to bring the work of young and lesser known architects to wider attention.

As pioneers in recognising and encouraging emerging talent, the AR can take some satisfaction in seeing many of its ‘graduates’ go on to greater things. Sou Fujimoto, Anna Heringer, Bjarke Ingels, Thomas Heatherwick, Sean Godsell and Junya Ishigami are just some of the interesting, thoughtful people who have come up through the AR’s Emerging ranks. Architecture is a long game and it’s always fascinating to track individual career arcs. Where will this year’s winners be in 10 years’ time? And how will the world have changed around them?

Change of the more profound, epochal kind forms the subject of this month’s Big Rethink, which considers frameworks for analysing the awesome and still unfolding narrative of human cultural evolution. Armed with such rich insights, we might thus derive a more profound sense of how we really want to live and how to engage with society. Regular readers might be surprised to see the traditionally monochromatic Campaign pages spring into colour as Peter Buchanan dissects Spiral Dynamics and how its theories relate to architecture. Colour coding identifies different evolutionary eras or ‘memes’, each with their own distinct characteristics that shape human behaviour and interaction. Passing through these different phases we have evolved from cave dwellers to Facebook users, and now have attained the potential to comprehend and be part of a dynamic unfolding of nature and culture. ‘Consistent with this view’, writes Buchanan ‘sustainability is seen not in terms of constraints and sacrifices but as an inspiring vision of a much more purposeful and fulfilling life’.

Yet as a collective, conscious society, we are clearly still struggling to attain such holistic bliss. The fragility of the man-made world was brought into sharp relief by the impact of Hurricane Sandy (p18), which coincided with the passing of Lebbeus Woods at the end of October (p19). Much more than a dystopian ‘paper architect’, Woods speculated poetically and powerfully on architecture’s uneasy relationship with terror, arms and authority. Latterly, as Nicholas Olsberg writes, he turned his attention to the ‘mounting crisis of sustaining a fixed built environment in the face of a catastrophically changing planetary one’. His sobering legacy is to remind us that architecture not a set of ‘plastic aesthetics’, but ‘a unique critical language’ with which to face the world. It’s one hell of a legacy.

Catherine Slessor, Editor

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