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December 2011, 1378. Volume CCXXX

Catherine Slessor

Despite the bleak global outlook, the exuberance of youth helps us to see the world with fresh eyes. Read this issue here

Surveying the entries for the AR’s annual Emerging Architecture Awards is always heartening. Though we think we’ve seen everything, we are regularly astonished by the sheer diversity and ingenuity of submissions. Exposure to youthful vigour is a bracing experience, yet beyond this banquet of architectural ideas, there is a deeply serious point, in that the strength and direction of the currents of youth portend the future fate and direction of architecture. What conclusions, then, can be discerned from these currents?

This year’s Awards produced two strong dominant geographical clusters in projects in Spain and Japan, encapsulating the fertility of architectural culture in both these countries. For the Japanese, as Ken Tadashi Oshima notes in his overview essay, the experience of the current younger generation of architects that came of age in Japan’s ‘Lost Decades’ of the Nineties and Noughties, equipped it to be especially agile and resilient, maturing 10 years earlier than their compatriots elsewhere.

Though the slow buckling of the fabric of Japanese society may have heralded the end of the culture of jobs for life, it also acted as an impetus for new thinking and new career paths, abetted by the magic lubricant of digital networking. This is reflected in an architecture that somehow defies categorisation, instead embracing deftness and surprise, exploiting the micro project, the tactful shimmy, the joy of craft. Consider Shingo Masuda’s delightful white rubber tower, apparently inspired by De Chirico, or Hiroshi Nakamura’s little art gallery, its fluted roofscape sculpted by a grove of trees. As it matures, the thoughtfulness and adaptability of the current emerging generation will resonate more widely through Japanese architectural culture, consolidating connections with society and the environment.

The experience of the Japanese should encourage Spain’s emerging contingent, as they begin to come to terms with the impact of the economic crisis relentlessly unfolding across Europe. As Luis Fernández-Galiano observes in his analysis of the Spanish scene, younger architects still have the advantage of flexibility and mobility, but many will leave Spain to find work elsewhere.  Paradoxically, the richness of the Spanish architecture now seems inherently unsustainable; an oversupply of projects feeding a vast, bloated bubble of the profession, which is being abruptly deflated as harsh new economic realities sink in. Today, the annual number of Spanish architecture graduates (3000) equals the total number of architects some 40 years ago. This quest for limitless growth should give pause for thought, but to shift that focus will require a profound rethinking of the architects’ role.

Some clues as to how that might be accomplished come from unlikely sources. In this issue, for instance, Dimitris Karampatakis in Athens sees potential amid the Greek meltdown in neighbourhood collaboration, bottom-up regeneration and architects seizing the initiative. And in London, whatever your views on a tented city cluttering up the noble frontage of St Paul’s, it is arguably the legitimate articulation of frustration with a corporate milieu so arrogantly sundered from the lives of ordinary people. Here, as Jeremy Till reports, the enthusiasm and spontaneity of youth catalyses debates and discussion, while exploring different forms of spatial and social organistion, all wrapped up in the possibility of seeing the world anew.

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