Monday, March 8, 2021

State(s) of the Play/Art of Urbanism

Phyllis Lambert's Snapshots
/////// 17 Q&A with N&S Baghli

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Phyllis Lambert
Image courtesy: Fonds Phyllis Lambert
Canadian Centre for Architecture
On the occasion of this special day dedicated to the struggle for women's rights around the world, we would like to pay tribute to a great lady of architecture, Phyllis Lambert.
Phyllis, la "Jeanne d'Architecture", is no longer to be introduced. She dedicated her life to the profession and we will obviously remember her commitment to the promotion of architecture and heritage through the renowned CCA (Canadian Centre for Architecture) that she founded in 1979. She had previously initiated and actively participated with German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in the design of two famous buildings, the Seagram Building in New York (1958) and the TD Tower in Toronto (1967).
At 94 today, she is still radiant and her eyes shine when it comes to architecture. She crossed the twentieth century to the present day and offers us a precious testimony of this period. I had the honor of meeting her during the Golden Lion award ceremony in Venice during the Biennale directed by Rem Koolhaas, Fundamentals, in 2014.
She did not hesitate for a second to answer our call in order to participate in this project and we are so grateful to her. We are therefore delighted that she answered our questionnaire, which we are publishing here exclusively (see below), and we thank her again for her important contribution in this project and for her very personal testimony.
We have also asked many people and personalities to participate in this project and we will publish their answers as we go along, thanking them for joining us in this "critical journey".
A special thanks to Saskia Sassen who supported us from the beginning and who did not hesitate to embark on this adventure!
Algiers, March 8, 2021

Awards of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition
Phyllis Lambert Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement
(Photo by Matteo Chinellato/Corbis via Getty Images)
The letter / The project
(sent in late 2020)

Dear Phyllis,

First of all, we hope you are doing well, especially in these difficult and uncertain times.
We would be so delighted and honoured, together with Sihem, to count you among us in this unprecedented experience aimed at producing "Snapshots" on the State(s) of Play and of the Art of Urbanism today.
Indeed, between early 2020 and today alone, we are witnessing an unprecedented sequence in which the way of doing and thinking about urbanism is being reassessed and rewritten before our eyes.
The world has been shaken, turned upside down, in its certainties. Urbanism is not to be outdone.
Questioning (the future of) urbanism, as you do so well throughout your amazing career obviously inspires us so much.
For this project, we are also honoured to have Saskia Sassen.

Below are 17 (critical) questions related to the subject on which we hope to obtain answers from you, both spontaneous and concise, in order to try to fix an image, as faithful as possible to the present time, namely at the end of 2020.
We would also like to take some of your time so that you can express yourself freely on the subject through a short video (1'30 max).

We thus hope to capture, initially and/but instantly, the state of mind of 17 women + 17 men around the world who revolve around the profession, which would allow us to establish a foundation, a basis for reflection, which would (finally) trigger the long-awaited debate for us, the one about "Towards a New Urbanism" that we had already attempted to initiate and mentioned in 2019 during Act-I of this process: La Rencontre d'Alger.

Indeed, almost 100 years after the first CIAM (International Congress of Modern Architecture) which took place in La Sarraz in Switzerland in 1928, it is perhaps time for the profession, for all of us, to start writing a new page for the 21st century.
Our (no more) secret ambition is to make this sequence of events as a turning point in the reflection on the future of Urbanism, which could culminate by 2036, for UN Habitat IV?
As luck would have it, Saskia Sassen, who do us the honor and kindness to take part in this project, have been working and thinking about a "New Charter of Athens" for a while now.
One century later, Algiers (today, even virtually) could be in a way, once again, at the avant-garde and as a starting point of discussions on Urbanism (thinking here of course particularly about Le Corbusier).

Once the answers have been collected (texts + videos), we will turn all this into an online event entitled "State(s) of the Play/Art of Urbanism" that we will share on internet platforms during 2021.

This concerns the videos. Now, on the other hand, we will compile all the short written answers to the 17 questions asked, these "snapshots" precisely, in the form of texts to make a comprehensive synthesis and draw up a general "state of mind" of the profession towards urbanism at the end of 2020 that we will publish on various platforms and specialized magazines (under consideration, all proposals are welcome).

One could imagine several options for following up this initiative, Act-II, between conferences, publications, exhibitions, workshops, which could be retrieved and relayed by schools of architecture and urban planning, specialized media, museums and exhibition galleries, but also public authorities, non-governmental organizations, and so on.

We sincerely hope, dear Phyllis, to count you among us!
Please take good care of yourself.

All the best,
Nacym & Sihem

State(s) of the Play/Art of Urbanism
Nacym & Sihem Baghli, 2020
Phyllis Lambert's Snapshots
/////// 17 Q&A with N&S Baghli
(January 2021)

1. What has happened to Urbanism today?
In North America and many European cities urbanism is subject to $ money – the city looks for more taxable income, developers call the shots – program, zoning, and even safety regulations.

2. What will post-2020 Urbanism be like? If you had to extract a single meaning from it, grasp a single faculty?
Unless post 2020 cities change systems of governance, urbanism will be, in essence, the same.

3. Will there really be a significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our cities? Was this the case a century ago with the Spanish flu?
Not comparable. After 1918 the huge death toll was due to WWI, not the Spanish Flue. Above all vast changes were due to the advance in- and acceptance of- industrialization. There is no such background to current pandemic – as with 9/11 it arrived without the implementation of a catastrophic background. The immediate reaction to 9/11 was no more high-rise buildings, never, everywhere. How long did that last! In NY the incapacity to analyze moral causes and to eliminate racism and move towards understanding and creating a center for societal research. Return to NYC usual programming of the capital system of greed and graft spelled for me the downfall of the USA.

4. Are we heading, finally, inexorably towards a new Urbanism? What would be its primary characteristic?
We need to head for new values: human values, democratic process of governance, concern for health and the environment. New zoning would be - hear the birds sing, smell the flowers and adhere to all levels of ecology. Think of how these requirements effect density; building height and volume; air, ground and water pollution, noise pollution, sun penetration, transportation and governance, health, equity…

5. Are today's urban planning tools still relevant? Don't they seem definitively obsolete in the light of technological revolutions, health crises and climate change?
Drastic change is need but in context of the ten commandments of social and ecological goals. Governance must be deeply revised to do so.

6. Will we soon be able to imagine the emergence of a disruptive Urbanism, to borrow this term from the tech world?
We must +.

7. Will big data and artificial intelligence revolutionize the Urbanism of the 21st century?
These tools depend on our approach to governance, and like all tools can be used to improve or destroy.

8. Will it be possible to literally "code" the city in "urban-matic" language? Also by using, sometimes abusing, algorithms?
Yes starting with such mundane needs as regulating traffic which would save effect motive energy and pollution, and congestion and of course improve public transportation.
These tools could regulate such sectors as street cleaning snow removal, create needed inventories, housing needs and occupation.

9. Will the city be able to learn by and from itself through a kind of "Deep-Urban-Learning"?
It can self-correct WHEN programmed to do so. What really needs to be deeply changed is governance, first the “what”, and then these tools can deal with much of the “how”.

10. Is the development of an "urban matrix" now essential to "decode", understand and better apprehend the metropolis and its development?
Yes as implied above.

11. Will the Architect still have a place of choice in the design of the City?
There are good and bad architects.
Good architects are like orchestra conductors, aware of what all instruments can do, have the skills of consultation and able to identify the quality of services needed.

12. Will the Architect be phagocytized by the upcoming programmer/coder Urbanist?
If he becomes bureaucratized and not needed in Cedric Price’s terms, yes.

13. Who will save the Architect? Should he be saved?
But architects are needed with their ability to understand and interrelate many disciplines and constantly search for what is needed. No one can act alone.

14. Would the Athens Charter have made sense today?
Technology is not the goal. The Charter’s social goals were never developed, and ignored in North America. A Charter today must develop the social goals of society.

15. Is an urban Manifesto still possible, desirable?
It is always important – essential – to have common goals. These will change over time.

16. What Urbanism for Mars? More generally, what place for urbanism in terraforming, including on earth (Antarctica, Sahara,...)? Haven't we fallen behind on this?
To understand, to identify, research, find solutions including basic human needs, apply the tools of science and technology to the focus on local and world ecology.

17. How do you (fore)see 20xx?
Hearing the birds, smelling the flowers and applying the rules of ecology.

Links ///////
The Quito Papers: Towards the Open City >>
Post-COVID City >>
Top-Down, Bottom-Up Urban Design >>
Act-I: La Rencontre d'Alger >>
Algiers20xx >>
Storming of Venice (time to?) >>
Snapshot: "In computer systems, a snapshot is the state of a system at a particular point in time. The term was coined as an analogy to that in photography." - Source: Wikipedia