Architecture


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It’s been a busy few months here in Tallinn, but by now we can conclude that this year’s TAB Symposium was a great success!

A few months ago I published a blog post saying I was appointed as symposium curator for this year’s Tallinn Architecture Biennale (TAB). TAB is a relatively young but quickly growing architecture festival that takes place every two years in Tallinn, Estonia, and the symposium constitutes one of its central parts. Hence, being invited to head the preparation of the symposium by this year’s main curator, Marten Kaevats, was a great honor, but also a challenge: other parts of the biennale have been in the works for about half-a-year by then, with the symposium drastically underdeveloped.

As a symposium curator, my responsibilities included everything you can think of, when organizing a major international conference – topic and program development, selection and communication with speakers, marketing strategy development, securing the consistency of event’s graphics, budgeting, volunteer coordination and so on. There was an incredible team behind me to help with the specifics of each task, but still, it was a lot of stuff to take care of in a relatively short period of time.

Getting into my new role, I had one major idea: I wanted the event to be a “dialog”. Unfortunately, in my practice I’ve discovered that architecture is often seen as a quasi-elitist profession where others are not usually welcome (just ask Kanye), a field exhibiting a certain lack of outward interest and high-brow withdrawal of discourse from the general public. In my view, though, architecture is by default a dialogue: developers commission, architects design, city officials restrict, neighbors protest, regular passers-by ask “What is THAT?!”, end-users complain, and so on. There are constant feedback loops between all parties involved, and as we see from the above, some of the named relations are far from perfect. Hence, for me it made sense to use a major architectural event to let those diverse agents get together and talk – in public – what they really thought was going on, or rather, what they though was going to happen with the built environment in the future. We want the environment to be as good as it can possibly be, I reckoned, so we’d better include everyone who has a say in its development process earlier rather than later. Interdisciplinary communication became symposium’s main tool.

Given the time constraints, I decided to “walk the talk” and started applying my dialog approach from the get-go. First of all, I set up meetings with previous TAB curators and all the members of the team individually, to see what everyone’s expectations were. Later, using advice and connections of the team as well as my own “cold-emailing” skills, I managed to compile a list of 14 international speakers from diverse disciplines – from data science to journalism and, of course, architecture – and subdivided the two-day event into four sessions, with the first two being super-broad, and the other two – more specific:

  • “III Industrial Revolution” discussed the origin, evolution and influence of the phenomenon on spatial development,
  • “Data” – which is the “material” of our contemporary world – was devoted to the notions of data, the internet, telecommunications, IoT and the „Smart City“,
  • “Mobility”, focused on autonomous vehicles, new modes of public transportation and the resulting changes to road infrastructure, zoning and architecture, and
  • “Fabrication”, which focused on new geometries and techniques of architectural production.

The event was structured so that each session would last for about 3 hours and consist of the following:

  • 3 x 30 min – Lectures by industry experts and architects directly involved with the topic of the session,
  • 15 min – Coffee Break,
  • 1 hr 15 min – Relating the topic to the Estonian spatial / political / economic context via a panel discussion and Q&A with the audience, which included all speakers plus 2-3 local influencers from backgrounds related to the topic.

As you can see from the third point, I found it crucial to not only include representatives of diverse disciplines, but also local stakeholders in the discussion taking place at the symposium. We did not want the symposium to become a show of global best practices, irrelevant to / irrespective of local conditions.

Needless to say, the format of the event invited both praise and criticism from the team, with some complimenting the intention of striking a conversation among disciplines, and others being concerned about it not being “architectural enough”. However, despite the reality of a near-zero budget, complex speakers’ itineraries and skepticism about its format, the biennale in general and the symposium specifically proved to be a great success.

Apart from the fact that this year’s attendance of the biennale multiplied comparing to the last time, the list of participants in all TAB’s events was beyond ambitious. At the symposium, the President of Estonia Toomas Hendik Ilves himself delivering the opening address, followed by talks by Prof. Carlo Ratti (MIT Senseable City Lab), Prof. Lev Manovich (CUNY, Software Studies Initiative), Steven Poole (The Guardian), Salome Galjaard (Arup) and Roland Snooks (Kokkugia) among others, who discussed their work and what they thought the built environment of the future would look like.

The symposium venue – the machine hall of a recently renovated energy plant “Kultuurikatel”, graciously lent to the symposium by the TAB Lab exhibition and beautifully augmented by Marco Casagrande’s Paracity – was the best possible venue for a symposium aimed at discussing how technology and architecture intertwine. It was close to full throughout the symposium’s 8-hour long days, and additionally was watched online via a stream on ERR.ee (Estonian State Broadcasting Corporation) by a few thousand people.

The media coverage was spectacular. If you are interested, a selection of publications that featured pieces about the biennale and the symposium is here. Below is a brief piece about the biennale on Euronews:

Also, all the videos of symposium presentations have been uploaded to YouTube, and are available here:

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Click on the image to be redirected to TAB’s YouTube channel

So, for those of you, who attended the symposium this year – hope you found it inspiring! For those of you who didn’t – well, let’s jut say you missed out. In two years from now, when the next TAB will take place, make sure to come and visit. I am sure it will be a blast. Again.

P.S. In case any of the team, sponsors, speakers or volunteers are reading this – please accept a big personal Thank You! from me. The symposium would not have happened without you.

For those of you who are interested, are following the progress, or are planning to visit the symposium that will take place within TAB 2015 (Tallinn Architecture Biennale) this September – below is a little update on our status. Just as a teaser: we are expecting Carlo Ratti, Lev Manovich, Steve Diskin and Salome Galjaard, among others. Click on the image to be redirected to the TAB’s web-site and read more.

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Visioon.ai Hi everyone,

News flash: I have been appointed as the Symposium curator for the III Tallinn Architecture Biennale (TAB)!

This year’s TAB will explore the relationship between Architecture and the Third Industrial Revolution (which is perfect, because if you’ve visited this blog at least once before, you know I am a total sci-fi nerd). The Biennale will last from the 9th of September till October 18th, with the symposium taking place on September 10th-11th in Tallinn’s KultuuriKatel. Between some unbelievable speakers and the topic which is super-cool, believe me, you won’t want to miss it! So mark the dates in your calendars and book your flights to Tallinn before they’re too expensive!

Some official information about the event follows:

TAB is an international architecture festival which introduces local architecture culture, current issues concerning architecture, and looks at the future of the architectural profession. TAB offers a program of events for both architecture professionals, students and everyone interested in architecture.

The third TAB will kick off on September 9 and will look into the changes, challenges and opportunities that our cities and their inhabitants will be facing once the third industrial revolution is implemented in full scale. What will this mean for architects, designers, urban planners? TAB will turn Tallinn into a test site for the cities of the future, visualising ideas and conceptualising the way cities are built.

TAB 2015 curatorial team is led by architect and city planner Marten Kaevats and is produced by Estonian Centre of Architecture.

For more information, please visit www.tab.ee

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Recently, I got invited to submit an article to “Ehituskunst” – an annual bilingual Estonian magazine, investigating architecture and theory. The topic, this time, was materiality. If you are interested, you can see a short abstract and download the PDF of the article below.

“What is architecture’s stance on materiality in the context of our modern digitized world? Featuring both personal reflections of the author and a general philosophical discussion, “Embracing materiality” takes a conservative approach, calling materiality the lifeblood of the profession of architecture, and arguing that it is capable of serving as an idea for architecture in the world obsessed with ephemeral concepts. The article is published in both Estonian and English.”

Sergejev, I. (2015). “Embracing Materiality”. Ehituskunst, #57. pp 30-37

In one of my recent posts I referred to an article in the Guardian, called “The truth about smart cities: ‘In the end, they will destroy democracy’” by Scott Poole. A great article overall, this one quote chained my attention:

As the tech companies bid for contracts, Haque observed, the real target of their advertising is clear: “The people it really speaks to are the city managers who can say, ‘It wasn’t me who made the decision, it was the data.’”

This “it wasn’t me, it was the data” attracted my attention not only because it referred to a potentially large topic in the future of city policy and planning, but also because it is directly related to architecture.

I have a feeling that us, architects (and yes, me included), often have a hard time deciding on our designs. It is not surprising, considering the complexity of our profession, responsibilities it implies (as, for example, for whatever reason designing something people will abhor, but which will stay to “pollute” the face of the Earth for years to come as a reminder of our failure [dramatic music here, and an image of a failed architect, please], not to mention all the health-and-safety stuff), and the fact that a lot of times it seems like we are forced to draw a design out of pure ether. Thus, we invent excuses, allowing for, and justifying, our designs. I wrote about this a little bit earlier, but it still seems to me that sometimes we invent strategies for design that we hope will lead us to a design without making decisions. For example:

– “It wasn’t me, it was the random generator in Grasshopper”, or

– “It wasn’t me – the site ‘spoke’ of it”, or

– “It wasn’t me – it was the program…”

And so on. The reality is – architecture is a decision game. And it is largely irrational – at least the formal part of it – whether we like it or not. You need to make decisions, and then face the consequences. And the faster you make those decisions – the better.

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Ultimately, I think, the trouble with making decisions has to do with risk – we want to avoid it at all cost. So we delay making decisions that may ruin us. In the end, though, that “waiting” ruins us anyway. I’ve experienced this a lot of times while doing competitions at various offices, or in my own academic work – most painfully while doing my thesis, for example. But here’s a surprise for you (and all of us) – we can’t avoid risk – it is going to be there regardless. So, the only thing we can do – is change our attitude towards it.

I like the way Michael Ellsberg puts it in his “The Education of Millionaires”, when he is describing the successful people he interviewed for the book:

“I don’t believe the people I feature in this book simply took a bigger bet than everyone else and happened to get lucky and win. Rather, I’ve seen that they have systematically and intentionally developed a style of working that allows them to take lots of small bets – bet after bet after bet after bet – all the while making sure that they don’t get wiped out of the game if one or many of them go south” (p.53). “People who have been successful are still as likely to get it wrong as right going forward. They just try more things” (p.55).

How does this apply to architecture? Very directly: do more stuff, faster! Do that model right now, in 15 minutes! Photoshop that collage now and show it to your professor tomorrow, not in a week. Look at alternative scenarios and designs now, because you do want to know if your great idea doesn’t actually work earlier than that final push 48 hours before the deadline, when it’s to late and you will have to accept the silent defeat of “could have done better” deep in your gut. I think, a student (or professional) of architecture needs to give up the attitude of “holiness” that he/she oftentimes has towards his/her ideas, and regard all of them as little bets.

And guess what: no amount of analysis or benevolent considerations will save you from a bad design. Architecture in a lot of cases is not a rational thing – it is based on gut feeling. Nothing will happen – and you will not know the truth – until you actually run that algorithm, make that line on paper, or cut through that foam. So do it NOW!

Nobody says it better than Dilbert..

architect dilbert

He-he-huhh.. =\

Ok, this is just way too awesome to not be posted. It’s like Interstellar, but without the narrative or humans. I suggest you put this on full screen and make sure you have your sound on – soundtrack choice is amazing. Thank you for the experience Julius Horsthuis.

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