HOW TO GET A GOLDEN LION: JUSTIN MCGUIRK TALKS ABOUT SELF-ORGANISATION AND THE LACK OF A COMMON GROUND

10.10.2012, 04:45

Justin McGuirk is a journalist and critic and the Director of Strelka Press. He is the 2012 winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, together with Urban-Think Tank, for the Torre David/Gran Horizonte installation. Here he shares his impressions of the Biennale and speaks about the search for a common ground between architects and citizens, the mutation of formal structures under extreme conditions and turning empty skyscrapers into ‘vertical villages’.

Iwan Baan @ dezeen.com

I think that the Common Ground exhibition is a serious attempt to address what architecture culture is for today.

Both previous biennales privileged the idea of architecture as either performance or experience, with varied success. This one is more sober but also more realistic, a reflection on architecture as place-making and not as theatre.

The theme of architecture as place-making asks a crucial question.

We’re witnessing growing social inequality, rampant privatisation, violent political dissent and a utopian project called the European Union that is tearing at the seams — so where is the common ground?  However, apposite though the theme is, I was hoping for a rather different interpretation. The emphasis was on finding a common ground within the architectural profession, which has its value, but I would like to have seen more architects finding common ground with citizens rather than each other. And that’s what Urban Think Tank and I tried to do in our installation. People should know about Torre David and its core idea.

Iwan Baan @ dezeen.com

Iwan Baan @ dezeen.com

People should come to experience an alternative vision of city-making in which architects only played an accidental role.

We’re presenting an unfinished skyscraper in Caracas that has been squatted by 2,500 people. Logically Torre David shouldn’t exist — and only extreme political and economic conditions could allow it to exist — but since it does, we’re asking what we can learn from it. This urban laboratory, as UTT calls it, is an interesting hybrid of formal structure and informal adaptation. The residents of the tower self-organised, brought in water and electricity and made a 45-storey tower with no elevator habitable. That takes ingenuity and resourcefulness. And the point is simply that there is no reason for people to live in slums on the periphery if there are empty skyscrapers in the city centre — and there are speculative office towers standing empty all over the world, so the question is can they be turned into vertical villages?

Iwan Baan @ dezeen.com