Bye bye utopia!

Raumlabor’s provocative statement

Saying goodbye to utopia, German architecture collective Raumlabor embraces the current alternative vision to construction that promotes space-making through the consultation and the direct participation of inhabitants, favours small-scale and locally-based projects.


Convinced that the world urgently needs “more substantial approach[es]” to architecture, Raumlabor claims that - despite loving “the great ideas of the 60s-70s and the optimism which is inherent in changing the world at the stroke of a pen to the better” [1] - there is no more space for utopias in contemporary society.

As the collective underlines “there was once a society that believed the future would bring better living conditions to everyone. (...) Today only a feeling remains, half desire, half melancholy, reminiscing of those architects who wanted to live in a better society and who had dreamed of better places. Such an era is now over.” [1]

Supporting concrete and durable projects with a hands-on approach the ideal of Raumlabor is nevertheless highly critical towards the contemporary society, a specificity it paradoxically shares with all utopias. [2].



One of the latest projects of the team - the ephemeral urban initiative Institute of the Visionaries (2016) - challenges its statement towards utopia. Developed during a residency in Sukhumi - the capital of Abkhazia, a small territory situated on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, between Georgia and Russia - the project aimed at providing “a framework for cultural and artistic creation and dialogue”. [3]

With an average population of 240,000 inhabitants, and many abandoned buildings, Sukhumi constituted the ideal field of exploration for Raumlabor - which often seeks “difficult urban locations. (...) Places that are abandoned, left over or in transition that contain some relevance for the processes of urban transformations”. Places that offer “untapped potential which we try to activate”. [1]

It is here - in a city that constantly fights for its own existence - that the team tried to turn the collective ideals of the population into reality.



“We were positively surprised how people were eager to discuss what could happen in the city”

To enable the architects to get a better idea of the Abkhazian city, two online platforms were created, the first, called "This remote town", enabled Sukhumi’s inhabitants to publish photographs of their daily routine, while the second, entitled "This super diverse district in a central city", featured images of Berlin regularly posted by Raumlabor.

These two platforms fulfilled their role in opening up the dialogue between the architects and the local population. “We were positively surprised how people were eager to discuss what could happen in the city” [4], explains the team on its website. The next step was the creation of a large scale drawing of the city, on which everyone was invited to share ideas and thus participate to the realisation of a “collective vision for the future”.

A location - an old abandoned train station - was then designated as the temporary Institute of the Visionaries which was thought as “a platform upon which societal participation is being renegotiated and new ideas of community are being constructed and tested” [4], says the collective.



The last step of the residency - the re-appropriation of the train station as a public space - was developed during a week-long workshop in the course of which the train station was officially renamed by the population and converted into a meeting place with a series of in-common facilities - among which Raumlabor’s inflatable structure where people could play ping-pong and even a barbecue.

Encouraging collaborative practices is one of Raumlabor’s trademarks and surely the most provocative. Somehow this trademark - to paraphrase the political theorist Marius De Geus - holds up a mirror to us all as it unveils an aspect of reality “that we have long failed to notice” [5] or at least to put into practice: the global need of cooperation within the urban context.




All images © Raumlabor Berlin collective.

Sources:
[1] Read Raumlabor's statement ; [2] Marius de Geus, "Ecological Utopias: Envisioning the Sustainable", International Books, 1999, p. 19 ; [3] The programme was developed by SKLAD, Sukhum/i ‘s unique art residency. http://www.skladresidency.space/residency/ ; [4] http://raumlabor.net/institute-of-the-visionaries/ [5] Marius de Geus, "Ecological Utopias: Envisioning the Sustainable", International Books, 1999, p. 31;


Published: 27 Jan. 2017


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