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«Thinking / Transferring / Acting » – Interview with TRANSFER Global Architecture Platform

TRANSFER team with the architect Jorge Pérez Jaramillo visiting Parques del Río, Medellín, March 2019© TRANSFER

By Carolina Martinez

In recent months, the whole world has been telling a story together, without having agreed upon it. Usually, different stories and events that take place in various sites are assembled under a common narrative which is interpreted as the reality of a moment, space, and time.  

At this moment, the «COINCIDENCIA» program wishes to enable the meeting of ideas, hopes, fears, criticisms, and different forms of human and artistic expression in order to discuss, together, what new ways, models, and languages we can project for a post-Coronavirus world. 

Conversation with the architect German Samper in his house and office, Bogotá, March 2019 © TRANSFER
The architect German Samper in his house and office, Bogotá, March 2019 © TRANSFER
CAROLINA MARTINEZ: We are in a period of collective adaptation, situation, and moment around which there has been enough thinking on the individual and global impact, and where we are managing to see a change. Can we recognize any danger in this movement? Where and in what ways does it manifest itself? 

ISABEL CONCHEIRO: I would rather talk about opportunity than danger. Crises are opportunities to reflect, to question and to change. The main danger would be that after this global health crisis, and the social and economic crises related to it, nothing, or very little, would fundamentally change. This crisis is a key opportunity to globally rethink the global economic order that has led to the last financial and environmental crisis and could lead to even deeper ones. 

CM: The opening of what happens in the fields of art and science, and of knowledge, in general, is possible thanks to communication and, above all, to transmission, which is what «COINCIDENCIA» has proposed since its beginning as a program. In this sense, the exchange has been manifested through trips, residencies, exhibitions, and other projects: instances that today have had to seek a reconfiguration. Facing this new scenario, how do you think we could achieve the exchange today and in the future? 

IC: Physical formats of exchange are, and will still be, reduced for a while, but this situation, hopefully, will not last. I think the current situation is a great opportunity to create new digital formats of exchange and to further develop the existing ones. I think they will not substitute, but complement, the physical formats in the future, and probably evolve them. The digital has an enormous potential of knowledge transmission at a global scale and, in that sense, I think that it is very important that the cultural institutions and the governments support the development of cultural projects with a global perspective in the exchange and production of knowledge. This is a very interesting aspect of the COINCIDENCIA program and one of the founding aims of our digital editorial project TRANSFER Global Architecture Platform.

Architect Felipe Uribe visiting his house and atelier, Medellín, March 2019. © TRANSFER
Architect Felipe Uribe visiting his house and atelier, Medellín, March 2019. © TRANSFER
CM: The instability that each one is feeling makes us aware of our fragility, where the future is acquiring a new meaning. We came to a halt together and we are living what we could call a «waiting» time. How has this present been manifested in your work? Is it possible to think about the future and, with it, imagine the new forms that your projects could take? 

IC: I think this is a key moment to bring to the forefront urgent issues from different disciplines. From our perspective as architects and editors, this is the time to raise important questions about the current model of globalisation, the impacts of global warming, the need of improving housing conditions and rethinking the current model of cities, just to name a few. In order to address these issues, during the last three months we have conceptualised, set up and launched a new section in our digital platform TRANSFER entitled TRANSFER NEXT aiming to share ideas on the current and future global challenges for society and architecture in the light of the current situation. For this, we have invited renowned authors in the field of architecture and urban planning, such as Juhani Pallasmaa, Nader Tehrani or Rahul Mehrotra, together with filmmakers from all over the world, to contribute to these series in the form of articles, conversations and video essays. 

This period has, of course, implications in the specific case of the participation of TRANSFER in the COINCIDENCIA program. After a first trip to Colombia and Chile last year, in order to set up the basis to organise a public event related to architecture, the current situation led us to focus on the production of original content about architectural and urban issues in South America, based on the extremely interesting exchanges we had with architects and urban planners during the trip. The publication of this content will certainly help to set up the basis of the main topics and questions to be further developed in physical formats of exchange in the future. 

CM: The confinement to which a large part of the world is forced has led to the implementation of new strategies not only of communication and interaction but also, and above all, of survival. In many countries, and especially in Latin America, the first effects of what will be the worst economic crisis in decades are already being seen, which will cause people to leave their homes or live with other people, for example. If housing is the first human need to be solved, and now this is no longer a future certainty for some people, is it possible today to see new ways of thinking about urban space and different housing solutions that propose ways of living that were not contemplated? What types of investigations are being carried out on this? 

IC: This pandemic has made crucial problems and inequalities in housing all over the world even more visible. Housing is a right – although still not guaranteed for everybody -, and this experience has made clear that good and quality housing should be a right as well. Housing standards should be guaranteed, but these standards must evolve and incorporate architectural quality and reflections about new ways of living, the way the house relates with and expands to the outside, environmental aspects… Housing design is an architectural problem, but the mechanisms of housing production are a political and economic matter that must be addressed by different actors. Currently, we talk about the need for a new Green Deal – which is absolutely fundamental, but we also need to talk about a new Housing Deal. I think a crucial issue is the increasing financialisation of housing since the 1970s that has highly contributed to the global housing and economic crisis in 2008, and could lead to forthcoming ones, with deep social, economic and environmental implications worldwide. Housing should be at the forefront of the political agendas, as a right and a place thought for people to live in, rather than a financial asset to invest in. 

Architect Jorge Pérez Jaramillo visiting Parques del Río, Medellín, March 2019© TRANSFER
Architect Jorge Pérez Jaramillo visiting Parques del Río, Medellín, March 2019© TRANSFER
CM: Architecture works around the body and its relationship with space, where it also influences the time, a relationship that is entirely dislocated nowadays. What are the main challenges for a discipline that works directly with tangible and measurable elements? If reality, space, and time are being disrupted by the current living conditions, in what new ways can architecture and other activities act for the social development and the improvement of people’s lives without risking distorting reality? And how would it be possible to transmit these actions and new knowledge?

IC: I think this experience has made us aware of the importance of the space, and it has confirmed that the digital will play an increasing role both in the private and the public spheres. This is not at all a contradiction; it reinforces the important role that architecture and urban disciplines are called to play. As Yung Ho Chang explains in an interview for the TRANSFER NEXT series, the «pure architectural experience», the experience of not banal, but quality spaces, of more human cities and in contact with nature will be very important. The spaces of our homes where we may spend more time and do different kinds of activities should be better, nicer, more flexible, more sustainable, more related with nature. The physical experience and the material aspects of architecture will not be minimized but will be even more important in our increasing digital world. 

Isabel Concheiro © TRANSFER
Isabel Concheiro © TRANSFER

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