What does the word “belonging” mean in the age of migration? Form Magazine went to the premiere weekend of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016.
You’d better not to be under the weather when it’s time for the Norwegian architecture triennale; it’s an orchid that only blooms once every three years. Architect people from near and afar gather in Oslo to debate, see exhibitions, attend seminars and workshops – and the last time I was there it generated ideas for a number of articles in the Form, including the interview with the Detroit-builder Chris Reed and the Masdar City reportage. This year is the sixth round of OAT since its inception in 2000, a massive effort with an inauguration conference in the breathtaking Opera House and an intensive program that will run until the end of November.
This year’s theme “After Belonging” is a kind of continuation of the social approach at the Venice Biennale, focusing on community building architecture in the age of migration and climate change. What does “belonging” mean, is the overriding question – in a time of refugee crisis, housing shortage and natural disasters? It’s about “coming to, and coming from”, according to the curators at After Belonging Agency.
On the inaugural conference this Friday, everything from emergency housing to philosophical reflections on identity and capitalism was discussed – and architecture as methodology and idea. I would have gone to Oslo just to hear Eyal Weizman from Forensic Architecture, the British agency that use spatial analysis to conduct human rights research and investigate environmental crime on an international scale. Weizman’s lecture was one of the funniest, about the human rights of orangutangs and the remarkable architecture that they create in the tree tops of Borneo.
Territorial Agency was there, too, the Finnish-Swiss duo who “innovatively promotes and works for sustainable territorial transformations”. They run, among other things, the Anthropocene Observatory – a project that documents the Anthropocene, the geological epoch that begun when human activities started to have a global impact on the Earth.
Norwegian Studio Bengler‘s activist collaboration with OMA – named Panda – was quite compelling, an investigation of the sharing economy and a digital, counter-organisational tool for the new, atomised working force that is being exploited by “algocrat masters” – namely, global profiteers such as Uber and Airb’n’b. Panda was also shown on DogA in On Residence, one of the two triennale exhibitions.
Biennials and triennials otherwise tend to showcase the internal, cognitive dissonance of architects: pleas for sustainability and non-fossil energy – in Europe’s own Dubai. Arguments for architecture as an agent for social change, while many starchitect offices in the West allow themselves to be employed by dictatorships: such as the architect firm Snøhetta’s presence in Saudi Arabia, to take a Norwegian example. How does that equation add up? The question of the architect’s personal code of honor was touched briefly in a panel discussion with the Snøhetta founder Kjetil Thorsen: a topic that was too complex for the meagre timeframe of 20 minutes. One would have wished for a few more hours. Or days.
It should be said that there still is a logic to that oil nations contemplate the non-fossil future: oil reserves run out, as we all know. The fact that the giant project with the carbon-neutral eco-city of Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is sponsored for a number of oil-billions by the government, is no coincidence. And the world’s largest concentrated solar plant is being built right now in Dubai.
Meanwhile, Oslo is undergoing a total, nearly Dubai-like makeover. Adjacent to the Opera House, the construction of a new central library and the spectacular Munch Museum, designed by Spanish Herreros Arquitecto, has started – as well as the new National Museum of Art (designed by Kleihues + Schuwerk Gesellschaft von Architekten) nearby. The harbour area is being expanded with several seaside districts, including Sørenga which will be completed before 2017. In addition, they plan to make the entire inner city car-free. More on that to come.