Let us begin with an anecdote. It starts with renowned Italian architectural magazine Domus. Every year, Domus has a guest editor; a working architect, typically rather successful and innovative at that moment. The role of the guest editor is to pose the important questions and frame the important discussions of that year. In 2020, David Chipperfield was guest editor. The central question that defined the October 2020 edition was “Will technology save us?”, an introspective question that triggers visions of dystopian futures. In his editorial for this edition, Chipperfield explores this question, scrutinizing the role of architects in modern society, especially in the context of the current challenges we face; the climate crisis, social inequalities across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic, and many more.
Responses to Chipperfield’s question and editorial were decidedly polar. On one side there was Swiss architect Jacques Herzog (of Herzog & de Meuron), who writes soberly that the role of the architect has rarely influenced society in a meaningful way, instead simply adjusting to existing societal trends. On the other side came a reply from Italian architect Carlo Ratti and Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde, who plead for architects to be colloborative and pro-active in designing and co-designing to serve humanity.
The underlying philosophy in these responses is clear: Herzog is skeptical; Pessimism. Ratti and Roosegaarde are hopeful; Optimism. The duality in these two sides is the theme of this edition: Optimism and Pessimism. A theme that, thanks to myriad popular idioms, we’ve likely all thought about before. It’s a theme that is close to the soul, representing something deep inside of us; how we perceive the world and how we approach the challenges that we encounter. In fact, this theme was chosen by you, readers of Bnieuws, through a poll on Instagram. Maybe it’s a theme that many of us are thinking about these days.
This time around, we’ve collaborated with the INDESEM.21 team, asking them to reflect on a year of rigorous planning leading up this year’s edition of the event. INDESEM, or International Design Seminar, is a week of workshops, lectures, activities and of course a design competition. Read about the history of INDESEM, this year’s theme, a reflection on the year of planning leading up to the event and an interview with design technologist Jan Dierckx. Besides INDESEM, read about the dynamic between locals and expats, the difficult question of whether or not to return home once studies are complete, the ups and downs of the design process, the dynamic between locals and expats , an investigation into the term ‘normal’ and more!
If you’re still with us, thank you for reading this edition. The 32nd page that you've now reached is always a tricky one; a lonely single page stuck between the artefact and the preview of the next edition. A difficult spot to fill. Because of this, we thought it may be interesting to extend the editorial, becoming both opening and closing; prologue and epilogue, perhaps allowing us to reflect more directly and deeply on this edition's theme and its relevance to the current moment.
To say that it's been an unusual time would be an understatement, but there are different ways you can look at these past 15+ months that have become dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The end of a long and strange academic year is in sight, but we're not there yet. Better weather is coming our way, but right now it's raining. We have so many experiences to reflect on and learn new things from, but it's been unpleasant from start to finish.
Which way of thinking do you identify with? Despite, or perhaps because of, the duality of 'optimism and pessimism', we've found that it isn't an easy topic to get a grip on. Initial conclusions only beg more questions, as is often the case. Is it better to be one or the other, and does being either have actual implications for our daily lives? Is being optimistic or pessimistic implicit in our nature as human beings? Does it come from our upbringing and/or from our cultural background? And of course, how does this theme relate to our thought process as designers?
Just thinking out loud, questions such as "will this concave corner of my building be a cool deviation from the larger urban structure or will drunks use it as a public toilet?" come to mind. We’re continuously making assumptions about how our designs will be inhabited or used, and whether you assume the best or assume the worst can make a significant difference in our design choices, be that on the humble scale of the water closet or that of the urban grid.
And then, there’s the question of whether separating such concepts into two absolute and clearly defined camps is even useful. How many truly optimistic or honestly pessimistic people do you actually know? Maybe we are all neither strictly optimistic nor strictly pessimistic; perhaps we fluctuate, moving back and forth, across the spectrum.
Instead of feeding your thoughts with mine, I'll leave you to ponder these questions for yourself; you have a few months to do so before you hear from us again. I think we can finally say with some (cautious) certainty that we have positive things to look forward to. With that, I wish you a restful summer.
Written by Jonas Althuis on behalf of the Bnieuws editorial team.