The New Radicalism

Historically the notion of what is seen as radical within the profession of architecture has been related to the most complex, the biggest and the tallest. Advanced technology and a certain polemic describing what´s next have played a central role in describing future prospects. All of these movements share a theoretical platform based on a linear evolution stating that what once was will become obsolete and replaced. A lot of these ideas are now being challenged by a new generation of architects.

We all know the work of Archigram and how they throughout the 60s presented a series of fictional projects displayed the megastructures of the future cities. The group embraced complexity, technology and consumerism. For instance The Walking City by Ron Herron was a literal translation of Le Corbusier's ideas of architecture as a machine for living. Partner at Zaha Hadid Architects Patrik Schumacher is advocating for a parametric design as the next paradigm in architecture. The following prophecies by Schumacher illustrates this: “there is a global convergence in recent avant-garde architecture that justifies its designation as a new style: parametricism." In the size category the competition for the highest building in the world is still on and is currently being led by SOM and their Burj Dubai skyscraper.

All these examples can be described as a linear evolution describing the next revolutionary step in architecture.

Today walking cities, parametric design and building the tallest building in the world have little appeal in among large groups of young architects. This became evident in the invited competition for the new Governmental Quarter in Oslo. Both Snøhetta and BIG presented a quarter consisting of contextually speaking, enormous pointy towers. BIG even described it with a rather naive mountain metaphor. MVRDV enclosed the old government quarter with an enormous ring made of a low rise but still large and dens building. They all had sleek rhetorics and sparkling images trying to scream the loudest to convince politicians and and dazzle the people.

A group of students from the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) were also invited to submit an entry. One might expect the craziest of ideas from students. The most radical proposals. The jury was surprised to find out that this was not the case. The students had the seemingly most humble project. How could this happen? Has the upcoming generation of students lost the critical and innovational edge?

The answer is no. In the above mentioned example one can argue that the submission from AHO were in fact the only radical proposal. They choose to work with the existing conditions in a contextual manner discussing, history, proportions and by asking relevant questions about the program itself. They even refused to demolish the historically important Y-blokka which occupies the parts of the site today. Regarding the program the students proposed to put some of it under ground and also to reduce it with the argument that how we work are changing and we will not be needing as much space as the program suggests.

Could it be that being radical is not necessarily a linear development of bigger, taller and more advanced? Today we know that this way of thinking has led to a cynical exploitation of natural resources, overconsumption, pollution and a fragile global economy largely based on short term thinking and loans. A lot of younger people are aware of this and want to reverse this tendency by slowing down the pace and work in a conscious and critical manner focusing on often more subtile parameters like proportions, thresholds, history and local awareness both in terms of context, labour and materials. The goal is not to have the tallest building on ones resume, but rather to have the most suitable and appropriate building for that particular site.