Oil platforms, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2015, Photo by Armin Linke, in Phenomenology of Extractivism, Non-Extractive Architecture: On Designing without Depletion, Vol.1, © Joseph Grima
Radical Repair and Inequalities in Architecture
September 29 2023
Stefano Boeri, President of Triennale Milano, introduces the international event of The World Around and reflects on radical repair and inequalities in architecture.
It is truly an honor to be a part of this special event here at Triennale Milano. Thanks to The World Around and Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain we have gathered here today some of the best designers, architects and creatives on the scene to reflect on the historic responsibility and complicity that architecture and its related fields have over the current climatic crisis, and to ask ourselves what role architecture and design can play in creating, inventing and enacting radical forms of repair.
Triennale started its own reflection on these themes a few years ago, with its 22nd International Exhibition titled Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival, curated by Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the MoMA in New York. Broken Nature invited scholars, designers, and artists to return to the natural world the resources extracted, manipulated, and compromised by centuries of human colonization. The exhibition highlighted the concept of restorative design and studied the state of the threads that connect humans to their natural environments. Broken Nature celebrated design’s ability to offer powerful insight into the key issues of our age, moving beyond pious deference and inconclusive anxiety and promoting the importance of creative practices in designing reparations when necessary, through objects, concepts, and new systems.
Lu Wenyu, The Amateur Architecture Studio, Ceramic House, Jinhua, China, photo by Laksana Studio
Four years later, we believe that a fundamental theme such as that of asking ourselves how to repair the damage, mend the tears, return what has been extracted, can be declined according to two main topics.
The first concerns the risk that the concept of repair could be interpreted as an attitude of "medicalization", of arrogant distance towards the world of life. This noble “ethics of compensation” of reparation, suddenly could seem to us a little bit excessively interconnected with the oppositional dualism that has separated our life as the hegemonic species from the other lives and the changing phenomena of the world. In just a few years, humanity has experienced four great upheavals: fundamentalist terrorism, the collapse of financial markets, pandemics, and wars between peoples are, in fact, different and extreme ways through which we might see how the now emerging question (to which various disciplines, and first of all anthropology as a self-reflective branch of knowledge, seek to give an answer) is whether it is still possible to think of ourselves as a living species capable of inhabiting the world on the basis of a principle of cognitive and cultural distancing from the world itself.
Is it still possible to think of ourselves as a living species capable of inhabiting the world on the basis of a principle of cognitive and cultural distancing from the world itself?
Whether it is possible to continue to exercise the assumption of a “dualism”—between human and non-human, between culture and nature, between human technologies and natural phenomena, between the anthropic environment and natural environments—which has accompanied the development of human knowledge for many centuries.
And nothing more powerful than the pandemic of Covid-19, a microorganism that multiplies in the bodies of individual members of the human species, could bring us abruptly face to face with the fragility of our clumsy attempts to think of ourselves as “different” from nature and from the (vegetable and animal) manifestations that we have tried so hard to keep outside our bodies, our houses, and our cities; cities that have been built over the centuries as exclusively mineral environments.
junya ishigami+associates, House and Restaurant, Ⓒ junya.ishigami+associates
Overcoming the dualism between the human sphere and the natural sphere, between technology and nature is, after all, an approach that has been confirmed and even strengthened by the extraordinary exhibition on forests that Foundation Cartier pour l'art contemporain and Hervé Chandès have promoted—and which we are currently hosting here.
Even just the title of this exhibition, which hosts the visions and works of many artists from the indigenous population of the forests of Amazonia, the Parajuan Chapo and New Mexico, Siamo Foresta (We are Forest), is an invitation to overcome the dualism between the human sphere and natural sphere and to move our species' point of view on the world, from the pedestal of a dominant culture.
We have now understood that the brief period in human history in which we were under the illusion that a powerful technological innovation—the boom of the digital sphere and immaterial forms of communication—could reduce and even erase not only geographical distances, but even social differences and race and gender inequalities, is now behind us.
The rhetoric about a globalized world has been swept away by those major crises that have affected and at the same time differentiated the geography of the last twenty years: fundamentalist terrorism with the rigid contrast it entails between different faiths and regions in the world; the subprime crisis of 2007/8 and the social chasms created by financial speculation; the Covid-19 pandemic with the emergence of generational fragility alongside economic and social fragility; and, finally, the war in Ukraine with its violent geopolitical contrasts between dying empires, established empires and rising empires.
With the gradual evaporation of the very concept of globalization, the issue of inequality has powerfully returned to the centre of contemporary history. One important reason for this is that it is fueled by the three major energies—global energies, in a way—which are redefining the differences in the biospheres of our planet: – The first is global warming and the vast climate migrations resulting from it; – The second powerful energy is Artificial Intelligence and the immense transformations in the organization of labour (yesterday we hosted here Chen Quifan, the Chinese writer who told us his point of view on the risks and opportunities created by AI. But just reading The Maniac, the latest beautiful book by Benjamín Labatut, helps us to understand what a profound and powerful transformation and transfiguration of our relationship with the world we are heading towards). – The third energy, not yet completely visible, but extraordinarily powerful because it arises from the naked life of billions of individuals of our species, is the rejection of biological determinism in (institutional) codes of gender identification—and the emergence of plural forms of expression in the lives of millions of individuals.
With the gradual evaporation of the very concept of globalization, the issue of inequality has powerfully returned to the centre of contemporary history.
After all, the loss of effectiveness of any rigid binary organization (city-country, wealth-poverty, centre-periphery, public-private, material-immaterial, believer-non-believer, male-female, health-disease) only confirms that the issue of growing inequalities in the present condition of humanity calls for a plurality of perspectives and interpretive keys.
The contemporary world, its cities, suburbs, informal settlements, large urbanized country areas, and agricultural and mountain hamlets: all the living and working spaces of the human species are traversed today by multiple and at the same time contradictory drives, which tend to exacerbate racial, social, religious and cultural differences.
These include the fundamental difference related to individual social mobility dynamics.
Undoubtedly, in contrast to the growing phenomenon of the migration of bodies between different and distant areas of the planet, what is being curbed today, in the cities of the world, is primarily the social mobility of individuals—that is to say, their ability and opportunity to acquire a different educational qualification, change social status, improve their economic and cultural condition, and make transitions across the spectrum of gender identities over the course of their lives.
The favela Paraisópolis borders the affluent neighborhood of Morumbi in São Paulo, Brazil
For all this reasons we have decided to put the theme of inequalities at the center of the maps, projects and visions that will give life to the next International Exhibition of Triennale Milano, which will start in May 2025.
Aware as we are, that a project or policy of social and environmental restitution or reparation that does not take care to avoid increasing the growing inequalities in human societies, risks being even counterproductive and harmful in achieving the same objectives, however ethically right, correct, that it poses.
INEQUALITIES will aim to map inequalities while at the same time searching for the most advanced political projects for a society in which differences constitute an intentional and mobile value and resource, to be recomposed within new forms of community. A research that is intended to highlight not only the sphere of urban communities, but also the bio-political sphere of individual bodies.
We have decided to put the theme of inequalities at the center of the maps, projects and visions that will give life to the next International Exhibition of Triennale Milano.
View of Mumbai, India, photo by Andrei Armiagov on Shutterstock
The forum that we host today, your contributions, could not be more coherent and consistent with this project of ours.
This why I want to invite you, here, today, to help us to prepare this great reflection on inequalities, to become our partners in a project that for six months—during the next Triennale Expo, from May to November 2025—will make Milan the place in which to collect cartographies, thoughts and projects pertaining to the major new issue of inequalities between individuals of the human species in the contemporary world.
Thanks so much, I wish you a successful job.