of the 'International Union
of Architects' in

(June 28 - July 7, 1996)

Short report by an architectural anthropologist

Evidently there is a need of communication in the world of architecture. The organizers had expected about 6000 visitors at the highest, but finally more than 12'000 had come and had been admitted. The administrating personel had difficulties with the rush. "We have come from China to visit this congress" (or Argentina" etc.!)! Who would ward them off? But beyond the proud numbers, this led to a total chaos particularly at some of the 'hero-cult' events, which were to be held in the crowded centre of the city! The halls were much too small. It was in the newspaper headlines: many peoples who had come from South-America got very emotional and shouted "ladros, ladros" (thieves, thieves) in front of the buildings into which they could not enter. They had payed about 500 US$ per person for registration!

I had gone to Barcelona basically for the "Semiotics and Space: Topogenetics" session to hear some lectures. Amos Rapoport for instance, who, under the title "Anthropology, Meaning and the Built Environment" gave a short survey of his most recently written book. There were some other interesting lectures too, mostly of peoples who are basically interested in the semiotic approach to architectural research. As indicated, originally I had planned to return after this event, but then there was an occasion to inscribe myself for the whole UIA congress. What followed was very stimulating - unfortunately rather in the negative sense.

Ironically, the overall title of the Congress was: "Present and Futures: Architecture in Cities". Why do modern architects organise their largest world-meeting in an old city? Are they afraid to meet in landscapes produced by themselves? Or was it simply conservative Spanish formalism, the old city offering more 'good taste' than the modern suburbs? Anyways, in regard to the conference ambiente, it was absolutely impossible to make up a program with the intent to visit different sections (It may have taken 1 hour to get from one place to another by taxi!).

Therefore I had to limit myself on a particular section, "architecture and communication" which focussed on the activities of architectural magazines and journals. There were interesting names and interesting titles in the program (-> short report), but the sessions were "choreographed" as rather closed 'roundtables', there were practically no horizontal debates. Most of the representants or editors of some well-known architectural magazines just were flewn in as a kind of jet set, gave their reports - editorial office style General line: clinch between "harsh market-conditions" and architects' outlooks. They then disappeared. No engagement. Only meager discussions of secondary or tertiary importance, e.g. 'to what extent do photographs in journals distort the architectural reality?'.

Another characteristic of the verticality at the UIA-Barcelona Congress: There were no tables with new books! Unbelievable, the most important means of communication at any congress of the natural sciences or humanities: new publications. Nothing of that in Barcelona. Does this mean that books have disappeared from the list of communication among the architectural profession? In the past books were burnt. Today they are just not important anymore. Note: There was a large exhibition devoted mainly to building materials.

Of course, all this has to do with the fact that architecture is art, architects are visual persons. Note: there were relatively few paper sessions, but many exhibitions. But, what evidently was most attractive for the 12'000 world-architects from all over the world, was the 'herocult', that is, divine debates among star-architects.

Suddenly I had the feeling to be at a sacred place. Santiago de Compostela? Pilgrimage? This was all like a huge temple, a sanctuary, were all things are apriori fixed , where there are established values to be worshipped, where pilgrims - burning hearts full of belief into 'good form' - come from all over the world. Without doubt, the architects are still deeply caught in their "Post-medieval Myth of the great Creator Genius" (-> UIA-96 Barcelona Manifesto) . God is omniscient. He does not need to know. He has apriori knowledge. And creates. Evidently there is a hidden pyramid in the whole: discussions only take place among stars. 'Cannes', the annual movie fair was close! On a golden jury-podium new moviestars are created. Or fashion in Paris? The latest beautiful people on an elevated forum. Has architecture become a luxury commodity?

Recently the German weekly DER SPIEGEL published a report on the UN-Conference on World-Cities (Habitat II) in Istanbul. It showed the frightening processes of the "world of megacities". In 1950 New York and London were the only cities with more than 8 millions of inhabitants. In 1995 there were 22 (Tokyo: 26.8 millions, 14 cities between 10 and 20 millions, 7 cities between 8 and 10 millions) and the prognosis for the year 2015 assumes 33 megacities (7 cities with 20 to 28.7, 20 cities between 10 and 29, 6 between 8 and 10). The report gave a very frightening scenario of increasing poverty, epidemics, crime and environmental disasters in the worlds largest cities. Eugene Linden in the US journal 'Foreign Affairs': "More and more the fate of the cities decides about the fate of whole nations and world regions". And the German minister of construction: " War or peace depends of the management of cities. If we fail, the strife of the world will start from them."


What finally was really positive in this architectural Barcelona-fair was the vitality of Barcelona itself: LA RAMBLA, the social event par excellence of the city . Simply a platane shaded large avenue, but - an this is most important - reserved in its centre for pedestrians. And all the peoples from this one or two-million agglomeration coming there to walk up and down this roughly 1 mile-strip and have a look at each other. Old and young, just walking (or sitting, there were endless amounts of chairs). A striking manifestation against the isolating trends of modern urbanism. Not the market (shops, showindows), not traffic (cars, buses) in the centre, but the human being! Tourists from all over the world mixing with the inhabitants of Barcelona. Marvellous! A definitely humane tradition.

Architects will never be able to 'plan' such a thing. It is part of an age old humane tradition. And this is where 'culture' comes in! But architecture and urbanism do not care for that!

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