In this text I will try to orient in one of the phenomena of contemporary architecture, the features of which could be easily found in Lithuania, too. This phenomenon is architectural activism. It is related to a number of projects and initiatives (to be reviewed later), which supplement and disclose the peculiarities of the phenomenon in Lithuania. It is quite new, important and still little criticized in our Lithuanian cultural environment, to which architecture can easily be attributed. To architecture activism provides the features of dynamic and social cultural phenomenon, still in need of more detailed discussion and examination. Cultural dynamism and sociality has not been and still is not a rule in Lithuania. It is more necessary than compulsory feature, as here, in Lithuania, like elsewhere (but, of course, more here than anywhere else) different generations of architects understand their architectural activity and mission in differently, and a gap between these understandings, especially in Lithuania, is very deep… True, for some time already, the subject of architectural activism has been very popular. Quite a lot of texts have been written on it, but describing more western rather than Lithuanian experiences. In general, non-institutional tone and unscientific language, as well as countercultural imperatives and intonations are common when speaking about this phenomenon. Icon, Volume, Monu, Log and other contemporary non-institutional architectural ideologies and research platforms discuss architectural activism critically, in different ways. Some of them have been liberated from the euphoria of prejudiced positivism and has a realistic approach onit. So far, the phenomenon has not reached “the heights” of institutional and serious scientific research, but the subject is covered in quite a number of books and articles.
Discussions on the ways how to achieve something in architecture and through architecture with the use of the means and practices of architectural activism very often look like a new panacea for shaping modernist architectural mentality and improve the society. Actually, they may be more like a way to improve architects, as the society does not need any treatment or salvation, at least with the help of architecture… This messianic function was attributed to architecture during the post-war periods, when there was a special need for restoration of destroyed environments. In such times, the need for ideas and architectural activities was especially urgent, and it contributed to the overestimated architects’ status in society. Their strong relations to mass construction on the state level and regeneration programs just strengthened their pose of prominence. In the gradual process of change of the socio-cultural situation and public expectations, this pose retained its stability. In all times, the political engagement of architecture would often provide the features of high – elite (and very expensive) – art to it, and such art, as a rule, is asocial (sociality in this case being understood as being in close relationship with society at large, although the latter is considered the populace by many). In contemporary times of after-modernist criticism, when architecture has become a commodity and its cultural phenomena have gained the features of actual criticism and unconventionalism, in relation to thinking and processes, its position essentially changed. Architects are no longer associated with the elite occupation, and the boundaries of architecture itself have expanded a lot beyond its traditional notions. Sociality is one of the essential features of contemporary architecture in the 21st century, without which such large-scale projects (e.g. of post-war times) may be realized only if they are clothed in the communication coats of social (if not socialist) welfare, the inner content of which has essentially remained the same, so as the tasks – improvement of the world and life with the help of modernist means. In essence, not only the modernist language, but also the approach has remained unchanged. As manifested by the recent “bubble” experiences, such communication benefit has been well used by real estate mercantilists, who managed to mortgage easily the lives of the members of the same social layer just by showing signals of positive mood or “good life” and selling the image of architecture, rather than good architecture or good environment for happy living. Such combination of architectural sociality contributes to annihilation of quality of architecture and changes (has changed) radically urban views and mental images by easy typing them according to the commercial capitalist pattern. It may be the case that the indirect reaction and preconceived negative approach to such commercialism in order to achieve the qualitative development and content of architecture has determined the new form of architectural sociality, which is manifested in activism. It may also be the case that together with critical social approach and skepticism towards prevailing contemporary socio-economical situation all over the globe, the new generations of architects have brought radically new thinking and attitudes on contemporary architecture and on the ways of its development in their architectural praxes. It may also be, however, that the same phenomenon of activism is perceived one way in the cultural discourse of Western Europe, where the antiglobalistic social criticism is considered normal, and absolutely differently in our post-communist context, where even the sense of community for a long time was associated with sociopathology of one or another type, or political youth organizations, and in general was considered alien or even rejectable due to its connotations with communist romanticism. But at present, in almost twenty years, a community has become a discovery, and in some places – actual bulldozer power and a tool to lay down the law by ways of controlled democracy. Thus our post-communist reality, where the controversies of environment and peculiarities of community activities also look interesting and exotic on the background of contemporary western culture of “success marketing”, provide some additional relevance, charm and fashion in discussing this phenomenon. Our architectural activism looks interesting and exotic to a westerner, as we try to match things, which are simply unmatchable in normal society, – post-communist modernist mentality of socium with contemporary lifestyles and traditions of community life. Under normal conditions, these two poles of a magnet do not connect, but it is possible the ambition to connect them thus making mental tensions in the changing post-communist society is an object of interest… It is very often so that in applying for support for any artistic or social project it is enough just to mention post-communist “bedroom districts” and social conflict in them, and it is very plausible you will get “the financing”. Not a single element of your applied project, however, still does not guarantee or even signal the quality of it or research. Sometimes it looks like it is sufficient to “stimulate” or “provoke” and the goal is already reached. What hides beyond this, and where it leads, most often remains an unanswered question, but… as it is widely known, contemporary culture is not supposed to answer questions or be somehow useful. It can exist and prosper per se. Too often such provocative stimulation just discloses the diseases of local communities and their symptoms, which are clear and known already, and only in very rare cases it destroys social myths on the locality and community. I may be wrong about this post-soviet nostalgic fashion, but it can be very easily checked, so I encourage my readers to do it. So, in this text I will continuously avoid the pseudo nostalgic romantization of the communist past and attempt to look at it realistically and critically in so far as the framework of the issue under discussion will allow me. I will try to explain what the architectural activism is, review the fundamental issues of architectural sociability with an attempt to disclose the “genes” of activism in it.
Context of Architectural Activism
In difference to the relatively safe “greenhouse” environment in soviet design and planning institutes, an architect now exposed to conditions of capitalist competition must be active. In this case, the sphere of influence does not make sense. Competition only little depends on the socio-cultural context. The latter affects only changes in the forms of competition. Processes and methods of architectural creation in the fierce competitive environment differ a lot from those existing in the commercially safe and ensured conditions. In the fierce competitive environment passiveness is usually identified with stagnation and inevitable finale, failure or disaster, and failure of course does not fit with the image of contemporary architect (and most of businessmen). In this capitalist environment of wild survival competition, typical business management principles and requirements, sales strategies and even tricks are also applied to architecture. To tell the truth, even many arts step by step are becoming competitive and businesslike, and this does not necessarily mean the lack of quality. Evidently, it is logical that the concept of activism has also penetrated other spheres, including architectural praxis, and infected them with diseases of excessive usefulness and effectiveness, which usually do not mean quality. Although, in case of architecture, individual activism as a principle of profession and creativity has long ago become a feature of culture, but it is not necessarily social in a contemporary sense. Therefore the main element in this context must be sociality, because socially active (or responsible) architectural praxis is a novelty allowing for the gradual transformation of the methods, forms and even technologies of contemporary architectural creation by relating them with socium or community. So, a creative and active architect is a type of contemporary genius, which has replaced the former modernist – the physician of society – and post-modernist – the critic of society. This transformation of an architect as a genius type is regular, and each period in architecture history has its own characteristic universal “benchmark” image of an architect in society, although the fundamental provisions and principles of architecture as profession change not so fast. Such “benchmark” image of contemporary architect in society is the following: a creative and active problem settler covering and connecting different spheres of artistic and technical creation and social activities, functioning on different social layers. Such quality of universality clearly shows a condition of contemporary architecture and stands in proof of the statement that these times it is not enough just to make good architecture. It has to be not only sold and “lobbied”, but also popularized, disseminated and introduced to society. This concept is not new; it was understood by modernists already in the first half of the 20th century. But they did not realize that architecture must interact directly with society and be created for it, with participation of it and even through it. Such an approach eliminates any connotations between messianism and architectural activity and praxis, which were taken for granted in times of modernist criticism. Thus in the 21st century Arquitectonica socialis interdisciplinaris is more or less its real condition. It is noteworthy that one of the cornerstones for existence of the architect’s profession is the law of its internal renewal. The conditions and requirements are raised namely by society. In absence of the socium, which would need some extraordinary architecture expressed by exclusive structures and objects, it seems, the essential precondition for existence of such architecture is missed. The simplest cottage or pit-house becomes an architectural problem only when higher aesthetical, technological, typological and any other requirements are raised to it. As long as it is an object within the boundaries of elemental and, by its significance or influence, personal micro reality, and not becoming important to a larger group or community, often it is not an architectural issue per se and its settlement is in line with the norms of local tradition and construction craft. But this is more characteristic to archaic socio-cultural environment and pre-modern society. In times of modern thinking paradigms, even simple residential house or tent often can become an architectural challenge or problem, but it depends on the socium and socio-cultural environment. Then the degree of sociality and nature of architecture determine different aesthetical and cultural qualities, and architect’s task is just translating these qualities into the language and form of architecture. Contemporary situation is such that socium is willing to take part in this translation process, and this transforms the aforementioned conventional methods of architectural creation and places architects into ambiguous position of kierkegaardic choice: either an architect retains his learned ways of architectural creation and remains a socially-passive “project manager” focusing his activities on the present (which soon may disappear or no longer be necessary), or rejects them and adjusts to the socio-cultural situation, changes the character of his activities into the interdisciplinary one and the means of static formalization of architecture into organization of dynamic processes, thus projecting his professional activities towards the future (which is dynamic). Architecture has always been in the sphere of interdisciplinary activities, just, perhaps, this can be seen more clearly nowadays. So that architecture could be of high quality and long-term, reflecting the classical canons (utilitas – usefulness, firmitas – solidity and venustas – beauty), is has to accumulate the newest technical, technological and aesthetical knowledge of the many fields of science and architecture. Even if today we no longer believe in this Vitruvian “trinity”, a need to use various innovations – to begin with philosophical doctrines up to technical innovations applicable in construction – determines the state of permanent transition of architecture and necessity to be an interdisciplinary subject. Architecture changes with the transformation of society, and this is natural. On the contrary, any attempts to define architecture by any stable (if not stagnant) doctrine and consider it a finite thing are unnatural. For quite a while contemporary architecture is no longer a science, art, technology, policy, ideology, environment or separate unrelated constructs. It is all of these things together, so it no longer fits with such stable triads or definitions of Borromean rings. Contemporary architecture is a sphere of interdisciplinary activities, encompassing all mentioned above and still not mentioned definitions, which define it as a dynamic contemporary socio-cultural phenomenon existing and happening in the field of contemporary cultural events and technical, technological and social processes. It can no longer be discussed or criticized from the positions of the 19th century, as well as the dogmatic positions of the 20th century. As discourses and architecture itself have changed, so speaking about it should change, too. The even change of the concept of architecture since the appearance of this profession has never been a merit of architects. The aforementioned sociality and relationship with the client in this profession is its essential quality preconditioning this transformation. It is also true that the notion what is architecture and what it is not in different times has been conceived by architects themselves rather than society. The society is much more concerned about what is and what is not good architecture. But this simplified binary structure is very unstable, its criteria continuously and gradually change together with society, and what was proclaimed a masterpiece ten years ago at present can be easily destroyed. Too often both actions are carried out by members of the same society. What was the essence of architecture for Vitruvius, was not necessarily treated the same by a neoclassicist or even a modernist in the beginning of the 20th century. It is true that an object built by collective attempts after some time may be considered “bad” architecture and condemned for destruction by the same collective consensus. This happened not to a single piece of modernist or even early art deco architecture. On the one hand, we need to understand that collective opinion is easily formed and depends on the resources and needs, on the other, it is quite positive that such examples are not so many in the history of architecture. What is absolutely clear that one of the ways of such architectural “lynch” is activism. So, if it may be so easily applied to destruction of architecture, it may be the way to create it. In such a way the life time of architecture (which is very short nowadays) may be prolonged. Thus under the changed contexts, the ways of architecture formation also change. Architecture can be formed with the informed help of society or community, when the latter even take part in the creative process. In the game of architectural activism, socium needs to believe in excellence of architectural solution, as if it has made it by itself. Looking from the broader historical perspective, following a few waves of modernist criticism, the ideas of which are still digested in the Lithuanian architecture criticism, architecture, its concept and creative methods have been forced to change globally. The same is true with the image and position in society of an architect-genius – they had to change, although if the ideas of modern urbanism were criticized, its architects were not. Eventually, an architect modernist with all his advantages, not only imperfections, from a social protagonist had become a complete social antagonist – a wrongdoer of society, therefore changes were inevitable, and so they came. In the last decade of the 20th century, the forms, methods and technologies of modern architecture changed. Architects’ turn towards society was inevitable, but not a single architect, even fiercest critic of modernism, renounced the modernist values of architecture. We remained modernists, however loud this could sound. We all manage modernist form and content, and try to explain it to society otherwise than this was done by our predecessors. This may be a pretext for activism – to teach and enlighten society in the forms and ways acceptable to it. The goal has not changed, only the means and ways of its achievement. It may look like I am speaking of some global architectural sabotage or plot. There is no plot, there are just signs showing that architectural activism is not a radical turn, but just the reconstruction of means with attributes of emotionality, social justice and informativeness. In the period of after-modernist criticism, asocial architecture was doomed and, probably, for good. Therefore a contemporary architect works in an extremely broad field: as public relations representative, as social workers, as creative problem settler, as business ideologist or even spiritual guru. The boundaries of architecture as a profession have broadened. This was influenced by brandification, success marketing and similar things. This is demonstrated by contemporary professional adaptation to changing global socio-cultural conditions and “socialization” of an architect’s profession. Activism is one of the forms of such “socialization”. Is it really a new type of architect’s praxis? Still, hard to tell. Absolutely commercial architectural praxis exits, which is also called architectural creation. Absolutely ideological architectural praxis exists – marketing or activity of construction of successful economic images and its research side, for example, AMO and its other prototypes. Commercial and socially-orientated praxis exists, which is orientated towards society expecting commercial benefit, which looks socially correct and brings architectural realization. I would call it mimicry of architectural activism. Activism, it seems, can be a new form of architectural praxis, characteristic to the welfare societies with socially-orientated environment, and its signs, means, elements and subtypes can be found in many activities related to architecture. But there is the other – radically critical – side of this phenomenon maintaining that activism is not productive, often imitational with artificially expanded circle of settlers, denied personal responsibility and hardly achievable results. This approach is represented by Markus Miessen, who drop architectural activism from the skies of euphoric romanticism to the ground of realistic criticism.
Typologies of Activism in Architecture
Reviewing the practices of architectural activism, it is not difficult to notice their common logic vectors. Any practice of activism is directed to changes: of certain condition, situation, solution, attitude, etc. This change may be short- or long-term, more or less clearly expressed, but it is always easily recognizable in motivations of architectural activism. A change of any kind is a vector summarizing all practices of activism. Their other qualities and objectives determine their means, character and results. Contemporary activism has many names and tackles problems of different scale, cultural fields and territories. My research covers more or less socially orientated architectural practice. Different synonymous definitions are used to name it: community based design, socially responsive design, participatory architecture, public interests, etc. From the conceptual approach, this practice is based on one important argument: professional architects understand architecture differently than it is perceived and understood by society. Nowadays this difference is essential. While speaking about the same thing, each side uses the definitions, language and discourses acceptable and understandable only to it. The result is obvious – inability to communicate and mutual tension. The society tends to reject any piece of architecture, which cannot be understood or explained, or reconstruct its mental content according to its own perceptional logic and judgment. Very often one and the same piece of architecture is understood by many architects as high quality, but it receives radically negative public evaluation (for example, the building of the General Prosecutor‘s Office in Vilnius). Sometimes, on the contrary, architectural works praised by society receive fierce criticism from professional architects. A similar discussion is held in the field of art criticism, architecture, for example, urbanism, – absolutely different critical terms are used and new terminologies introduced while speaking on the art and practice of urban space and structure formation. Thus total monologue miscommunication appears. It is possible that the practice of architectural activism, the processes and methods of which are directed towards society, partially to soften the prevailing hostility, attempts to overcome this schism, at least in part. The practice of architectural activism chooses the simplified picturing of ideas and speaking, so that the public at large could understand its content as easy as possible (it is a pity, however, that too often such hostile position does not seek communication, but only conflicting thus guaranteeing an exclusive attention to a speaker, who uses the situation just to distinguish his/ her own person).
So, how can activism, its vectors and means for its practices be defined? What are the signs and models of activism practices? As mentioned above, activism is architectural practice directed towards the society and/or community: (1) with the aim to achieve certain architectural result with participation of society or to adjust the socium‘s approach to it; (2) with the aim to clarify the public opinion on one or another problem, and later, in cooperation with society/ community find a common solution; and (3) with the aim to understand the lifestyles and anthropological peculiarities in the certain locality and its community, which might explain the phenomenology of the locality and mental toponymy of its socium.
The process and result are of equal importance in this practice, and in some cases the process is more important than result, because activism helps to stimulate the community‘s activities and mobilize it for certain common actions and/ or goals. Often architects take part in this activity as social workers and their means of work are no longer architectural. They organize and provoke processes, change the system and approach to the problem, rather than appearance or image. These processes of public interaction have different forms of social participation and representation. Depending on the task raised or the problem scale and certain schedule of activism, appropriate tools for action are chosen, such as consistent and stable cultural activities in an organized focus; more or less organized educational activity in the community; such forms of creative workshop, which can attract local communities to the creative or decision-making processes; mixed cultural activities and social provocations aiming at wakening of consciousness of the local community. One of the models may be initiative, internal, when architects organize local communities or are members in them. In such cases, architects act more or less altruistically, seeking some benefit for a certain community, or act as in performing an artistic research, which is valuable for a specific locality or territory in educational and social sense. It is possible in this form of activism that architects shape certain tasks for a locality and try to get the community involved. Other model is directive, when architects act as representatives of some institutions and have to solve a certain problem and task seeking for specific results. In this case, architects act as socially orientated creative workers, catalysts, seeking by their action the favor and approval of the community, or attempt to clarify the approach of local communities on the situation or raised talks and problems. This case is more common for institutional activities of municipalities and territory planning processes, where participation of society is obligatory and architects are forced to act socially. A subject raising the problem and formulating the objectives is a matter of the mixed – the initiative and directive – model. Any extreme actions lead to a conflict situation and social margins. Thus there is much risk that too extreme activist movement will be rejected by the same society. Regardless of the selected model, one of the essential preconditions for activism is the fact that contemporary society is miscellaneous and the amount of information on it and its discourses is very large. Therefore it is impossible to evaluate everything, no matter what kind of goals – realistic or idealistic – the initiators of activism formulate, but such goals cannot be too abstract. Today we can easily distinguish the following types and vectors related to architectural activism and its means:
- according to the model – initiative/ directive;
- according to the goal – idealistic/ realistic;
- according to the type of activities – formal/ informal;
- according to the level of social participation (i.e. how much the society is involved in the processes).
Architectural activism receives lots of criticism, and questions that can hardly be answered are asked, for example: What are the results of activism? What social and economic benefits do they bring? Who is responsible for failures and social responses different from the expected? Activism practices also can hardly answer the question: What financing is possible? Because the results of activism depend directly on consistency and stability of the initiative and the source of financing.
See Fig. 1. Typological matrix of architectural activism.
Another type of activism exists – activism as a form of resistance or social resistance. In Lithuania so far, this form of activism seems most efficient, because it fights not for something, but against something, and it allows the participating groups or communities to rally and unite. The examples of this type of community activism are abundant in Lithuania and elsewhere, and it is important to admit that their participants have achieved a lot. The brightest example, which turned out almost into an art project, is the movement For Lithuania without Quotation Marks, in which quite a lot of architects take part. It has became a real phenomenon of activism that revealed the ambiguities and conflicts of understanding of the public interest, initiated some corrections of urban planning on the legislation level and legitimized the necessities of public participation in the process. At the same time, the case has become a precedent and example, which its positional (but not the oppositional) side would never like to repeat, although the possibility is still real today. This precedent has also become a clear example of what can be achieved by community with the help of active collective action. On the background of this example, an interesting question may be asked: “What is the relationship between authorship and activism?”,  or “To what degree the individual authorship is possible in activism?” In many cases the authorship remains unnamed, because only the title of the project or declaration of the problem goes to the public. The situation with the initiative For Lithuania without Quotation Marks is interesting, because this project has a few authors and some aggrieved parties. But in any case activism is a collective challenge and collective creative act. In this and many other cases, the possibility of authorship takes away significance from the process of activism, as then it is deprived of its idealistic background and makes an impression of the process being staged. The larger is the problem, the smaller amount of individualism and authorship can be involved in it, as a small group of activists cannot cover huge social problems (e.g. on the city level).
Mechanisms of architectural activism are related to non-architectural things – they are neither things (objects), nor systems, but more likely processes. Usually, the conventional notion of architecture does not cover processes. The latter came into the sphere of interest of architecture just recently, and so far they fall within the boundaries of architectural experiment (protogenetic, morphogenetic and self-organized processing technology). Architects and architecture still are in clear relationship with stable structures of things or their systems. There is very little of such clear relationships, or not at all in activism, because society is dynamic and a process has a social background. With the change of thinking and creative work algorithm, radically new results are achieved, without even speaking of a form, method or technology, which are also of stable structure. In case of architectural activism, each element is dynamic and the outcome of activity cannot be forecast. Probably this feature scares institutions and architects away from activism activities, which in essence are related to the logic of experiment and are not orientated so much towards efficiency. Well-established systems can be changed by the way of revolution or evolution. In the latter case, the process is of gradual replacement of elements, which may be non-static in the systems, and integrating them into a social dimension, as the society and community often are not static. Thus systems may be turned into processes.
Development of Architectural Activism in Lithuania
Such close relationship between activism and arts and architecture is not a new thing. The media and other contemporary arts by the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century in one or another form are related to socium, i.e. they are social. Only the expression and forms of the relationship differ. More or less all contemporary arts, which escaped the framework of pure visuality and turned towards the socium, sometimes are provocative, sometimes – educational, but always – socially active. The genesis of the social art is much older; the shape of activism as we know is gained in the middle of the 20th century, with the fluxus and other socially provocative praxes. This trend reached the boundaries of architecture by the very end of the 20th century, and before 2005-07 the phenomenon obtained the features of globalism, as it manifested all over the world by similar means and in similar ways. About 2009 the practice of activism had already obtained more or less clear methodological framework and typicalities of praxis mechanisms. Even a number of publications for implementation of such activities appeared. Simultaneously, before 2010, the theory of social art was developed and functioning independently, manifesting in all spheres of art, and exists as a legitimated phenomenon in culture. We can easily find clear references to such tendencies in Lithuania, too (see the publication on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Contemporary Art Center, in which we can find names of some architects).
In general, the brand new trends of architectural activism can be explained by a few motives – one of them is the economic crisis of 2007 and recession, which touched more or less the entire western world. Walter Benjamin names it clearly in his interview with Pier Vitorio Aurelli. The fact probably is that any architectural activities stop with recession. In Europe, around 2008-09 economically favorable environment for architecture was London due to its planned Olympic Games, Scandinavian countries and financial nodes of Central Europe – Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg. Under such circumstances, architectural activities and professional orientation had to be corrected, and this correction was at least twofold. On the one hand, architects started participating in financing and competition projects of European funds (public procurement), fed by the infrastructure and other financial projects in Europe, i.e. architecture became more related to construction. On the other, social activities allowed for filling in so far open gaps in architects’ relations with society. But, in essence, with the financial crisis quite a number of architects lost their jobs, or at least some of them, and were forced to realize their intellectual potential in other areas, the architectural activism being one of such (in a sense this may be a proof of nobleness of an architect’s profession, but it is the matter of another discussion). Under such circumstances, it seems, architects’ means have drastically changed, where the thinking “what can we do or design to improve the world” was replaced by “what can we actually do, so the world can change”. Such changed thinking may be an expression of the new relationship of architects’ profession with reality – “to face the reality” – and, in a sense, a transformation form the illusory world to reality… It seems, the many have realized that because you picture a happy society or community in your project, it can never become such, and the environment (the more so the world) won’t change, that the happiness and wellbeing of visualization is virtual or synthetic, and, finally, that the meaning and purpose of architecture is much more realistic. So far, it is difficult to say, what the true answer is, but such or similar architectural criticism was quite often in architectural press for at least a decade (from 2000-03).
I have to remind that there are not so many examples of activism in the architecture history of the 20th century, but they are very significant. Socially active and meaningful architects’ activity was not very popular at the outset of the modern architecture. One of the brightest examples was Bruno Taut’s Glassen Ketle during the WWI, and his activities directed towards the architects’ community in Germany. It wasn’t a radical movement, but, what was interesting, its outcome was radically new – it gave birth to a new interesting trend of utopian architecture – the biomorphic architecture – the preconditions and ideological background of which were influenced by Bruno Taut’s activities (see the illustration). Besides, this activism practice made the preconditions for speaking and thinking about architecture otherwise than before by proving more socio-cultural significance to it and showing the possibility of other relationship between architecture and society – that architecture as a field of art and science may be more sensible to the socio-cultural situation and even can form utopian images for society of the nearest future. Such was the environment, where the aforementioned German Expressionism and Biomorphism with Finsterlin and Mendelsohn’s Einstein Tower and other significant ideas and buildings appeared. Another important example of architectural activism, which has to be mentioned in this context, was the radical architecture movement of the 1960-70ies. Its representatives first of all reacted to the existing socio-cultural situation and condition of architecture in essence, by expressing criticism to both of them and using the transformed architectural language for such critical speaking. Here again we see the case, when the speaking was not perceived as addressed to architecture, but rather ascribed to the marginal activity, which was not looked upon seriously by the conventional architectural community. But in some time it grew into serious criticism of modernism, which in its turn allowed for appearance of new paradigms of reflecting and creating architecture.
As mentioned before, Lithuania also has not a single case of activism. One of such examples, today already referred as history, was the Kultflux platform – architectural activism as an object. Upon the initiative of a group of artists and architects, a project for creative activity was prepared with the aim to draw public attention to the asocial condition of the river Neris embankment in the center of Vilnius. According to the project, a temporal Kultflux pavilion was built on the foundation of the former quay and in a little while it became an active center of alternative youth culture in the city. It hosted educational and cultural events, such as discussions, lectures, exhibitions, concerts, etc., many of which were based on volunteering and non-commercial initiatives. This cultural pavilion became an open social space for expressing different cultural initiatives, often rejected by conventional cultural institutions. A part of its events were related to architectural education and alternative aspects of contemporary architectural culture.
Another platform of architectural activism for some time already has been the activities of the Architektūros Fondas (Fund of Architecture). Much of its activities are also based on volunteering and institutional support provided to its projects. The Fund of Architecture is a self-organized dynamic structure, a good environment for different independent educational initiatives. These initiatives have had and still has a tremendous social influence and a mission to enlighten society about architecture on an extremely broad scale. I dare say this platform so far is the brightest cultural phenomenon in Lithuanian architecture with already noticeable results. The Fund of Architecture also encompasses excursions, children’s activities, publication, talks and other educational activities, and at present is a real phenomenon of alternative education.
Besides these remarkable examples, some others are also noteworthy as important and interesting, but a little different by their typology. The aforementioned two have some features of institution – organization, while the other, smaller ones, should be considered as micro-initiatives. I bear in mind Beepart, K-lab, Laimikis.lt, Vietos.org and Šančių kioskas. They have different programs, goals and action principles, are different in their locations and tools. Some of them are purely architectural, other – interdisciplinary, but in all cases their activities are directed towards the community and architects take part in them. Their external communication is also different, as, for example, for Beepart (as it was with Kultfux) an architectural object is important, which is treated as a communication instrument. In other cases, self-organizing, synoptic activities or just environment for activities can be distinguished. All these projects are non-commercial initiatives, more or less based on project activities, receiving financing from allocation mechanisms and institutions. Apart of these, revealed more clearly, there is also a number of efforts to raise problems of different scale with the help of active architectural activities. With the aim to find out the development opportunities and programs for public spaces and other important urban places, creative workshops have been organized not once by Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai and Klaipėda municipalities. In such cases, architects act as creative workers and the role of disseminator and implementer of social communication is taken by organizers. The truth is, often it is difficult to evaluate and summarize the results, especially where society does not take any part in their evaluation… These examples illustrate the so-called “directive” model of activism, when it is organized by an institution.
Instead of Conclusions
Nowadays architectural activism is difficult to define, because of the novelty of such experiences and still continuing process of development of activism practices. This still dynamically developing activity is gaining the features of most progressive technologies and ideologies, and is often used as a part of real architectural praxis or even its tool. The unified experience and tools of architectural activism still have not been formed, because the instruments for activities are selected individually, in each particular case. Generally speaking, architectural activism, both locally and globally, is manifested as the interdisciplinary activity directed towards society and its character is often determined by the relationship between its object and subject. Quite important element of activism, although rarely analyzed and discussed, is what values are declared and embodied by one or another activism practice, and what is their relationship with representatives of an architect’s profession. Finally, one of the most positive aspects of activism is the gradual deconstruction of the negative paradigm of architectural asociality. The “Arquitectonica socialis interdisciplinaris” becomes a reality.
By Tomas Grunskis
Icon, 2009. November issue. If you want to change sosiety don’t build anything.
„Privatize!”, Volume, nr. 30, 2012
Monu, nr. 18. Communal Urbanism.
Aureli, P.A. 2013. The theology of Tabula Rasa: Walter Benjamin And Architecture in the Age of Precarity. Log magazine, nr.27.
Billing J., Lind M., Nilsson L., Taking The Matter into Common Hands. On Contemporary Art and Collaborative Practice, Black Dog publishing, London.
Borrup T. 2006. The Creative Community Builders Handbook, St. Paul, M.
Knight K., Schwarzman M. 2009. Beginners quide to Community based Arts. Newvilage press Oakland CA.
Le Feuvre L., 2010. Failure. Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art, The MIT Press, Cambridge MA.
„Lietuvos Dailė 2000-2010: dešimt metų“, Šiuolaikinio meno centras, Vilnius, 2010
Michelkevičė L. 2014. Dalyvavimo praktikos Lietuvos šiuolaikiniame mene: analizės kriterijai ir vertinimo problema, Daktaro disertacija, Vilnius.
Miessen M. 2010. The Nightmare of Participation (Crossbench Praxis as a Mode of Criticality)“, Sternberg Press, New York.
Walwin J. 2010. Searching for Art’s New Publics“. Intelect Ltd., Bristol UK / Chicago.
Nors, kaip teigia vienas profesorius: „pažįstu daug žmonių, manančių, jog architektūra yra menas, ir dėl to tai yra tiesa“.
Miessen M. 2006 . Did Someone Say Participate?: An Atlas of Spatial Practice, The MIT Press, Cambridge MA.
Miessen M. 2012. The Space of Agonism“, Sternberg Press, New York.
Miessen M. 2007. The Violence of Participation“, Sternberg Press, New York.
Internet sources: http://roundtable.kein.org/user/7/track
Internet sources: http://www.sternberg-press.com/?pageId=1399
Internet sources: www.archfondas.lt
1. Icon, 2009. November issue. If you want to change sosiety don’t build anything.
2. Volume – No. 30 “Privatize!” 2012
3. Monu, nr. 18. Communal Urbanism.
4. Log magazine No. 27, Spring 2013. “The theology of Tabula Rasa: Walter Benjamin and Architecture in the Age of Precarity. By Pier Vittorio Aureli
5. Knight, K., Schwarzman, M., Beginners Guide to Community Based Arts. Newvilage press, Oakland CA, 2009. Borrup, T., The Creative Community Builders Handbook. 2009 Fieldstone Alliance Saint paul, Minnesota. Miessen, M. The Nightmare of Participation (Crossbench Praxis as a Mode of Criticality). Sternberg Press, 2010 NY. Lietuvos Dailė 2000-2010: dešimt metų. Šiuolaikinio meno centras, Vilnius 2010. Michelkevičė, L., Dalyvavimo praktikos Lietuvos šiuolaikiniame mene: analizės kriterijai ir vertinimo problema. Daktaro disertacija, Vilnius 2014, Walwin, J., Searching for Art’s New Publics. Intelect , Bristol UK/Chicago, USA 2010. Billing, J., Lind, M., Nilsson, L., T. Raking The Matter into Common Hands. On Contemporary Art and Collaborative Practice. Black Dog publishing, London. Le Feuvre, L., Failure. Documents of Contemporary Art. Whitechapel Gallery London, The MIT Press Cambridge, MA. 2010. Miessen,M., The Nightmare of Participation (Crossbench Praxis as a Mode of Criticality). Sternberg Press 2010, Berlin.
6. Although, according to one professor: “I know lots of people thinking architecture is an art, therefore it is true.”
7. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was an architect and engineer. In his triad explained in the De Architectura libri decem (Ten Books on Architrecture) the interdisciplinary origins and condition of architecture are encoded.
8. Miessen M., “Did Someone Say Participate?: An Atlas of Spatial Practice”, The MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2006
Miessen M., „The Nightmare of Participation (Crossbench Praxis as a Mode of Criticality)“, Sternberg Press, New York., 2010
Miessen M., „The Space of Agonism“, Sternberg Press, New York, 2012
Miessen M., „The Violence of Participation“, Sternberg Press, New York, 2007
In addition may have a look at: http://roundtable.kein.org/user/7/track
9. Often a simple piece of art does not need to be explained by the author, but at the beginning of the 21st century, contemporary architecture has to be explained. As mentioned above, asociality of architecture significantly shortens its lifetime.
10. The question is whether the battle For Lithuania without Quotation Marks has met the expectations. The answer is certainly not. A new architectural competition for designing a new modern art center in place of the former Lietuva cinema theater held this year not only disclosed the contradictions between activism and socio-economic reality, but also revealed the positions of members of the architects’ community (if any such exists in Lithuania) in respect to the former events, which simply were concealed at the time of the fighting For Lithuania without Quotation Marks. Today it seems that architects have betrayed the part of society, which has fought not only for the public and cultural function and the center of culture, but also for the architectural object albeit of the “socialist heritage”. In the competition most of its participants took the side, which paid for the visions of demolition and destruction of the Lietuva cinema theater, evaluated negatively by a major part of society, and willing to get a good design commission many designed similar demolition and destruction visions. It looks like the experience and results of the former activism have not taught anything and have been just nice social game. Following a few years of silence, the financial bulldozer run over the transparent conscience of architects.
11. The issue of declining authorship is interesting per se. In very rare cases, a social process or project may be considered fully an author’s work. Large scale processes and projects, such as revolutions, have no authors. They have associatives, groups or personalities related to phenomena. But when an object becomes a cultural phenomenon, it often ceases to be an author’s work. Is it not the case, when architecture becomes a cultural phenomenon, it, on the one hand, looses its former authority and, on the other, is deprived of the need for author and qualities of the piece of architecture?
12. See more at: www.archfondas.lt