Architecture of the extremes- Speculative Design -
How would extremist ideology manifest through architecture?
When I asked myself this question I quickly realised it wasn’t really speculative. We have seen, and still see extremist governments and the associated aesthetics. Think of Soviet or Nazi architecture, imposing monuments, castles, great walls and propaganda.
What may be new today is the wave of populist movements who manifest incomprehensible nostalgia about lost colonial empire times. I really struggled to understand what that means for people who have never lived at that time. I was watching the French news channel the day Erdogan organised the referendum that would grant him full powers, an exhilarated Turkish woman, supporter of the new president appeared on screen. “He will make Turkey great again (sound familiar?) and we will conquer territory all the way to France and be an empire again…” When I hear claims like these or British MPs talk about the return of imperial units, I wonder what would an empire be nowadays. Is it even a viable concept today?
Empire heritage now raises question about ownership of territories and artefacts and about knowledge making and exporting it the world. Disputes arise around large institutions: the British Museum or le Louvre who invested a lot in preserving the history of the world but at the cost of colonial horrors. The practice of collecting and identifying material cultures to evidence political ideology was I thought an interesting point of entry to discuss whether dealing with uncertainty by looking backwards was the best tactic.
In fact, I question whether these populist movements are looking back at all and I say that even amidst the most delusional claims I have ever heard uttered. The colonial period took place at a time when we developed the tools, infrastructure and wealth to finally travel the world. Empires in general, (even in ancient times) were associated both with bloody conquest and enlightenment. Among Genghis Khan‘s Mongol empire achievements was the unification of measuring units, the creation of a writing system. Colonial conquest was a time where knowledge process and scientific methodology changed dramatically drawing on new ways of thinking, techniques and artefacts discovered around the world. Current populist ideologies regret these positions of power and have trouble accepting new global processes of acquiring, sharing knowledge that has lead to a new world order.
I would like to use this project to talk about the aesthetic of classification. It is interesting to see how our views on heritage differ, what we perceive to be the truth and how we make judgments. This isn’t just about material cultures (what we collect) but how.
Note: I know of course that the end of empires is a sensitive subject linked also to specific disputes around questions of race, gender, human rights… that I do not know what to make of at this stage (and are also reluctantly discussed in the realm of science or design).
Photo credits: Dead space, Amy Frerson