Text by: Giuseppe Laguzzi

TOGETHER! is the new exhibition at the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany, about the future of living cities. Thought and curated by four important architects, Ilka and Andreas Ruby, Daniel Niggli, Mathias Muller and it will last until the 10th of September 2017.

The future of living cities is something that we have to face if people really want to have the opportunity to express themselves in a healthy community. As it has been shown by the curators, this could start a new type of city made of neighborhoods of shared houses, thereby changing  the way people use the city’s spaces too and forming a new state of mind. This is perfectly describable such as an “Hedonism of expression” and it means that living a place, and especially build it, won’t follow anymore the classical basic needs, but something more, that will consider all those personal and publics needs, blurring the boundaries between private and public sphere, particularly today that we have the chance to express ourself in a peaceful ambient. Seeing it from a step back, the exhibition wants to tell to the future architects to be represented by their architecture and not just do it; this wants also to be a wake-up call about the role of archistar, witch is starting to become a “must” in every city leaving his mark without any real social purpose.

The background of this topic is really deep, in fact the idea of community housing is old and it starts in the early XIX century, from utopian, but very pragmatic, projects like: “New Lanark” (1800) in Scotland, a flagship project run by Robert Owen, about an industrial community  with a decent standard of living for workers; “Phalanstère” (1820), situated in France, a utopian living concept, that wanted to unite residential, industrial and communal spaces in a large complex with a balanced community of various professions and social classes; or “Viennese Settlers’ Movement” (1918), a garden city movement, where resident of Vienna, driven by hunger, founded self-sufficient settlements destined to grow with the municipality help; “Het Nieuwe Huis” (1927), placed in Nederland, was built as a residence for young urban singles from healthy families, with a central commune kitchen/restaurant, designed to make residents’ life easier and to give them opportunities for community get-togethers. In Japan, we find “Nakagin Capsule Tower” (1970) by Kisho Kurokawa, a housing prototype with 140 interchangeable, prefabricated housing modules, though for accommodate the living facilities required by one person and for being affordable to many; “Wohnen Mit Kindern” (1980), in Austria, was a pioneering project, in which sixteen families with children, worked closely with the architects to realize a child-friendly dimension, adapted to family’s needs.

The movement showed its climax few decades ago, in the period between the ’60s and the ’80s, when many protests, mostly in Europe, took place against the governments about occupied houses. People were disagreeing for right if we think about it nowadays, knowing that those houses usually were left empty for real estate speculation; it’s to add also that people of those generation are still trying to live the way they wanted, self organizing in shared spaces. As an example, with many more inside the exhibition, is reported the Zurich situation, where youth people organised in huge demonstrations, occupations, general assemblies, and new creative formats in  design and music production, survived till the spring of 1982, when the police pulled down the autonomous AJZ youth centre.

So, if in the beginning the concept behind this idea can be considered a desire of organization and order in a socialistic co-housing, which would let citizens live together the same fragmented macro-space, in the near past it changed a bit its purpose, getting closer to the idea of a free and common use of spaces more than the division of it in equal parts. This directly leads to the current mind set, more characterised by a self organisation, since in his first period all this kind of projects were headed by someone, usually a family or a group of wealthy people. But nowadays, there’s the possibility to do it without this kind of patronage, making every individual active part of the creation progress, forming a real sense of community and a kind of common soul.

The curators want also to consider the social opportunity of the sharing ideal, thinking for example to the bigger variety of contacts created  by opening our society to it, which would consider space and resources as much as activities and individual freedom, mixing people that usually lead divided lives. Another simple example of this, is the sharing economy, strongly linked to this kind of vision, that would let people buy, for common spaces, usually not affordable objects, raising this way their standard of living.

Following the idea that the new spaces should be created around the community that live inside it, and not thought as an empty location to full fill, unlike the ’68 movement which was fighting for a new form of living, but still with a strong personal interest of owing, and again, making rules. Today the logic behind the process is much more about sharing and use, with the aim of increase the number of opportunities, and this shows how citizens are now more interested in living the all city, instead of earning money for paying a, more or less, little flat.  It’s very interesting to look at this topic through Victor Hugo’s opinion of architecture. In his book “Notre-Dame de Paris”, he sustains and explains, how much the visual impact and the design of buildings reveal about the brainwork of the period, quoting his words: “The architecture developed itself together with the human thought, fixing that whole fluctuating symbolic universe in eternal, visible and palpable form”.  In support of this thesis, which see architecture as a language, there are many academics that have written and studied it, going through the humanity life style evolution. From the first monolithic buildings, that started what we can call the architecture alphabet, to these days projects like co-living and co-working spaces, that now we can consider as a projection from inside, of what new generations really d’like to see around them. Focusing on this, is clear that the new audience really care about being surrounded by beauty and harmony, conscious that it would directly influence its actions and way of thinking. (for the reach of wellness)

Returning to the curators opinion, what they’d like to say in the end, is to start to act, because as they’ve wanted to show, a different form is possible and also sustainable, the problem could only be the type of organization and courage of change. But why do not do that, if it’s what you feel to want ? Maybe with these changes and new trends we also have to find a new approach, understanding that: “The old tools of dissent don’t work anymore” (R. DeDomenici, contemporary artist).