by Marie Bruun Yde and Signe Sophie Bøggild
The name An Architektur suggests a line back to the architect Robin Evans’  essay "Towards Anarchitecture" from 1970 and the artist Gordon Matta-Clark’s  exhibition Anachitecture in 1974. It includes the word "anarchy" and curiously separates "An" from "Architektur" making "An" a preposition (“to architecture”), with associations to the architect Le Corbusier’s  "Towards an architecture" ("Vers une architecture"). How do you, with your own words, “exercise a discursive architectural practice” within the framework of this concept?
The name An Architektur reflects the general intention of the work of our group. Even though you are right about tracing it back to Gordon Matta-Clark, and also with your assumption of the inherent indication of anarchy, our main understanding of this notion is to address architecture (in German: “An Architektur”) as a profession with our journal. Dealing with spatial conditions as well as designing them, architecture as profession surprisingly lingers out of the political realm, and that’s where An Architektur puts forth effort. We see An Architektur as an exercise of discursive architectural practice. For us, both the critical analysis of spatial relations and the visualization of their inherent socio-political conceptions, offer a possibility of political agency.
In monothematic issues we expose the wider social and political implications of topics that tend to be discussed too introspectively within the (closed) domain of architecture. Moreover, we try to draw attention towards political topics to the architectural profession. An Architektur engages itself in a widened notion of the term architecture, and therefore, we refuse the characterization of buildings as objects isolated from societal relations. Instead, we state that they are entangled in many different correlations. Besides its spatial extension, architecture also has a temporal comprehensiveness, continuing from its production to its utilization. Without comprehension and regard for its relation to users and all the other persons involved, we cannot get an appropriate understanding of space. This spatial, temporal and societal extension of architecture is always related to the specific space.
Does An Architektur imply a new ethics of a ’minor’ architectural practice, investigating the potentials of the unplanned city?
In June 2004, An Architektur organized the "Camp for Oppositional Architecture", a three-day international free and open conference, on the opportunities for a critical agency in the field of architecture and planning. This was followed by a second camp in Utrecht, The Netherlands, in 2006 and it might be continued this autumn. On the one hand, the camp itself is a statement in times of soaring capitalist utilization of space, on the other hand a chance for practical and theoretical research and a possibility for all the participants to exchange and inform each other about alternatives to a contemporary, dominant architectural practice. “The preliminary Charter of Oppositional Architecture”, developed in 2004, is the basis for an ongoing process of exploring the conditions and possibilities of a socially based and radically democratic architecture. To a certain extend this implies ethical aspects, however, we rather put our focus on the politization of architectural practice. The unplanned city is neither our main interest, nor do we regard it as an answer to the questions we raise.
We refer to ’the unplanned city’ as everything that happens on top of the planned city - that which activates the city made by urban planning. Does this correlate with your concept of the utilization of architecture?
Yes and no. Yes, because under current conditions acting on top of the planned city may incorporate or comprehend an act of resistance, though “on top of” is a somehow misleading expression. The relation to the unplanned city might be – depending on the circumstances – confrontational or otherwise a search for a certain degree of independence from the pre-structuring and predominant forces. Still, all in all we have to be cautious because one of the most well-known abilities of the capitalist system is the ability to incorporate, affirm and make use of actions and strategies that were intended to be critical.
No, because we head for a widened interpretation of architecture that does not make this strict distinction between the utilization of architecture and the “hardware” of architecture, the built structure. Furthermore, we search for an oppositional approach within the means of architecture and planning, as we strongly believe in its potential.
So, is this what you refer to as "a socially based and radical democratic architecture"?
Yes, it’s a field we aim to explore in a variety of our issues, but mainly within the framework of the camp for oppositional architecture, and it’s an ongoing process that started with a literal interpretation of the terms:
– Architecture based and rooted in society, exploring the needs of and reflecting its impact on society, not serving profit-interests.
– Architecture whose results are the outcome of a participatory process of debates, arguments, altercations, not the outcome of compromises.
Do you see your practice and writing, involving other fields than architecture, as a way to critically assess the big system of Architecture?
Another yes and no answer: Yes, because it is a way to assess the architectural field, and no, because we don’t see a big system of Architecture. Our intention is to point out, that a phenomenon like migration also has a very meaningful spatial aspect. On the one hand the European Community encloses itself within borders, visible for everyone; porous for people with a visa, porous for goods, but an almost insuperable barrier for migrants and others who do not match the EU’s constraints. On the other hand – almost unnoticed – the state develops and maintains spatial structures to render e.g. migrants almost invisible. These structures are amongst others camps for asylum seekers, border-police facilities and detention camps, or likewise residence obligations for migrants, restricting their movements to a limited area around their residence.
All of this happens in space and is visible in space, and not least, the design is developed by architects. We want to relocate those topics within the architectural field. In our understanding architecture is not only about the structures that we build, but also about those structures that we generally ignore and vice versa: we should avoid to build certain structures and take a close look at those shaping our everyday life and society. Architecture is a priori imbedded in the political realm and we have to take this serious.
An Architektur is situated in Berlin, a city full of historical layers and socio-political complexities, mirrored in the urban scenery and rapid regeneration after the fall of the Wall, e.g. the recent demolishment of the East German political and cultural centre Palast der Republik. How do you perceive the recent urban (re)development of the recovered German capital and what has been built after the reunification?
Until 1989, there were two different systems with different political and ideological backgrounds. Since the early nineties, the forced urban (re)development led to the overruling of the East Berlin planning scheme by the West Berlin one. Developed in the 1980s during the IBA, Internationale Bauausstellung (International Building Exhibition) in West Berlin, the scheme of the “critical reconstruction” has been used since – and still today – as a planning pattern for the entire city. Putting much emphasis on the city of the nineteenth century, it ignores and overwrites first and foremost the multifaceted approaches and developments of the 1950s to the 1970s.
The demolition of the “Palast der Republik” was the most recent incident in a long history of measures, reshaping the city. Although the final demolishment of the “Palast” got a lot of attention, an evenly important demolition already took place – almost unnoticed – in the mid-1990s: the demolition of the former “Außenministerium der DDR” (Foreign Ministry of the GDR). Situated opposite the “Palast”, this late 1960s building, oriented towards American modernism, was part of an ensemble of important state buildings, representing the sovereignty of the former GDR. The demolition has to be seen in this context, as it marked the end of a state and the end of a particular planning idea both on a political and a symbolic level. This is particularly interesting, because there were never intentions to tear down representative buildings from the thirties, which are deeply connoted by the ideas of National Socialism.
For these reasons the collective “freies fach” – predecessor of An Architektur – a group that sought to assess the restrictive reconstruction of Berlin and the relevant political and economical conditions critically – organized a ‘protest demolition’ in 1995, a few weeks earlier then the official beginning of the demolishment of the “Außenministerium”. Disguised as “Rückbau Berlin” Team, we marked and started to remove the façade panels until the police stopped us from doing something that was already a done deal. This scheme of the fait accompli has been dominant in many years and the results are accordingly. Currently, architecture and planning is first and foremost discussed in terms of mass and volume. On the contrary to that, we want to discuss architecture and planning explicitly against the background of its social and political relations.
After Modernism it is doubtful that an architect can claim to begin from a tabula rasa condition. In Berlin, most traces of the Wall have been erased, and yet the city is still haunted by phantom pains of its former division. What function do existing structures play in the construction and reconstruction of the contemporary city?
We have no real answer to that. As mentioned in the foregone question, the official town-planning scheme is based on a scheme, rooted in a for-former system, the Prussian state. The phantom pains of Berlin’s division may be regarded as a hallucination of people, still dreaming of the town-planning scheme of the Prussian time and the idea of a consistent city. We assume that talking about those pains is rhetorical, we don’t have these pains. Furthermore, this rhetoric obscures other frictions in the city that – especially in the inner city – no longer follow the former East-West divide and therefore ought to be addressed.
What does the politization of architecture imply for architectural practice and discourse?
It raises questions that we have to take serious: For whom do we work, what is the societal framework of our work, how to resist the capitalistic demands of a profit-oriented building industry and real estate players and on and on? We have to articulate that planning and design is by no means only a question of form, but always implies – often unacknowledged by the architects – political decisions. Architecture is always in a political field and that this is exactly the realm where we want it to be.
Copenhagen/Berlin, May 2009
An Architektur is currently Oliver Clemens, Jesko Fezer, Sabine Horlitz, Anita Kaspar, and Andreas Müller
Signe Sophie Bøggild is an art historian, and Marie Bruun Yde is a cultural historian
 Robin Evans (1944-1993) was a British architectural historian. Evans studied the history of prison architecture for his doctorate. In his text “Towards Anarchitecture” (1970) he discusses the role of the manmade physical environment promoting, but more often inhibiting freedom of action, and criticises the (modernist) belief that freedom and order should go hand in hand.
 Gordon Matta-Clark (1943-1978) was an American artist, known for his site-specific works of art from the 1970s. Most well-known are his deconstructive ‘building cuts’ where he modifies abandoned buildings, removing sections of floors, ceilings, and walls. In the making of these artworks, he changes the perceptions of a building and the environment, surrounding it. He studied architecture, however, he substituted traditional architectural practice with what he called ‘anarchitecture’, e.g. his radical alterations of existing structures. Through Dada and the Situationists, he also became aware of the entropy of language and together with the group ‘Anarchitecture’, he made word puns like: "AN ARK KIT PUNCTURE, ANARCHY TORTURE, AN ARCTIC LECTURE, AN ORCHID TEXTURE, AN ART COLLECTOR..."
 Le Corbusier (1887-1965) was a Swiss architect, based in Paris and active around the world as one of the founding fathers of Modernism. A pioneer of design theory, he dedicated his life to improve living conditions in the dense, overcrowded cities. Stating that physical change can put an end to social unrest, Le Corbusier’s book Vers Une Architecture (Towards an Architecture,1923), ends with the dictum: “Architecture or revolution. Revolution can be avoided.”
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