Architecture – Man – Environment Congress

“ARCHITECTURE MAN ENVIRONMENT” was the subject of the UIA Congress in Warsaw in 1981, a successive stage in the debate continued by world architects. In 1975 in Madrid, the subject was “Architecture and Technology” and in 1978 in Mexico “Architecture and National Development”. During the one-week meeting in Warsaw, a few hundred seminars, sessions and individual presentations wore held, attended by almost three-thousand architects from eighty countries of five continents. Forty architectural exhibitions were held and thousands of slides were shown by speakers in the course of seminars and discussions. In addition to thematic seminars in eight working group, regional meetings and lectures were organized, concerning countries in which environment is in a transitional period, in a period of rapid development, and in a period of renewal. With regard to the spatial scale of the architect’s work, it was divided into micro-environment (building, housing estate, village), and macro-environment (city, region, country). The importance of architecture in the contemporary world was underlined by greetings sent to the Congress by, among others, John Paul II, Leonid Brezhnev, Ronald Reagan and Henryk Jablohski. The General Report, prepared and read out by the architect Halina Skibniewska, was a comprehensive and thorough analysis of the situation of architecture in the present-day world. One of its tenets was that the architects bear joint reponsibility in the civilization of menace and injustice reflected, among other things, by the distribution and shape’of space. Besides other important statements, the paper analysed the difficult problems of the Central European region, one of the most rapidly developing: “The accelerated rate of industrialization in typically agricultural countries, often the result of central planning or the incontinent aspiration of the decision makers, led to a violent restructuralization, that is to relocations to job and places of residence (…). Efforts were made to improve the efficiency of building construction by a primitive concept of industrialization. The standard of the environment in the region is therefore the outcome of the dictates of the building monopoly and rigid technologies and not infrequently of technical monoculture. The dull monotony of look-alike buildings, the inadequate infrastructure, the fragmentation of space, the lack of green areas, noise – this is the appearance of housing developments, also known in other more affluent regions where people park themselves only for sleeping”. The goals of architecture are different in developed societies which “(…) experienced the pathology of growth in the 19th century. Injustice may be measured here by a specific scale of division: into beautiful districts and into social slums. These countries address themselves to huge problems of an entirely new nature. A revolt is taking form against the rapid style of modernistic architecture, intellectually and emotionally with the good side, with the side of life”. The technological potentialities and practice of “modern” town-planning have led to the unlimited growth of suburbs of one-family houses. For the sake of functional pureness, the segregation of home, work and leisure has been professed, and the only joint space in such disintegrated cities is that of motor transport. As regards styles and creative consciousness, the high level of frustration is accompanied by a variety of proposals of post-modernistic architecture, elitism and participation, spontaneous and “contrived” architecture, a nostalgia for the past, historical mannerism and eclectism, pop art and art deco styles, while the imagination seeks release in provocative allusions and borrowings. The paradox of the situation, with rich countries envying slums their human scale in the hope of rebuilding the lost social links, and poor countries adopting the outdated architectural novelties of the rich, is caused by the fact that “Our form of behaviour evolved over thousands of years in a process of adaptation to the natural environment. The replacement of the natural environment with an artificial environment, whose many forms are represented by the present network of human settlements, has caused in traditional behaviour which may have incalculable consequences. In this context, Heidegger’s thesis that man is not “the lord of life but itsshepherd” takes on new meaning. In the counterattack on thedespoilers, we architects, builders of the framework of life, have aligned ourselves”. Here is another meaningful quotation from Halina Skibniewska’s Report: “Every good project and design is a convention, a treatise, the result of negotiations, a synthesis. But as we know from experience, comprehensive knowledge, awareness of processes, the necessary negotiations are not enough to create something. Choice is essential, it is the very with and substance of creative effort and the product of talent. The architect’s work is nourished by his total knowledge and culture as well as by his intuition and sensitivity, property of people, provide emotional sensation and happiness”. For us, participants in the congress, the unity of efforts and goals was very much encouraging and quite moving, and the same applies to the fact that we all spoke the same language. After a few days of that brisk exchange of experience during wich we could learn the overall image and individual problems inherent in architecture, we were quite surprised to arrive at the conclusions that the attainments of very diverse cultures and civilizations are so close to one another that they have a joint philosophy with regard to man, his housing, his mental and even biological needs.
R. N. Johnson from Australia said in his paper entitled “Housing Quality or Housing Quantity” that architects cannot communicate with bureaucrats by whom they are employed but they themselves overlook the human scale which could be the distinguishing element. He stressed that architects must learn about human dreams. Pragmatic solutions cannot be more important than our ideas. We must preserve not only our little homes but also our dignity. A building is the architect’s message, a man-to-man communication. Form ought to satisfy human dreams. A simple roof over the head is also an expression of one’s attitude towards people. The quality of habitation is not only the sum of functionality; it implies also taking, into account the psychology of man, groups of people, nations. It concerns tradition and identity. Then he went on to define the architect’s role as an interpreter-cum-intermediary between the inspirations and needs of nature on the one hand and technicians and politicians on the other. He showed how the traditional architecture of the islands of Indonesia and the new architecture of Sydney can equally meet the requirements of the climate and the human need of beautiful detail.
Eu Ji Seow of Si ngapore spoke about the architecture of South-East Asia. He said that the architects of that region hope to be able to adapt the rich architectural heritage and traditional folk art and philosophy to the new needs, by means of modern technology. Interesting ideas were presented in Reima Pietila “Thoughts on Design” sketched against the background of his own many-sided output, running through all scales, from region and city, through buildings and their details, to furniture and kitchen utensils. The lecture was all the more valuable as truly great architects, such as Aalto or Pietila, rarely build a theoretical framework for their own philosophy, leaving the burdensome task of discovering their inspirations and inventions to others. The author proposed the following differentiation of design areas: Entity space. The concept concerns physical, technical, social and visual space; our capability of perceiving architecture depends on the visual code adopted at the time of looking. The environment is readable as a language of things, shapes and patterns.
Mediate space. The environment is impaired because of abstract orientation, functional isolation of areas, and general visual anarchy. Cities are rational but ugly. They consist of monuments to techno-culture, of mega-structures, badly designed open spaces, deformed nature, building devoid of meaning and expression. Our task consist in creating spatial links in the new context, mediating between elements of disharmony. For this purpose, a new role of components becomes necessary. In the architectural set-up of a town there are usually too many permanent, unchangeable elements. When space is being transformed, they should become elastically changeable in their pattern, shape and role and there should be a possibility for them to be joined together. In order to design shapes in space, more conscious links between natural and designed areas are necessary.
We do not know how to transform and humanize urban mechanisms, how to add newly built parts; we do not know where the space left between islands of rational spatial economy belongs, nor how to shape future development in order to arrive at a more convincing, consistent whole. The author went on to analyse what he called “building space”, pointing to the process of adopting open systems in design; then he discussed “approach space”, thanks to which the architect’s individual creations can materialize. The striking general intellectual atmosphere of the Congress was full of concern about the architect’s public function, his professional and public responsibility, as well as looking for a way out from the area of almost exhausted creative possibilities of the modernistic period, and realizing the need for author first and foremost in social and functional terms, and only then in aesthetic. It is only along this path that an apt solution can be found, likely to satisfy individual ambitions and making a full use of the broad spectre of possibilities, with no limitations imposed by the modernistic principles. Because of all that, open CIA sessions belonged to the most interesting events of the Congress (CICA – International Committee of Architecture Critics). They presented the clear-cut aspects of the consciousness of contemporary architecture.
In its programme-declaration, the committee emphasized that economic, technological and socio-cultural considerations alone will not create an architecture endowed with all socially indispensable values. The strikingly high attendance on the part of the delegates proved how much architects need a theoretical foundation for and an exchange of opinions about, the philosophical and artistic aspects of their art. The leading paper was read by Bruno Zevi of Italy who, referring to “Grade 0″ in literature (Roland Barthes) appealed to the architects’ forum for a “white” impartial, dispassionate language. The automatism of expression, the cobweb of fashionable cliches, a lack of flexibility -all that prevents one from conveying thoughts in a clear, lucid manner. Hence it suppresses rather than exhances the value of statements. For a truly new value to be wrought, likewise the consciousness of architects must free itself from the pressure of ideas suggested by memory. In reply, Jorge Glusberg of Argentina (Deputy President of CICA and AICA). questioned the plausibility of this approach.
Another paper, by Joseph Rykwert (Great Britain), dealt with the ten most controversial buildings of the last three years. The author provided architectural illustration of a variety of philosophical and formal questions: can superfluous cubature be added to a building for purely “expressive” reasons; what is the limit to the geometric deformation of function; does emphasis on geometry lead to monumentalism; when is one allowed to add to the aggressive quality of the surroundings; have concepts borrowed from the past retained anything of their former weight.
Under the heading of “Retro/pre/post/late/post-postmodernism”, the impressive and decorative presentation of Charles Jencks (Great Britain) made possible the isolation of a number of features of the current post-modernistic architecture, causing it to appear markedly different from the previous forms of modernism, such as e.g. striving for symetry and personality, geometric forms opposed to landscape; formal jokes, such as incomplete or chipped-off forms, artificially appended to other functions; stylistic quotations from other periods, the use of colour contradictory to the scale and function, purposeful avoidance of social references. Finally the Congress proclaimed the “Warsaw Declaration of Architects”, addressed to all architects in the world, to the public opinion and all those responsible for the processes of development.
The declaration stated that, in addition to man’s basic needs and rights, the architects must also accept the challenge of contemporary world. The new awareness of the future ought to inspire thinking, planning and design, as well as political decisions and actions of today. Never before has the future of manking been so conditioned and endangered by current decisions. We appeal to the nations, their representatives and authorities, for the establishment and maintenance of the control of development. We have to adopt a greater scope of professional responsibility because at every level orstage of economic and technological development the architect’s role should be to interpret socially accepted values.
His responsibility should embrace the environment in which he works. His work must offer a valuable contribution to the harmony of society and its environment. Let us accept the challenge and work in a differentiated and changing world. Perhaps each of the participants chose something precious for himself in the colourful mosaic of ideas presented at the Congress. And though an outsider might be rather surprised by the lack of communication with e.g. a milieu apparently as closely related as that of visual artists, the concept and the organization of the Congress met with general approval. The UIA has delegated the chief organizer Stanistaw Jankowski to Manila, to act as an adviser for the organizers of the next meeting, to be held three years hence, so that it would boast the same intellectual and organisational values as that in Warsaw.

Further reading:

http://archive.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/80a01e/80A01E03.htm
http://www.middlebury.edu/academics/architectural-studies/archandtheenviron

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