Today, the problem of design has been increasingly reduced to a problem of accounting. In the wake of global terrorism, economic collapse and environmental disaster, the demand for “accountability” represents an unholy alliance of the social and corporate, the perfect mash-up of responsibility and efficiency, and an expression of the realignment of the political economy of neo-liberalism to metrics. In this context, architecture has become a life-saving, job-creating, environment-preserving commodity, a product whose end is to reduce cost, limit liability, and guarantee predictable results for a world where failure is no longer an option.
When a practice insulates itself against failure, however, it no longer occupies a cultural field. Risk-aversion executes a general lobotomy on our ability to collectively imagine alternatives and radically contracts our envelope of choice exactly to the degree that it would answer presumed necessities. At its most culturally charged, the job of design is not to accommodate this world but to instigate the desire for another. Architecture performs as a cultural practice to the extent that it extends projects that, under the metrics of the current regime, appear as irresponsible, excessive, and wasteful. Without the possibility of failure, there simply are no options.
Robert Somol asks: How do we mobilize the risk of failure in a world that demands security?
osa answers:This workshop showed us again how relevant the above question is. In the process of assembling the concepts, a predicament once again highlighted the issues our society has in regard to regulating every step of our lives.
Ironically one of the simplest tools, a ladder, caused most of disruption and became an indicator of the task given. A five-meter-high ladder was needed to access the workshop site building and had been requested from the technical department of the university. After one day it was brought to our attention that a certified ladder user was needed in order to hire the ladder and/or a method statement for the use of the ladder had to be provided. It seems that the technical department of the university couldn’t take responsibility for the use of the ladder by their staff or students.
But as we were running out of time it was more reasonable to take the responsibility ourselves and simply hire a ladder form a DIY store around the corner. So, a method statement was produced to secure the tool.
The absurdity of current regulations revealed itself quite promptly in this process, further supporting the notion that common sense should be reinstated to replace policies made by insurances and authorities.
Student statements after the realization of their projects:
Aida Rodriguez-Vega – CCTV ZONES
The UK has a growing number of CCTV cameras, but the culture of surveillance is so pervasive that there are also instances where dummy cameras are used andor signs warning of cameras are employed as supplementary enforcers. when nothing is there. In my project I wanted to play around with people’s perceptions of safety and fear. So wWhen people approach the large, white dotted outline of a boxgiant white box peopleon the floor, they begin to question the boxit, attempting to better understand the boxit and their relationship to it. sense are triggered and start to ask the question what is this here for? Can I step inside it? Is it safe? Many people did not even notice the camera filming them and avoided stepping inside the box. If they would have checked theirere fears, they could have easilyless enough to walked up to the bungalow, sat down and watched on our CCTV other people avoiding the box and some jovially interacting it. stair they could view the CCTV and new people avoiding or braving the box.
Alison Johnson – THE PERCEPTION OF FEAR AND RISK
The purpose of the street light intervention is to provoke a conversation about the perception of risk. This street is privately owned and is normally never lit. By adapting the existing lamp housings and installingto take motion-sensor operated lights, we were able to integratelight the street and integrate it within the surrounding network of public roads — intriguing passersby. We, however, created a system that automatically turned the lights offf automatically ten 10 seconds after someonea person entered the street, just enough time for them to reach the middle of the street. They would then be left in darkness, at which point they would be in the middle of the street. We used the intervention to consider and discuss the notions of risk and security – and at what point they meetwhat causes one to become the other.
Curtis Martyn – FALLING LADDERS
“In reality, an accidental fall from your bed could be more fatal than a calculated jump from a two storey building.”
This intervention seeks to promote the notion of risk as an opportunity for new experience. A ladder, composed entirely out of recycled paper, is strategically suspended from the second floor of an abandoned warehouse beside the canal. The paper chain suggests a sense of structural stability, enabling the onlookers to imagine the ladder in use. The tension between imagination and reality, however, is where the ‘risk of failure’ is mobilizsed. The installation enables a rare opportunity to re-imagine how traditional conventions can be contended in practice.
Closing words from university dean Professor Tom Jefferies:
Action demands risk. Small modifications to the ordinary can rewire the way we view the possible. The development of oblique strategies can act as a precursor for wide ranging and fundamental change.
The project released the latent potential of disused and empty university buildings in the centre of Manchester; a street covered in moss, ‘dangerous’ despite having no traffic, the only bungalow in the city centre — enigmatically raised on stilts — and a rare surviving example of an un-gentrified Manchester warehouse. Students from the UK, Sweden, France, and Pakistan collaboratively worked with architects, academics and engineers to produce focussedfocused architectural interventions that were fleeting, provocative and unique (and all risk assessed).