My friend Mauricio Corbalan is an architect who lives and works in Buenos Aires. I would say that his main job is to question his profession from within. His concern is not about building in its own right but about ways of using the space. In other words, he is one of the few architects that dare to stand aside in order to assess the way people live.
This is why it didn’t come as a surprise that he brought to my attention trio in charge of the British pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. They are Jack Self, Shumi Bose and Finn Williams, aged 29, 32 y 33 respectively and were selected amongst many other proposals through an open competition by the British Council. The fact that they have been chosen by a country known by its invasive architecture (as in Norman Foster and Richard Rodgers) says a lot for they are not architects in the sense that they have designed a number of completed building. They are not even fully recognized as architects by the Architects Registration Board, the official body for such matters, although ARB begrudgingly accepts that Self’s qualification, obtained in Australia, has some validity. They have all studied architecture in order to think about it in a different way.
For the British pavilion they discussed our ‘anxious relationship with the idea of home’. Of course, they refer to the way architecture should address housing for a generation of inhabitants that spend more time in bed than in the sofa (this according to official statistics). This mainly due to the fact that we tend to spend more time looking at screens than sleeping and that 80% of smarthphone users look at their devices within 15 minutes of waking up.
Their point appears to be that the way we are discussing housing issues is ineffectual for the kind of economy (and living) that is emerging. In their late 20’s, they belong to Generation Rent or that generation where purchasing a home is almost impossible. If they were working in the 60s, they would have advertised their skills by building a nice little house for themselves (as in Frank Gehry) or in the 80s, a nice flat conversion. But what to do now? They also seem to address the issue of ‘affordable housing’. How much ‘affordable housing’ can be squeezed out of developers? What does ‘affordable’ mean? Of course, answering these questions is impossible so they try to ask questions in a different way by looking at how people are adjusting their ways of lives in these conditions. In other words, in times when the housing deficit has been naturalized into people’s bodies, how to understand architecture. I think it is brilliant. J A T