I started the SOM Foundation Traveling Fellowship in the summer of 2015. Now, a mere two years later, the world has rapidly changed. From drafting the first research proposals to final edits, the texts and travels made on post-WWII international architectures were produced in the context of these very ideals being challenged like never before, from the European Union embattled from Brexit, austerity measures, and the refugee crisis from Syria, rise of right-wing populism in the US and Europe, to the weaponizing of American technology and social media giants by terrorist groups like ISIS or foreign governments.
“Globalism,” or to be a “globalist,” once an ideal in the aftermath of the trauma of WWII, is now being used locally as an ideological epithet by increasingly divisive forces. Rather than a collection of disjointed “locales,” under one framework of the singular “global,” a reading of global/local hybrids, multiple and simultaneous “globalisms” is more useful in structuring our understanding of the world. In conclusion, findings are fractured into a list of bite-sized memoranda for future use, that in its multiplicity, could be more useful than the single monolith.
Memorandum 1: Material/ Ideological
Intergovernmental architecture is not only the material manifestation of atemporal spatial order but is the temporal ideological manifestation that has been erected from immense concentrations of capital, instrumentalized expertise, and political will.
Memorandum 2: Design by Auteur/Design by Committee
Signatory, avant-garde architecture are often commissioned as a vehicle for a new ruling order, such as the Emperor Haile Selassie’s embrace of Italian modernism, used as an architectural campaign to host the United Nations Economic Commission for East Africa. The line between visionary and despotic is sometimes blurry. However, the rule of power today has evolved from the singular, to the omnipresent and totalizing—and architecture have followed suit. In the case of the EU-fication of Brussels, relentless curtain wall glass facades march down Belgian streets and careen around the corner, dwarfing the scale of the small European capital.
Memorandum 3: Commodification of Climate
Climate, as much as any other building element, can be designed as part of a larger agenda. In a near perfect temperate climate for human habitation, as in Nairobi, the natural environment harnessed by building systems to become fulling passive, relying only on natural ventilation without the need for additional heating and cooling. The pristine and carefully maintained natural environment becomes commodified when it is separated from the local climate at large via urban separation.
Memorandum 4: Conversion of Climate Capital
Through the conversion via investments, what is arguably the least hospitable environment to human habitation—the “desert” is able to be converted into a laboratory for sustainable building systems, “Masdar City,” funded by an economy of fossil fuels. The climate, in its in raw physical relation to the body, is of not necessarily of more intrinsic value in the age of late advanced capital.
Memorandum 5: Architecture as the Medium
More so than any other media, architecture has disciplinary claim over space. Unlike sculpture, fashion, photography, video, and engineering, the crafting and creation of space is something that is relatively unique to architecture proper. What, then, are the methods to inject architectural form with meaning, with content?
Memorandum 6: Twenty-first Century Nationalism
A new breed of Nationalism is erupting across the globe, abetted by social media and political selfies, with a force and swiftness that took by surprise most of the mainstream intelligentsia who thought it was on the way to extinction.
While developing the premise of the trip in 2015, I set out to unpack the international forces on architecture, though often purposefully camouflaged and elusive, I assumed would nonetheless be the dominant force. Localisms, by contrast, I assumed, lie inert, on the receiving end of a world order imposed by globalization.
Instead, the course of the project has led me to identify the phantom third between localisms and globalisms: Nationalism(s). Unlike familiar architectural forms of postwar concrete modernisms and high-tech, curtain-walled neoliberal exports, this renewed ideology has yet to be made sense of, much less captured in architectural form.