Co-founder of Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) Willy Muller talks about extremality modern cities, its main components and consequences.
I think that classic, well-established concept of extremity is no longer relevant. It is said that cities are growing, become huge and that it extremity, however, I cannot agree with this position. As, for example, Leo Hollis says, there is nothing extreme in the megacity. In my laboratory at Barcelona we create matrix of what should be considered as extremes, what the extremes could be like and how to measure them. Where is the limit? What is the factor of extremity? For example, your city is situated at the extreme point on the map. You say: I live in Tarragona. It is kind of a small town, but there could be poisoning chemical industry somewhere near.
«I wonder what happens in different corners of the world, and it is much more fascinating than urbanization itself and bikeways»
I think there are three approaches towards analysis of the extremity, or more precise, three lenses, through which we can do that. First one – is the geography of the extremes. We can draw a huge map and observe a lot. Extreme societies, in respect of cultural tradition, economic development – are the second. And, finally, what happens when extreme societies turn out to be situated in the extreme geographies? It results in the extreme habitat. It is what I wanted to focus on at the round table and panel discussions.
City of Murmansk, Russia.
For example, El Alto, the second-largest city in Bolivia, is situated at the 4150 meters above the sea level – that is the extreme. Saint Petersburg is the coldest million city in the world, but you also have Murmansk. And here is the question: how to organize public spaces in Murmansk? That is the topic to discuss. I wonder what happens in different corners of the world, and it is much more fascinating than urbanization itself and bikeways.
«In my research I do not strive for one absolute answer»
We defined three phenomena concerning the extreme societies. First one is ghetto. Second one is gentrification. And last but not the least, are favelas or slums. At certain point you say that you have reached the limit. There is gentrification in Barcelona, but it does not reach the dangerous level, it is not at the breaking point. However what happens on Rio or in Caracas, in terms of people living in slams – that is extreme. For example, when we talk about migration. Refuge cities arise, where only refugees live. Today it happens with the Syrian refugee. Tourists provide another example. Tourism is a form of migration. Venice is literally torn by tourists. Wars. There are places where the infrastructure exclusively for the army is created at the different places of the world. What makes us create such conditions? How to deal with them and what we can learn from these examples? I do not like talking about the decisions, decision is something that should be found, perhaps, in the end, as a result. I would like to discuss it.
Murals and posters by French artist JR in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
There are societies that could seem extreme on the exterior, though they do not consider themselves extreme. In the long run, extremity is an anomaly that we face as the cities developing. We talk about paradigm: we do not have answer, but we do have question. In the modern Urban Studies there are multiple paradigms – infrastructure development, climate change, and so on, and so on. Extremity is one among them. I am interested in extending this discussion.
Research and architecture are two different images of me. When I study – I, as an objective professor, but when I take a pencil, I become a creator, architect and then I become as all other architects who, as it is said, solves one problem and creates ten more. Therefore in my research I do not strive for one absolute answer. The most extreme that I faced in Saint Petersburg, in a good meaning of the word, is Russian vodka.