R-Lab, Architecture Design Media: new course at the Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm

Wednesday July 8th 2015 by Peter Thomas Lang

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new course

image: Florence University, 9999 1970. with permission of Group 9999 archive.

Course Content R-LAB is conceived as an advanced research platform combining archival studies, field observations, and graphic and media documentation. No subject is off-limits for possible investigation as long as it is rigorously studied and methodically examined. The keywords used to define the subjects of this course: architecture, design and media, are easily misrepresented and deserve clarification. Architecture is at best a generic term. It describes a historical practice later problematized by its associations with westernization and modernization. Now it has become one of the most flagrant symbols of globalization. Can the practice be redefined again so as to reclaim itsrevolutionary role in the face of today’s most urgent global challenges? Design is another one of these terms that are highly problematic. Modern designers envisioned their realm to spread from the spoon to the city. Is design about making environments? Is design about conceptualizing objects? Who is served by design? The consumers who benefit from a constant succession of innovations or the manufacturers whose productions fuel obsolescence and waste? Can design be turned against itself? Is there a way to break the circuit, to get back to “anti-design” tactics? The inclusion of media in the R-LAB course title is the big give-away. We live in a mediatized world, and are shaped by the way communications networks configure in detail the living landscape around us. Buildings spring to life as fully formed luxury icons, the refrigerator is on the cloud, part of the Internet of things, responsive to personal impulses streaming across social media. The term media implies a multiplicity of information, but there is great potential to broadcast much more unedited data. Bringing the media to bear on a critical subject can exploit the power of agitprop to destabilize the current public discourse. The R-LAB is conceived as an innovative and renewable platform: it is informed by a number of significant institutional and non-institutional precedents existing mostly outside mainstream educational programs. RLAB references the experimental programs conducted at the Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG 1953-1968) in Ulm, more specifically when the school was under the tutelage of Tomás Maldonado, but also references the critical positions of the Situationists International (1957-1972) created in reaction to the founding of the Ulm School–the SI emerged initially as theInternational Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus (IMIB). R-LAB also builds on the pioneering organization of the International Institute of Design (IID), the London based summer sessions developed by Alvin Boyarsky between 1970 and 1972, and whose experiments in international education over the three summers resulted in one of the most creative periods in the history of the AA when Boyarsky rose to its directorship. The lesser known Italian Radical school, Separate School for Expanded Conceptual Architecture (S-Space-1970-1971) held in the discotheque Space Electronic in Florence, and organized by the groups Superstudio and 9999, though short lived, funneled a generation’s worth of experimentation. Other influential programs include Emilio Ambasz’s Universitas Project organized in 1971 and held at the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, in New York, and Peter Eisenman’s Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies(IAUS – 1967-1984) also in New York. These historic programs were nonetheless incredibly influential, not so much for the positions they purportedly held, but for the breadth of subjects confronted, the brilliance of their debates, and the kind of future that they presented. R-LAB’s mandate is to establish an open forum for critical discourse on the issues that are most urgent today.