Beyond Buildings


Architects in Search of the Anti-City: Festarch Confounds Koolhaas, Eisenman, Others

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Photo: Aaron Betsky


“The Anti-city is a source of deep energy and is apparently peaceful, and it does not oppose itself to the cities where we live. It tends, on the other hand, to erode it from within. Without making big gestures, it moves quietly and often invisibly within the mechanisms of reproduction of contemporary urban space; it breaks down connections, and unties knots, it compromises the very workings of the city… We need to understand the Anti-city in all its forms.”


This was the rallying cry that Stefano Boeri, the editor of Abitare magazine, former candidate for Mayor of Milan, and agitator for critical architecture, issued in assembling Festarch, a free confab that took place in Perugia, Italy, this last weekend. Boeri and his team assembled a remarkable cast of characters, ranging from Rem Koolhaas, Petra Blaise, and Bjarke Ingels to Peter Eisenman, Michael Maltzan, and Kurt Forster, to name just a few participants.All of us (I gave a Sunday morning lecture) roamed around the medieval-style tourist destination looking for the Anti-city.


I think Boeri used this peculiar terms as an alternative to sprawl, for which there is no good Italian word, but also to drive home the point that it is not just the spread of suburbia and exurbia that has done away with the notion of the urban condition as we have known it for hundreds of years, but the different ways in which we use space, create community (or lack it), and move through the confusion of structures that these days makes up urban agglomerations.The notion that an urbanity that is radically intensive, moving towards isolated enclaves and experiences, and extensive, encompassing forms of tentative coherence that cover the whole globe, needs to be understood is absolutely clear. Whether any of us came up with answers remains unclear.


The paradigmatic moment of confusion came with Rem Koolhaas, in what amounted to Festarch’s keynote address on Saturday evening, proclaimed his own uncertainty in a lecture on what he termed “thinning.” Noting the lack of density and intensity, clarity and quality, along with a rise in extension, nostalgia, and protectiveness, he railed against preservationism and the spread of second-home ownership in picturesque villages–citing fellow architects Norman Foster and Peter Zumthor as prime perpetrators of such. Holding onto the old was bad, but what was good was something he did not note. The whole lecture was a rambling and rather mean-spirited critique of other architects and artists.


Photo: Aaron Betsky


It was up to Ingels, Blaise, and others to offer concrete alternatives, but, though they presented memorable buildings and landscapes, there were few building blocks for an anti-city on offer. Instead, what we got was monuments, in every sense of that word: reminders of past greatness, containers of importance, anchors in a thinning, sprawling, anti-city, and examples of design produced according to urban, rather than anti-citian, principles. What truly saddened me was the lusty applause that Papa Eisenman received when he told an audience of students that they should make “projects” rather than have themselves be defined by “practice,” and offered his own monumental, expensive, and grandiloquent Santiago di Compostela building as an example of what to do. Remarkably, he did not note this structure’s suburban location.



Comments (2 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 4:06 PM Sunday, June 12, 2011

    Ah a DEMI-DAVOS for all you starchitects, how jolly!

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 1:35 PM Saturday, June 11, 2011

    Koolhaas seems to be taking jabs at his peers with increasing frequency nowadays. I wish he would stop. It makes him look petty and small. I mean, the moralizing tone he has adopted of late is especially unflattering, especially for the stark hypocricies it reveals in his own practice. Rem, in sharp, has always been best as a refracting lens -- a figure through whom one could understand more fully what the hell was going on in the world. The activist stance he has taken of late just doesn't suit him. Ken Frampton he's not, nor should he try to be.

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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.