Collective Architecture in Sleek Magazine

What is the new architectural vision represented by young collectives? Collective Disaster gave an interview about it in SLEEK magazine, together with ELEMENTAL, Assemble and Something Fantastic.

You can read our full interview here:

  1. How did Collective Disaster form? What was the attraction of collective approach?

The collective started somehow very organic. We are all friends, or friends of friends, we have moved cities, expanded our circles, stayed in touch or lost contact. We wanted to be able to develop our friendships, discussions and mutual interests across borders. In a way we were already doing projects before we had a name, even if they were just organizing a party or a BBQ. The decision to do projects under a common name was a way to make that official, a promise to keep doing things together even though we live in different cities. Collective Disaster started as a network of friends, were in different ways all of us find a personal attraction or reason to join. Some might like to build, others might like a conceptual challenge, one can do something totally new, or prefers to stick to a certain skillset, even the team constellation changes on a project basis. The collective (which isn’t really a collective) doesn’t have much structure or shape, it changes, just as our interests and we ourselves change, so will the collective.

  1. how do you decide on which projects to take up? Do you have a set of guiding principles?

One of the handy parts of Collective Disaster is that none of us depends on it. It is something that exists as long as we do things together. For this reason, we don’t need guidelines, when someone wants to do something, finds an interesting open call, or likes to self-initiate something, you simply ask ‘who’s in?’. If no one is, you can find some new people and bring them into the collective. This doesn’t mean that it is easier or lighter, the level of commitment and the ambition is instead very high and, even if sometimes hard, it’s a pleasantly demanding journey.

  1. Ahmet Ögüt as its starting point: ‘architects now have more power than artists – architects are the new activists, they’re on the ground, arguing with the government, changing spaces’. Does this chime with your perception of your profession? Is it something that informs your approach to your practice? Would you call yourself political?

Well, generally architects are not very “activist” they are instead, also cause the economical frame they act in, quite obedient and acritical. Daily dealing with the monstrous maze of bureaucracy trained them in the art of diplomacy which in the end is often required. With CD we instead try more to follow what the Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire wrote: ‘dialogue cannot exist unless dialoguers engage in critical thinking.’ We believe that the task of the designer is to intervene in contemporary communication patterns, spread critical thinking and facilitate a constructive dialogue. Many of our leading examples include creative strategies about how (or why not) to deal with existing rules and regulations. For example, participations and collaborations are often used as strategic tools to influence and pressure policymakers to change existing policies. However, is quite evident that deliberately insufficient top down support is given just to avoid severe disobedience, transgression and riots. Quoting Justin McGuirk’s thoughts: “Can a handful of socially conscientious architects even begin to address that situation? No, this will require political will”. Nevertheless, most of our practices has been underpaid or unpaid experiences: it actually seems that current policies do exactly the opposite instead of encouraging policy- changing design. Every time we try something slightly different and original, we face limitations, so therefore an ‘activist’ approach became almost a natural consequence. We realize that without questioning the norms, cultures and habits, no changes are possible. We are not convinced artists have less influence: John Jordan, an activist artist, no longer saw the purpose of showing art in a vacuum of 500 like- minded people, him and others activist art encourages us to give up the ‘design business as usual’. We are a multidisciplinary team with artists, designers, activists, philosophers, scientists, economists… with the aim to influence public opinion. Through creativity and design we are able to transmit messages and content in a more effective way.

  1. In this vein, you wrote that “guerrilla” strategies becomes a more efficient answer for the free expression of the citizens, urban hacking, just as the street art, is the natural answer of the small individual, against the gigantic multiple-headed administrative structures.” (Bxl swings in the cracks)

What does this look like on the ground? Did people interact the way you expected to? How can we retrieve a relationship of care towards our environment?

It is very difficult to say how people generally interacted, what we I can say and be aware of, is the way how we as an individual interact. These kind of action, (specifically to BXL swings in the cracks) are first of all extremely powerful to get rid of frustrations and to finally be able to express in a strong and immediate way a message. We walk often on a thin line, between abuse and respect. The sense of responsibility, especially when you don’t protect yourself under the umbrella of norms and usual way of doing has to be strong and constant. For the rest the interaction that we were able to observe was always quite positive and happy, we didn’t manage to record any interaction from the controller. I think they didn’t care much, so I believe we should go stronger and stronger, but some installations disappeared quite quickly though. Another example is the case of the TOHS: initially we got an extremely strong and offended interaction from the local Muslim community against our approach. At the end this became an interesting opportunity to meet and try to open a little crack in the wall of incommunicability. What we aim is really to try to awake a bit the idea that what is common is first of all yours. You can use it, and improve it. And you have a responsibility towards it. So the city is ours and if you can, you should use it, just as much as we use our living room. The important is to tidy it up after a big dinner.

  1. You swing between themes, media and project outcomes – what determines your approach for each project?

We would say circumstances. This might sound weak, but the capability of flexibly adapt, and get out the best from every situation is the best way for surviving. We work with what we have, the game is about transforming it. There is no readymade recipe that can work everywhere, there is no winning model, or fix manifesto. There is us as peoples, humans with our sets of values, ideas, needs and necessity and the world around. What we can do is to make the best out of every given scenario and never stop the mutation and transformation process. What we enjoy is also always to try to put questions on the table, and make people think about the fact that what seems normal and established, has not always been like that, and it can always be changed. It is also very possible that every member of C.D. will give very different answers. Actually the word collective might be misleading: we are just people acting in and within A Collective Disaster.