Changes occurred in architectural perspective after COVID-19
Who of us would have believed how quickly and profoundly we would be besieged by all of the elements Virilio spoke of in his late twentieth-century The Information Bomb? A science that has lost its mind, increasingly militarized and pushing ethical boundaries; a kind of tele-topology mechanism of observation and control covering almost the entire planet; masses who watch but do not read; the human body as focus of a new colonialism bound to a pornography that employs culture and art as an excuse; a world culture dominated by childishness; an information bomb that can blast international peace to smithereens; outerspace garbage created by voracious competition; missing children, child laborers, child soldiers, and the internet as an incomparable ideological rendezvous event—it is an incontestable reality that this information bomb, originating with digital media, has properly scrambled our minds, especially in the past few years.
We have all seen the cost exacted by the information pollution that began the day the COVID-19 disaster emerged. And it seems this virus will be with us for some time to come, at the very least; it continues to survive, albeit as different variants. What will follow it? Is this pandemic, as Chomsky claims, a small sample of greater crises to come? Or should one believe the infectious disease experts who say that such a scourge can come only once or twice in a century?
The fact is that some things will never be the same again once this weird phase is normalized, that is obvious. For example, in the course of this period the—if the phrase fits—“humiliated” European Union will either break up or radically reinvent itself. It will not be easy to close the book on this period without asking the cost of what happened in Italy, cradle of civilizations, or in Spain, where every corner is yet another center of the arts. Furthermore, it appears unavoidable that the institution called the World Health Organization will have to completely review and revise its operations.
And it is crystal clear that in most places in the world, the pandemic will trigger radical changes of perception and understanding in many areas, including architecture.
I do not think there will be much of a difference in my own approach to architecture after the pandemic is over. To be more cautious as resources at hand are exhausted, to think again, under all circumstances, how to transform rather than destroy, for example; to try to build structures that do as little damage as possible to the environment and ecological equilibria—these were approaches I adopted before this catastrophe struck, and I will continue in the same way.
I must say that I have doubts about the awareness in this regard within the geography where we live. The atmosphere reigning here nowadays will make it easy to forget lessons drawn from this catastrophe.
The package of new sensitivities shared on social media, of an authenticity not easy to ascertain, does not amount to a fig seed compared with the total population of the country.
With the coming of the summer season, the consumerist hysteria enforced by the neoliberal system emerged in even wilder form. And we face the reality that Turkey has become one of six countries to sign but feigns reluctance to approve the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and put a stop to the climate crisis. Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Turkey!
I don’t know what more I can say…
Recommendations to students
There is much to be learned from our societal despair as we, too, suffer the recent forest fires that have ravaged almost all of the Mediterranean basin, along with the catastrophe of Covid as well. I think it is important for our student architects of the future to keep their eyes, their ears, and most importantly their minds open and at work.
While the world is shrinking in terms of accessibility, it is being driven toward disaster with all speed. The climate crisis was never on the agenda during my student years, but I have no doubt that it will be of utmost importance from now on in every field of endeavor. And architecture is first among those fields.
The volcanic activity of two hundred and fifty million years ago reached dimensions
threatening life itself and ended with the greatest mass extinction event in the history of the earth. As scientists keep repeating over and over, if extremely stringent measures are not taken, the Anthropocene Epoch in which we exist will end with a similar extinction within fifty to seventy years. Faced with such a reality, the responsibilities of the field of architecture, and of course the architect, become much more important within this frame than ever before. The ecological sustainability aspect of design is now so critical as to be far more than a matter of mere show.
Student architects of the future will need profound knowledge and experience in this regard in particular. They must pursue authentic knowledge, rather than chase after the fashions of thought they often encounter in their communities; they must never tire of learning and questioning what is happening around them from moment to moment in every area; and they must move forward decisively according to what they personally believe to be right, rather than conform to the facile superficialities adopted by the crowd.
Even if this might get them into trouble temporarily now and then, it will at the end of the day make them individuals who benefit the society in which they live and the world at large.
I recommend to my young friends that they keep their hearts and minds as open as possible, that they acquire the knowledge and skill necessary to oppose conjunctural resistance, that they never turn away from struggle for the sake of the scientific values in which they believe, struggle to the end when necessary, and that while doing all these things they remain students all their lives.
Emre Arolat is the design partner of EAA-Emre Arolat Architecture, founded with Gonca Paşolar. Engaged in a wide range of projects, from urban master plans and airports to residential and cultural buildings, and workplaces, EAA became an internationally recognized practice with offices in New York, London and Istanbul.
Emre Arolat teaches and lectures widely. He recently taught Advanced Studio at the Yale School of Architecture as Norman R. Foster Visiting Professor and a Master Studio at The Berlage Institute in Delft. He has lectured at several academic and professional institutions such as Cooper Union, the Pratt Institute, AIA Rensselaer, Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, at La Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine in Paris, Cept University in Ahmedabad and RIBA in London.
Arolat was the co-curator of the first Istanbul Design Biennale in 2012. He was awarded a professorship by the International Academy of Architecture, Sofia.
EAA received international attention early on with the Minicity Theme Park (2004), which was selected by the Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture. Many international awards have followed, including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2010 for the Ipekyol Textile Factory in Edirne. Arolat served on the Aga Khan Award for Architecture Master Jury in 2016 and has been appointed recently to the Steering Committee for the 14th Award Cycle.
EAA’s work has been published into several books by prominent international publishers including Rizzoli New York and Oro Editions.
They also have been shown in exhibitions at renowned institutions including the Design Museum, The Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London, and were presented at the International Architecture Biennale in Venice in 2012 and 2016.
Emre Arolat has been elected as an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in February 2019, for his significant contribution to architecture and society.
EAA-Emre Arolat Architecture
“I like to look at a place, understand it, feel the traces and then everything about the form and all the practicality starts to emerge in an intuitive process together with my colleagues in the studio.”