Past Forward

Devised by Adrian Lahoud, a new competition by web-based platform Think Space attempts to start a debate, wrestling architectural culture from its own inertia and confusion.

It is not often that competitions come along that aim to intensify architectural discourse through the insistence of architectural design. Quite often they offer a dalliance into either side of the discipline, but in a new competition by Think Space there is a definite attempt to wrestle architectural culture from its own inertia or confusion.

The evocatively titled Past Forward is a competition devised by guest curator Adrian Lahoud , through Think Space — a web-based platform for conceptual ideas operating under an annual theme. The competition, open to practitioners and students in architecture or other associated fields, raises certain disciplinary questions through revisiting specific canonical architectural projects over the last thirty years: Zaha Hadid Architect's The Peak Leisure Club (Hong Kong, 1983); FOA's Yokohama Port Terminal (Yokohama, 1994); and Diller Scofidio + Renfro's Blur Building (Yverdon-les-Bains, 1999). The project selection is calculated and premeditated. Each project was itself won via competition, and each resulted in significant disciplinary resonance in technological, infrastructural and critical terms, with projects that presented new attitudes to the ground, surface and atmosphere.

The brief for the competition is straightforward upon initial consideration: to design a project on a site of a notable, architecturally-significant building using the same competition brief as the previous winning entrant; but its subconscious layering lurks just below the surface. It seems that what Past Forward asks of its entrants is not merely a competition entry, but the initiation of architectural debate. It does not announce solutions, nor aspire to. Instead, the brief surreptitiously reveals the current conceit of the architectural profession. Entrants are tantalized by the prospect of designing or redesigning a project by a recognizable architect — a classic catch-22 whereby the entrant has to choose to return to or ignore these "singular moments of disciplinary transformation". It is quite probable that what will prevail from this competition is repetition in a guise, and it could lead to some form of ideological or aesthetic mimicry. But the new entrants could also propel the project into unchartered territory.
Top: FOA, Yokohama Port Terminal, Yokohama, 1994. Above: Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Blur Building, Yverdon-les-Bains, 1999
Top: FOA, Yokohama Port Terminal, Yokohama, 1994. Above: Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Blur Building, Yverdon-les-Bains, 1999
As a title, Past Forward entices. It suggests an inflection back towards an outmoded expression for video or audio tapes; the idea of re-runs that revisit the previously documented or heralded. But is this to suggest nostalgia or to identify a warning? It is quite possibly the latter. Lahoud believes that there has been a lack of serious intellectual investigation from the discipline, given the considerable changes to the social and political culture within the competition's identified timeframe. He states that the projects identified here are "points of reference" and important, conceptual innovations that signify a disparity with contemporary architectural culture. The competition is more of a call-to-arms than a meek attempt at producing vacuous renderings with no technical possibilities — the present scourge of the profession. In academe, as well as in the profession, designers evolve or repeat projects, regurgitate precedents, re-examine theories and rework styles. However, in this form of justification there is an inherent lie. Past Forward aims at highlighting a larger socio-cultural predicament; a form of noble lie, where architectural discourse and practice seems pent up on pining for attention, expunging its energies on projects that lack direction either in programmatic or problematic concerns. As Lahoud states, Past Forward "aims to hold a mirror to the discipline to reflect the changes of the last thirty years." In this respect, the title becomes emblematic of the essence of the competition's purposes.
Zaha Hadid Architects, <em>The Peak Leisure Club</em>, Hong Kong, 1983, drawing
Zaha Hadid Architects, The Peak Leisure Club , Hong Kong, 1983, drawing
By challenging entrants to not repeat a project is in itself a complex brief, because in repetition, familiarity can be a consoling passenger. However, in a competition that challenges the entrant to reinterpret an existing, seemingly successful, project, where does it leave the juror? Given that the panel for each of the three competitions will be critiqued by their "parent", it creates a dilemma on both sides: how does the entrant revamp, revive or rethink a project that burns into the very soul of the discourse; and, how does a "parent" juror judge a project that could repeat or devolve their own canonical project? This subtle layer provides intrigue for both sides of the competition.
The competition is more of a call-to-arms than a meek attempt at producing vacuous renderings with no technical possibilities
Diller Scofidio + Renfro, <em>Blur Building</em>, Yverdon-les-Bains, 1999, sections
Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Blur Building , Yverdon-les-Bains, 1999, sections
The competition is now open to registration with all competitions launching simultaneously on 27 April and concluding on 17 July 2012. Past Forward culminates in New York, with the winning entrants exhibiting at Storefront for Art and Architecture , and a symposium at the Museum of Modern Art bringing together each of the three projects' architects, in a bid to ignite a conversation about the shifts and transformations evidenced across the different projects, both past and present.
FOA, <em>Yokohama Port Terminal</em>, Yokohama, 1994, plans
FOA, Yokohama Port Terminal , Yokohama, 1994, plans
Zaha Hadid Architects, <em>The Peak Leisure Club</em>, Hong Kong, 1983, drawing
Zaha Hadid Architects, The Peak Leisure Club , Hong Kong, 1983, drawing
Zaha Hadid Architects, <em>The Peak Leisure Club</em>, Hong Kong, 1983, drawings
Zaha Hadid Architects, The Peak Leisure Club , Hong Kong, 1983, drawings

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