Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019

Tags: community, retail, timber, new build

Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019 - Webb Yates Engineers
Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019 - Webb Yates Engineers
Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019 - Webb Yates Engineers
Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019 - Webb Yates Engineers

Our director Maria Smith accompanied by architect Matthew Dalziel, think tank director, Phineas Harper and urban researcher and artist, Cecilie Sachs Olsen curated the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019 (OAT). Titled 'Enough: The Architecture of Degrowth', the Triennale argues that the pursuit of infinite economic growth is driving climate breakdown and producing ecologically toxic architecture. OAT explores the buildings, urbanism and construction materials of a radically transformed society in which cultural and ecological flourishing matter more than economic growth.

The triennale’s main installation is a library of degrowth, temporarily transforming the National Museum – Architecture. Libraries are critical to fighting climate change and inequality as they promote sharing rather than production and consumption. The installation has been built by re-using and re-fabricating components and materials from a recent landscape architecture exhibition.

Over the next few decades, we will see a change in priorities, away from ever-increasing GDP growth toward human and environmental wellbeing. Ecofeminists, ecological economists, Degrowthers and their colleagues have been calling for this transition for some time; arguing against an economic system that encourages exploitation of nature, and beings both human and non-human; instead arguing for genuine social and environmental equity. Unfortunately, studies such as the 1972 Limits to Growth report have too often been dismissed as doomsday fantasies to be averted via technological innovation and a coherent, concerted effort to constrain humanity’s impact on the planet has fallen well short.

A shift to a reduced human impact on the environment is now underway but according to “Limits to Growth” co-author Jørgen Randers, this transition will occur not thanks to ambitious pre-emptive collective action but rather due to a faltering in the mechanisms of economic growth. The world population will plateau as fertility decreases, a crisis in productivity in mature economies will hamper global GDP growth, poverty will persist in the world’s most vulnerable communities, and consumption will stagnate as we are forced to divert funds towards repair and adaptation in the face of climate breakdown. This smaller economy will fortuitously reduce demands on energy, resources, water and food, however not quickly enough to avoid a temperature increase to 3 degrees above pre-industrial levels which will likely trigger self-reinforcing climate change that will prove impossible to mitigate.

As the drivers of growth begin to fail us, we must imagine alternative societal structures that do not incentivise unsustainable resource and energy use, and do not perpetuate inequality. Here we can look to Degrowth, a movement that contests the supremacy of economic growth and seeks to move us away from this stressful, damaging, impossible task of endless growth; not by collapse, but by design. Visioning transformative futures is a difficult process, particularly in relation to overcoming deeply ingrained perceptions about the future and nature of change processes. ‘Enough’ investigates this challenge through art, fiction and performance to create a framework to develop glimpses of transformed and alternative futures.

Architects and urban practitioners, working on the frontline of capitalism, complicit in the property industry yet rarely motivated by money but rather social, cultural and artistic values, are in a compelling position to contribute to this critical conversation. What kind of architecture will we create when buildings are no longer instruments of finance? What kinds of spaces will we inhabit when cultivation, rather than extraction is the goal? What materials and technologies will we build with when general purpose money no longer allows us to trade a rainforest for a smart city? How will the built environment be procured in an economic system that doesn’t seek to exploit global differences in wage levels, land prices, and environmental legislation? How will we form our environment when it is human and ecological equity that matter most?

Performance and fiction are core to the programme challenging the ways architects communicate with the public. The festival includes an extensive theatre line-up and its core publication is not a catalogue of essays but a book of science fiction short stories and a graphic novel. 140, largely young, interdisciplinary teams from around the world have contributed to this diverse programme including architects, economists, theatre makers, science fiction authors and live action role players.

Highlights from the triennale programme include:

  • German immersive theatre company Rimini Protokoll take audiences backstage on eight construction sites around the world in their show at Norway’s National Theatre, Society Under Construction.
  • Seetal Solanki exhibits a collection of innovative ecological materials from around the world.
  • Canadian researchers yyyy-mm-dd test new ways to build masonry columns without carbon-emitting cement.
  • Studio Dominique + Serena’s present a timber model illustrating an urban landscape designed around care.
  • Belgian design researchers ROTOR are collaborating with the Oslo School of Architecture and Design to create an international summer school questioning economic growth.
  • Norwegian non-profit Antipodes Café create a catalogue of the materials and components used in the triennale for re-use in other exhibitions around Oslo.
  • UK practice Public Works has collaborated with Norwegian firm Flakk/Dalziel and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design to create a 14 cubic metre bioreactor. For 18 months it will heat a public bench as a live demonstration of the capacity of green waste to provide fossil fuel free energy and compost in city centres.
  • South African collective, Southern Eco Systems create a kaleidoscopic installation presenting case studies of degrowth in action from across the Global South.

We can build with timber, calculate the embodied carbon of our structures and retrofit existing buildings, but without challenging the economy within which architecture is made, will these approaches to sustainable design be enough? Continuing to pursue a growth-based economy will lead to climate breakdown and entrench deep divides between those who have far too little, and those who have far too much. The Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019 explores the architecture of degrowth, an economy of shared plenty in which human and ecological flourishing matter most.