The central exhibition of this fourth edition of the Basque Country International Architecture Biennial MUGAK, located at the Basque Country Architecture Institute and entitled ‘Inhabiting change‘, presents a collective dialogue between renowned figures from the world of architecture and the arts, who have added their original pieces, projects and representations of their practices to the exhibition. It will be open to the public until 25 February 2024.
Organised since 2017 by the Territorial, Housing, and Transporting Planning from the Basque Government, MUGAK reaches this fourth edition as the main architectural event of the Atlantic Arc and aims to continue growing regarding its previous edition, which brought together more than 70,000 attendees over an entire month of architecture.
An exhibition for reflection
‘Inhabiting change’ is based on the three concepts of this year’s theme: ‘rebuild, reinhabit, rethink’. “We live in turbulent times of ecological, health, economic and social crisis. Times of great challenges for which we need urgent, imaginative and transformative solutions. Times in which it is urgent to rethink how we inhabit the world and how we will live in it in the near future. From a critical and unprejudiced point of view, this exhibition invites us to reflect on the etymological relationship between the words ‘build’, ‘inhabit’ and ‘think’ to which Heidegger referred in 1951, in a Europe devastated by the Second World War”, according to the curator, María Arana.
To this end, the Biennial has invited renowned names to exhibit, such as the researcher Beatriz Colomina, the studio amid.cero9 and the artist Isaac Cordal. All of them have contributed their projects and works to ‘Inhabiting change’, which distributes this reflection in the three exhibition halls of the Basque Country Architecture Institute in San Sebastián. There they begin a dialogue that will also move to Vitoria-Gasteiz and Bilbao, with the conferences that the different participants will give from 25 October until 24 November in the three capitals.
Three rooms, three concepts
The first room, ‘Rebuild’, proposes to reflect on the role of architecture and its impact on the planet; on ideas such as the fact that 40% of global CO2 emissions are emitted by buildings, or on the destruction of its fundamental and social principles. He also talks about rebuilding architecture itself and creating new ways of understanding and experiencing it in this context of economic and social uncertainty.
Presiding over the room is ‘Follow the leaders’ (2009), an installation that the Galician artist Isaac Cordal has already taken to the streets of cities such as Brussels, Milan, London and Berlin. It is made up of pieces in the form of small businessmen in suits, surrounded by decaying urban settings that invite criticism of the inertia of the social mass, a commentary on a civilisation of grey urbanism, with tones ranging from ironic to desolate. It induces reflection on the contemporary dehumanisation of our civilisations.
It is accompanied by a representation of the Ningbo Historical Museum (2008) by Amateur Architecture Studio, using original materials and images. The building defends Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu’s firm belief in caring for tradition in the face of the rapid destruction and unstoppable growth of their country’s cities: the building’s façade is created from rubble generated in the demolition processes produced in the very place where it now stands, as, according to the studio, “we cannot destroy history”. On display are four samples of the façade itself, detailing the complex, handcrafted construction system proposed by the studio. In addition, large-scale photographs can be found.
The last piece in this room is ‘Gran Vía Toxic’ (2008-09), by the renowned Madrid studio amid.cero9. It is a project developed on the occasion of the centenary of the construction of the Gran Vía in Madrid that shows it through the prism of destruction. It reflects on the impact of urban models and presents demolition as a reverse process, as a sequence of actions that can be planned and organised in an innovative way to offer an alternative way of building the city. A model of a demolition machine is exhibited, accompanied by large-scale infographics, as well as a plan of the Gran Vía itself and other visual materials.
The second chapter of this exhibition is ‘reinhabit’. The second exhibition room of the Basque Country Architecture Institute hosts different ‘low-tech’ projects and architectures that achieve new forms of spatial and social mediation. It shows the importance of using design as a technology to improve the habitat and create a home, addressing the idea that, together with research and awareness-raising, these are tools that allow us to appreciate, value or recover the protective and life-building capacity of architecture.
This space will bring together the works of four professionals and architecture studios. One of them is Acha Zaballa Arquitectos with ‘Loft Study House’ (2018), a project that proposes how to generate spaces of housing dignity by transforming empty commercial premises into social housing through design. The studio has been behind the refurbishment of three social housings in Santutxu and Mina del Morro (Bilbao), which are shown through three shelves of different sizes and colours with objects and photographs to recreate the domesticity of the refurbished premises.
The exhibition also includes ‘The Day After House’ (2021), a refurbishment carried out by the Barcelona studio TAKK in a 110 m² home in Madrid. It was rethought as a succession of concentric spaces to achieve minimum energy consumption: a perfectly insulated 60 m² interior box (‘winter house’) was built, leaving the remaining 50 m² as an interior terrace (‘summer house’). The project has singularities such as a single “communal” room or the proposal of the bathrooms from a playful vision, understood as spaces to be used, even, in multitude. It is represented in the room through a totem that evokes the interior partitions of the original housing, where images of it are projected.
The work of Amateur Architecture Studio is again present in this room with Five Scattered Houses (2006). Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu reclaim the idea of traditional Chinese housing as the main axis for the urban development of an area under construction in the city of Ningbo. From southern China, this project of five scattered houses proposes an innovative translation of a historic house typology into a series of modern houses for the city centre. It can be found in ‘Inhabiting change’ through mock-ups suspended in the air and some photographs of the houses.
Finally, the second room exhibits ‘Architecture of Appropriation’ (2019), a project promoted by the researchers and architects Marina Otero Verzier, Katía Truijen and René Boer. The project looks at squatting as an architectural practice and focuses on the analysis of various squatted architectures in the Netherlands through drawings, interviews and archival material. It is represented by a piece that stages the minimum elements that, according to the law in force in the Netherlands until 2010, were necessary to justify that a squatted space was being continuously inhabited (a bed, a chair and a table). The graphic and spatial design was developed by María Mazzanti.
The third and last exhibition room focuses on rethinking and reflects on the idea of revisiting the architectural discipline itself and its pedagogical function, its critical and thought-generating capacity. “Architecture has to inhabit its own change, so this space for reflection contains projects that speak of the need to rethink a multifaceted discipline, whose pedagogical possibilities invite us to imagine other possible worlds”, says Arana.
First of all, there are two pieces by the doctor architect José María Torres Nadal. The first of them, ‘Backpacks to carry architecture on your back’ has its origins in a meeting held in the mythical Arteleku in 1995, called ‘Thinking-Composing/Constructing-Inhabiting’, in relation to Heidegger’s text. Almost 30 years later, José María Torres Nadal exhibits several of those backpacks containing cultural, emotional and affective registers. One of them, ‘The word and architecture’, leads to the second piece, ‘Architecture… despite Delirious New York’, which critically revisits the cover of the famous ‘Delirious New York’ (Rem Koolhaas 1978), “the book-bible that has instituted the entire practice and theory of contemporary architecture”.
Next on show is ‘Radical pedagogies’ (2013-2023), a project by the renowned Beatriz Colomina together with Ignacio G. Galán, Evangelos Kotsioris and Anna Maria Meister. In the 1960s and 1970s, architectural education was shaken by an explosion of experimental pedagogical practices around the world, a revolution that is explored in this project. It also invites the questioning of inherited disciplinary hierarchies to re-emerge in educational spaces in today’s context. It takes the form of a temporary tunnel, built with scaffolding, where a series of unpublished videos produced for this exhibition are shown.
Amateur Architecture Studio’s third contribution is called ‘Building with Nature’ (2023) and comes from the course of the same name that has been taught for 14 years at the China Academy of Arts. It addresses the cultural revitalisation of architectural construction in the country today and combines it with international concepts of sustainable development to find solutions to the serious disconnect between design and construction that prevails in national architectural education. On display are eight models made by students enrolled in 2019 in the school’s architecture programme.
Finally, the exhibition closes with Wordling, which describes the working method of Cristina Díaz Moreno and Efrén García Grinda both in their academic work and in amid.cero9. Worlding involves the definition of alternative buildings or landscapes to the current model of exploitation. It takes place at the Institute of Architecture of the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and is shown as a wooden structure with a series of drawings, plans and computer graphics made by the students.
On the occasion of the MUGAK Biennial, from 1 to 24 November, the Basque Country Architecture Institute will be open from Tuesday to Sunday morning and afternoon (11h-14h and 17h-20h).
The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of talks.They are: