As social structures evolve and the values, norms, and rituals that define them are in a state of flux, how is architecture keeping up?
Modern society once ascribed a clear role to architecture—or at least a role that is less ambiguous than that of the current moment. In the postwar years, Western society was understood according to much more homogenous terms than it is today: you would typically form a family through a heterosexual marriage, after which you and your partner would raise two children (ideally a boy and a girl); work was typically a career that you would start after finishing your studies and that you would keep for your entire working life; the income from this career would likely support you and your family and give you the possibility to buy your own home; and at the end of this, you would likely retire, enjoying the peace you deserve before disappearing in a cemetery somewhere. All of these moments established a parallel design within architecture and the city, informed by the clarity and consistency of the values that society once put forward.
Today, however, family, love, friendship, work, labour, governance, ownership, debt, consumerism, fertility, death, time, retirement, automation, and digital omnipresence have all radically shifted, multiplied, and diversified in meaning. We are confronted with and live within a whole new set of values—which are often contradictory—that carries new norms and rituals as a consequence.
If architecture can be seen, alternatively, as a support or a hindrance to emerging patterns of social relations, how is it impacted by these transformations to how we live together? How does it respond to these changes? How does it contribute to them?
Following the trail of past projects that reflected on the architectural implications of societal and lifestyle changes such as Imperfect Health and Our Happy Life, the CCA embarks on an exploration of architecture’s ability (or lack of) to evolve in dialogue with society. On this occasion, the investigation spreads over a period of one year through various collaborations and curatorial formats each addressing a particular aspect of the topic.
This one-year research project launches with a series of articles on the CCA website collected in a new thematic web issue, A Social Reset. Through essays, interviews, and project presentations published between March and October 2021, the issue outlines the misalignment between contemporary life and the spaces it inhabits and reflects on ways of reducing the gap between them.
A Section of Now: Social Norms and Rituals as Sites for Architectural Intervention is the title of a book and an exhibition that articulate and present the breadth of the research and the many voices that contribute to its development. The book, co-published in 2022 with Spector Books, combines essays that analyze new behaviours and values with a series of narrated briefs that sketch architectural responses to these new realities. Like the book, the exhibition presented in the CCA’s Main Galleries from November 2021 to May 2022 points to television series, photography, and architecture and design projects as evidence of transformations in contemporary society and calls for new spatial organizations to accommodate new societal relationships.
Catching Up With Life frames a number of CCA initiatives that study specific aspects of the social norms in question, including a series of public programs presented online from April to July 2021 that discusses how architecture has been shaped by evolving family configurations.
With this variety of outputs produced and presented over the course of several months, the CCA tests new formats of curatorial production that encourage in-depth research and the mobilization of diverse expertise within and outside the institution.
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