Posts by Theodora Vardouli:

Democratizing =(?) Innovating

The 2012 Biennale was yet another indication that the fantasies of an Architecture by the “People” for the “People” enabled by a resilient infrastructure of -often self-proclaimed- scientific methods, communication, design and fabrication technologies are returning in the collective architectural imaginary, carrying promises of innovation, creativity, sustainability and forming a counter-rhetoric to a malformed professionalism. Faced with this new wave of optimism, which  attracts the creative efforts of an ever-growing number of groups and individuals active in and beyond the design world, an inquiry into the emerging tautology between “democratization” and “innovation” seems necessary in order to untangle the implications of this equation, recognize it as a historical and cultural artifact and explore the conditions of its validity.

In his essay In an Open-Source Society, Innovating by the Seat of Our Pants [3], which appeared in the New York times in December 2011, Joichi Ito, current director of the MIT Media Lab, was lauding the Internet as a space of decentralized innovation and creative individualism. Raising the Internet from the level of a technology to that of a belief system, Ito was advocating for a new mode of production, a new ideology and a new ethic pervading the conception, production, distribution and use of immaterial and (more recently) material artifacts: Open Source. Continue reading »

Starchitecto(u)rism: libels and visions

The National Pavilions had just packed up their construction toolboxes and opened the doors to the eager crowds of archi-tourists, when the “Banal” came by. Wolf Prix’s libel against the 13th Venice Bienniale and its Common Ground aspirations, featuring punchlines such as “this event is an expensive dance macabre” or “it cannot get any worse,” flooded social networks and the architectural press spicing up the proclaimed “banality.” The accusation was the familiar lament that the Biennale is yet another venue for starchitect(o)urism, exemplifying all that goes wrong with the profession and establishing its self-indulgent distance from pressing problems of the built environment. The response was the same. David Chipperfield denounced the x-factor-like showrooms and the role of the architects as “urban decorators” setting the ground for the revival of a discussion that had been suppressed in the past decades of architectural euphoria: the architect and the many.
Perhaps preoccupied with the personal agenda of discussing fantasies of architectural democracy, this discussion was absolutely fascinating to me. Not for its ethical implications, nor for its novelty, but precisely for the lack thereof. In the 2012 Venice Biennale, the participatory project timidly rose from its ashes, to form the large counter-argument – an antistar moralism. The historical alter ego of the 1971 Design Participation Conference agenda: people instead of starchitects, empowered to express their own hypotheses, shape their own worlds, design by themselves, empowered by resilient technical infrastructures: networks, tools, systems, data. MVRDV’s Freeland, Ecosistema Urbano’s SpainLab wonder-room, Guallart’s city protocols or even the US Spontaneous Interventions, were some of the examples of a new architectural optimism engendered within a growing anti-professionalism and a call for science, interdisciplinarity and social responsibility.
Stories are made to be repeated, and so are architectural techno-social evangelisms. What is to be learned from these recursive narratives, and how do we move forward? I for one, was intrigued to find the democratizing=(?)innovating question pervading the Biennale, in the discourses of its fierce opponents and the works of its participants. Time to address it, I think.


Hello world! I am Theodora, a PhD Candidate in Design and Computation at the MIT Department of Architecture.In response to the SpainLab “Innovation in Architecture” provocation I will inquire into the implications of the evangelistic tautology of democratization and innovation, which is re-emerging in the “Open Source Architecture” rhetoric. The goal of my intervention is to stimulate a discussion around the role of computation and information technology in engendering new programmatic agendas in architectural design, “opening” it to the general public and to problematize the conceptual biases of the platforms supporting the participatory techno-utopias of today.