Last year, the Zagreb Society of Architects’ program Think Space organized interesting competitions curated successively by Shohei Shigematsu, Teddy Cruz, Francois Roche and Hrvoje Njirić. This year’s series will be just much interesting, if not potential more, as Adrian Lahoud, this year’s curator, has planned competitions which question architecture’s historicity through their principle. Entitled Past Forward, they consist in the revival of competitions that have been forging a certain form of paradigm for contemporary architecture but which can obviously not be thought through the same way few decades later.The oldest is the Peak Leisure Club in Hong Kong, won in 1983 by Zaha Hadid Architects but eventually never built. The second one, eleven years later, the Yokohama Port Terminal’s winning entry and final building has been designed by Foreign Office Architects. Finally, the most recent one (1999) is the Blur Building designed by Diller & Scofidio + Renfro for the Swiss Association Expo 2001 in Yverdon-les-Bains.
The common link to those three competitions is that these projects founded the three practices of the offices who won them and that they constituted more built manifestos than the materialization of a deep theoretical research. The importance of those three buildings in recent architecture history lies in the fact that those three programs, although technically in the city, were not necessarily involving a strong relationship with the latter which would have brought many political, social and societal challenges that were not constituting the main engagement of the winning architects. This observation could then be a starting point to re-think these competitions nowadays in order to incorporate within them, their potential engagement towards the polis. Let’s not forget that many important competitions have been won based on a re-interpretation of their program. The fact that the programs of these competitions are ancient -and therefore maybe obsolete- pushes towards this attitude even more.
Another common link to the three winning entries lies in the strength of their representation means. Zaha Hadid’s 1983 proposal is, in this regard, exemplary, and can be said to constitute the vanguard of a period. If the very principle of those competitions’ revival implies the change to a new paradigm in architecture, representation has probably a role to play as its recent explosive proliferation transformed it into a consumable good that empty its content.
One thing seems problematic in the organization of these new/old competitions however; it is the fact that the winning entries will be determined by the original winners themselves (Zaha Hadid/Patrik Schumacher, Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Richard Scofidio/Charles Renfro). Rare are the example in history for which a paradigmatic generation has been able to recognize the contents of the paradigm that follows them since, often, the latter is built as an antagonist against the former. Such decision could be, for the competitions’ ambition, what I would call a suicide in utero since it seems to be in complete contradiction with the premisses of this new series. What is comforting nevertheless, is that the true vanguardist projects are very often not the one winning competitions and we might therefore see interesting questions about architecture, if we pay attention to the various proposals in the future.