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The Playful City: From the 1960s Strive for Spontaneity to Today’s Space of Entertainment - Failed Architecture
"The unscripted play advocated by the Eventstructure Research Group has over the last few decades been lost to increasingly consumption-oriented spaces, encouraging prescribed entertainment and leisure."



"Leisure and entertainment, or play?
Half a century later, the same ideas developed by the Eventstructure Research Group now provide the theme for the Dutch Pavilion at the 2018 International Venice Architecture Biennale: work, body, leisure. The exhibition addresses the spatial configurations, living conditions, and notions of the human body resulting from ongoing transformations in the ethos and the conditions of labour. How will these changes affect the relationship between work, body and leisure, and which possible scenarios could we design accordingly? The main theme and the questions raised all seem derived from Constant’s thinking, and are also in line with the philosophy of the Situationists and that of the Eventstructure Research Group. An important difference, however, is that leisure seems a less powerful term than play. In contemporary usage, leisure is a passive term, associated with holidays and relaxation–a temporary break from day-to-day working life. This is merely the opposite of work, a calculated part of economic logics, while the aim of the Situationists was actually to transform work into play, in such a way that work, play and the body eventually would become one.

The Situationists considered their contemporary city of the late 1950s to be one of boredom, and wished to change it into a city of stimulation. Today, one could now argue that our own physical city is not one of boredom: 24-hour shopping, multiplex cinemas, game consoles, texting, and whatever other myriad possibilities are available to entertain us day and night – an ongoing stream of information, impulses and encouragements for active consumption. Eat now! Drink now! Exercise now! Drive now! Play now! The present-day city is one of continuous (over)stimulation. Is this the city the Situationists had in mind? Probably not. We may also ask, are all these forms of play really that effective in eliminating our boredom? Sandi Mann, author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good, argues quite the opposite: “The more entertained we are the more entertainment we need in order to feel satisfied. The more we fill our world with fast-moving, high-intensity, ever-changing stimulation, the more we get used to that and the less tolerant we become of lower levels.”

The Situationists’ idea of play is quite different from the 21st century, entertainment-driven idea of play. Their idea of play strived for true spontaneity. It aimed to be active, non-conformist, anti-capitalistic and therefore critical. Today’s non-critical ‘play’ is about passive consumption, over-stimulation and intellectually apathy.

Additionally, the Situationists aimed to restructure the modern aesthetic experience by rejecting functionalism, instead favouring and celebrating complexity. Present-day cities have become exactly that: a complex of layered physical infrastructures, roads, waterways, air-routes, tubes, electricity lines, antennas, digital highways and so on. The near future will most likely see a steady-increase of the complexity of this infrastructure, with drone-like postal services, personal air transportation and more virtual landscapes added to the city. Complex infrastructure – and entertainment – is all that surrounds us. The city the Situationists imagined is there, but more than that. It has stepped up, pushed the fast-forward button and gone into overdrive.

This complex and fast-paced modern city however did not make citizens more critical towards capitalism. Today’s modern city is a largely scripted complexity of abundance, but with little place for disorder. The excess and the abundance of stimulation in the city today would make an action like Pneutube nothing more than a side note in the daily high-speed routine. People would probably shrug their shoulders, look up from their smartphones for a few moments and then continue their day. If architecture nowadays is capable at all of stimulating critical and non-conformist thinking, it can only do that through much more radical interventions. The ambitions of the ERG could be adopted, but a different output will have to be found to make an actual difference in today’s society.

What would be considered a radical architectural intervention today? Does architecture have the power to disrupt the dominant system? If this seemed possible in the past, with buildings such as the Centre Pompidou, today’s architecture seems to have lost its revolutionary potential. Not many buildings today are capable of surprising us because of the ideas that fuelled them, and not just because they are bigger, larger, or taller than their neighbours. In order to be truly radical, an architectural intervention today should be capable of criticizing the domination of technology and the authority of the algorithm. As the capitalist society that ERG was trying to dismantle does not look so different from today’s market economy in which citizens walk, travel, and even vote according to Google, Airbnb, or Facebook. Can contemporary architecture provide critical reflection on that?"
consumerism  commercialism  jornkonijn  2018  play  openended  entertainment  leisure  situationist  architecture  markets  capitalism  society  cities  urban  urbanism  functionalism  complexity  open-ended 
march 2019 by robertogreco

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