From Carmody Groarke to EXYZT, recession can inspire young architects
Out of adversity comes creativity. Thatâ€™s the spin that many architects are putting on this particularly vicious recession â€” one thatâ€™s hit their profession more than most.
The last time anything on this scale happened was when the oil crisis of the early 1970s brought the great postwar construction boom to a halt.
Perhaps the biggest collapse then was in New York, where the cityâ€™s fiscal crisis ushered in the â€œdecaying cityâ€ backdrop to classic films of the period such as Taxi Driver. Yet out of New Yorkâ€™s decline came punk, disco, hip-hop â€” and guerrilla gardening.
The cityâ€™s building slump left thousands of abandoned plots. By 1977 there were 15,000 vacant acres. About the same time, Liz Christy, a Lower East Side artist, began laying down topsoil with her neighbours on a local derelict site. Block by abandoned block, they moved across the city, planting cuttings, or lobbing in balloons stuffed with peat moss and wildflower seeds. Thirty years on, New York has 700 neighbourhood gardens, more than any other city.
The same spirit of countercultural activism spread across the Atlantic in the 1970s. Derelict plots in Covent Garden became home to countless temporary uses. Many were masterminded by students from the nearby Architectural Association, at the time a hotbed of creatives such as Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid, and now part of the Establishment.
The 1970s recession, while tough, gave enough breathing space to rethink architecture completely, ushering in the wild shapes of todayâ€™s â€œiconicâ€ architecture. Exactly the same spirit of creativity returned in the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, and looks set to return again today.
This downturn could be a boon to young architects on the Cheesegrater site shortlist. It gives them the chance to strut their stuff cheaply. Recently the French architectural activists EXYZT created the Dalston Mill, a bakery complete with its own wheatfield, on a derelict plot in East London. Another young team, Carmody Groarke, created a much-lauded temporary pavilion behind the British Museum last year. If weâ€™re lucky, this recession, for a whole new generation, could turn out to be very rewarding.
I subscribe to this when some of the bigger practices cut unprofitable but concept driven team members in a downturn they can be free of commercial constraints, the purists amongst their number never get a handle on cost but for some they really do learn to balance real talent with market constraints. It is hopefully time to see some young turks lead to a gradual changing of the guard.