Architecture debates are rubbish. We've all been there: a panel of similar people with similar views taking it in turns to talk at length about their similar work - too polite, too deferential, too dull. At best they are lukewarm love-ins, critically impotent, elitist and stuffy. Turncoats is a shot in the arm. Framed by theatrically provocative opening gambits, a series of free debates will rugby tackle six fundamental issues facing contemporary practice with a playful and combative format designed to ferment open and critical discussion, turning conventional consensus on its head.
6.30pm, Firday 23 June
Pop-up food, booze, fashion and architecture. Whats next?
As our collective attention span is diminishing to the point of no return how much more can we take? Advocates suggest temporary & pop-up architecture is an agile way of testing ideas in an urban context, or is it just an exploitative phenomenon that saps creativity and creates quick wins for those with capital interests in contested sites? To round off our day of collective back-slapping on the advantages of ‘prototyping ideas’ we invite a feisty panel to discuss the pros-and-cons of this ubiquitous trend in urban development.
7pm, Saturday 1 July, Gent
A post-war self-build housing boom has saddled the entirety of Belgium with a rash of eccentric, highly individual, often hideous homes. Yet the trope of the Ugly Belgian House is a tribute to the civic freedom of the Belgian citizen.
In an era of rising xenophobia, architectural taste can play a new role as a built barometer for social tolerance. Many in our industry are trying to regain power, wresting architectural control back from the man in the street. They must be stopped – liberty trumps beauty.
Tuesday 13 June, 2017, New York City
Great architects don't make buildings, they make brands. From Aravena to Zaha, the power of images transcends the impact of built reality. Even the most globe-trotting paid critic will visit a fraction of the new buildings which form architecture's cultural zeitgeist. Renders are our barometer of taste, Instagram is our King Maker. Bjarke Ingles will be remembered not for his buildings but for his viral YouTube lectures and rockstar ego.
Ellis Woodman, Director of the Architecture Foundation, has argued that even Le Corbusier and James Stirling were great architects because for them, "the making of buildings was an activity subsidiary to the making and publishing of images." Or, as Leon Krier has put it, "I don’t build because I am an architect. I can make true Architecture because I do not build."
Time to 'fess up and face the music. In architecture, the buildings are a distraction.
Thursday 26 January, 2017
Say what you will about a Trump presidency, it will be good for business. When the leader of the free world is a real estate developer, architects will still just be service providers, and that’s okay. Architects shouldn't be political. Some of history’s most celebrated buildings were built under regimes with stomach churning track records. Getting upset about policy is a distraction from doing great work. Spare us your hysteria! Buildings outlast politicians.
Sensors, tech, nudges, big data. Urban areas are being invaded by the so-called future, and while some people welcome our robotic municipal overlords, others are reticent. 'Digital kiosks' and 'connectivity' are infantilising anti-civic band-aids dreamt up by campus-dwelling silicon valley kids between rounds of ping-pong. What use is much-lauded Internet of Things when neighbourhoods across the country don’t even have access to basic goods and services? If Pokémon Go can’t even be distributed equally, what chance does that give substantive digital innovations?
As tech and media companies increasingly encroach on the urban realm peddling smart city rhetoric, the potential for a Big Brother-style mass surveillance takeover is at hand. And for what? Optimised traffic patterns that make the commute to work a few minutes swifter? Minor carbon savings that deplete rare earth reserves instead? Computers that think so citizens don't have to? Surely we can do better!
This first-ever debate at SXSW Eco gives architects and technology lovers and haters alike the chance to speak freely and say together, “Smart Cities are Dumb!”...or are they?
7.00pm, Thursday 29 September
Is Dundee losing itself in the chase for glamour? What is the cultural future of Dundee beyond razzamatazz. As the new waterfront emerges into the sunshine are the city's industrial hinterlands being left behind to decay and demolition? What areas of the city and what specific buildings within them are crucial for Dundee's future? What strategic infrastructure does the city need to nurture, both culturally and spatially, to position itself locally, nationally and internationally? Blending humour with critical thought, join us to share your views as we move towards the halfway-point of Dundee's biggest urban transformation yet.
7.00pm, Thursday 21 July
The built environment is increasingly irrelevant. Modern society is built around digital space and online networks. Edinburgh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is ‘liked’ more often on Instagram than in damp, chilly reality. Nightclubs are no longer required, when friendship and flirtation is available at a swipe with Tinder, Grindr and Snapchat.
Two Edinburghs now exist in parallel, and the relationship between the physical and virtual versions grows ever-more distant. Good! It's time for us all to step away from the crumbling street and inhabit an instantaneous, clean, energy-rich and aesthetically pleasing augmented reality, all together, online. *Like!*
7.00pm, Thursday 7 July
Local authorities across Scotland wield wrecking ball and dynamite prefering social cleansing to mindful mending of our working class and marginal neighbourhoods. The destruction of these communities, left to rot and degrade by successive generations of politicians, is luridly feted as a calculated process of gentrification-by-force dilutes people and place. Architects have become complicit in a one-size-fits-all strategy intrinsically weighted towards return-on-investment rather than acting as facilitators for a thoughtful process of social, cultural and economic self-generated development of community.
6pm, Friday 1 April 2016, Vancouver
We deride the derivative, we mock mimics, we fear facsimiles. Why? Hollywood reboots movies, theatre directors restage plays, musicians make covers. The best cultural production comes from the clear consensus that iterating is inventive yet in architecture we despise copying above all things. Our elitist and egotistical obsession with cosmetic novelty necessitates the endless, pointless, reinvention of form, reducing architecture to a spectacle of super-size billboard branding. Is bad originality preferable to a brilliant copy? Bullshit!
Saturday 2 April
Architectural education is stagnant, antiquated, and irrelevant. Greedy universities, chasing size, power and fees are accepting hoards of students with no prospect of a fulfilling career as architects. Generations of disillusioned CAD monkeys and copy-cats are churned out doomed to scroll vapid blogs, superficially emulating out of context. Time to turn the tables on our teachers, forget everything we've learned and start from scratch.
Any group of people with a thirst for intellectual mischief can join the Society of Turncoats and form a chapter in their city. Membership is free. Once a member, you can use and improve the format to host official Turncoats events. It began with Architecture, but can be transposed to other disciplines in need of an alternative format to niggle into the depths of difficult issues.
Email email@example.com about setting setting up a chapter
5 November, 2015
We all assume that to quit architecture is to fail. Yet the vast majority of those who stick it out are sucked into a world of disempowered subservience to big business. Becoming an architect squanders the creativity and energy of those who are attracted to study architecture in the first place, robbing society and the individual of their potential. There is a better way. We should all quit architecture before it's too late.
12 November, 2015
Community consultation is meaningless vacuous tick-box bullshit. It has become a decoy that developers deploy to shove unwanted projects down the throats of an unconsenting public. Its cringeworthy language of community empowerment is just thinly veiled power moves and lazy spin. The profession, the public, and the built environment would be better off without it.
26 November, 2015
The design media is little more than a sycophantic, vapid and naval gazing extension of the PR industry. Our monographs, magazines and museums feed a cycle of shallow celebratory hysterics with little to no investigative or critical practice. Awards programmes lurch between jacking off the already engorged egos of starchitects or chasing the virginal myth of untainted emerging designers preying simultaneously on the young's insecurity and the old's fear of death in the name of profit for disconnected share holders. Cosy relationships between judges and judged, editors and edited amount to mild corruption - unsubscribe now.
Hoxton Hall, 6.30pm, Wednesday 27 January 2016
We are conditioned to believe that ornament is crime, that less is more. In fact this so-called wisdom stems not from deep human insights nor profound spiritual truths, but from age-old middle-class snobbery. It’s time to abolish the lies around ‘refinement’ and material lust. Within the constraints of contemporary practice, restrained ‘truth to materials’ only works for the wealthy - the normal-person's version is horrendous and depressing casting class divides in concrete. We must abolish this crude consensus before it irreparably wrecks the experiential and social richness of our environment.
U+I, 7.00pm, Thursday 11 February 2016
Women in architecture debates are conservative, traditionalist and infantilising. Widespread conflation of womanhood and parenthood coupled with the irresponsible propagation of flawed statistics has led to a cynical debate whose only use is as a vehicle to manufacture networking and commercial opportunities in the name of progress. It is time to call time on this crass crusade before a generation of young women are pushed into an anachronistic gender war that bears little relevance to their experience or values.
Hoxton Hall, London, Thursday 25 February 2016
Meritocracy is a myth. At every level architecture is carefully calibrated to covertly and overly privilege the middle class. Faced with declining authority we scrabble to blame architecture schools' detachment from practice, a rising consultant class and cultural devaluation of design but are unable to face up to the reality that our pampered posh profession is simply too privileged to engage with the real world. The struggle for a broader base of backgrounds is not just about architecture's cosmetic inclusivity - it is about its survival.
Turncoats is a project by Phineas Harper, Robert Mull and Maria Smith supported by the CASS and the Architecture Foundation. For all enquiries write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Chloe Spiby Loh