Discussion in Venice: “Can the Universal Be Specific?”

Palazzo Contarini Polignac

Sestiere Dorsoduro 874
30123 Venice

In conjunction with the preview days of the Venice Architecture Biennale, at the invitation of Berührungspunkte, the international initiative “Project Bauhaus” will present its question for 2016 at the Palazzo Contarini Polignac.

The project coordinators Philipp Oswalt (architect, Berlin) and Anh-Linh Ngo (editor, ARCH+) will discuss Project Bauhaus's annual question, "Can the Universal Be Specific?" with Keller Easterling (architecture theorist, New York), Anne Kockelkorn (architecture historian, Berlin), and Sascha Roesler (architecture theorist, Zurich).

How can a global notion of the universal be combined with local specificity? Does the “local specific” help produce, in a certain sense, the universal?

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Both the Bauhaus and classical modernism as a whole were deeply committed to establishing universal principles of design. In the spirit of the Enlightenment, these movements grounded the practice of design in an approach based on rational, objective, and universally valid principles—an approach comparable to the natural sciences. In doing so, modern designers sought to forge a connection between their practice and the successful developments in the fields of science and technology that were founded on similar ideas of the universal.

In the fields of architecture and urban planning, the universal values of classical modernism led to the notion of a “right to housing”—a right that would be secured through the Wohnung für das Existenzminimum (the “subsistence-level apartment”). Later on Henri Lefebvre, expanding on various criticisms of the mass housing that had been built in the postwar years, introduced the idea of a “right to the city,” broadening the assurance of basic needs to include the needs of social and cultural participation. Today, it seems necessary to formulate a third fundamental right: the “right to the world.” In an age of migration, globalization, and man-made climate change, we need a basic idea that can be applied at a global scale. Bearing this in mind, the “right to the world” not only formulates a claim, but also formulates an obligation: every single individual is responsible for not endangering the Earth as a natural habitat, and for not threatening the lives of other people—in other places as well as future generations.

In light of the crises confronting us today, we believe it’s time to readdress the idea of the universal as it was formulated by the modernists—to reconsider its fundamental ambitions, to fashion something productive out of the justified criticism it has undergone.

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