Is there such a thing as architects’ responsibility towards its society? In times of neoliberal capitalism and a major economic crisis, this issue has been increasingly brought to the test. How hard is it today to not compromise one’s role, professional ethics in accepting projects that aren’t in the best interests of society in general, but are rather specific situations from which the political and “business” elite profits most?
This is a slippery slope that is, by all means, always a thing of personal preferences and choices. But is it possible to act on the other side – the whistleblowers who disclose all the political-capitalist instances when things aren’t being done for the benefit of public and common good? The Pula Group have chosen this path, positioning themselves as an activist self-organization of architects who are aware of the responsibility they have as professionals, while viewing and experiencing issues in their direct environment first and foremost as citizens.
From their foundation in 2006, the Pula Group was never inclined towards the Pula city authorities, publicly criticizing their treatment of public spaces and the abandoned military structure that’s visibly decaying. From the Katarina project, where they “returned” the demilitarized coast to the citizens, through a series of conferences, workshops and studies conducted regarding better handling of the sites and facilities in Pula, to the Muzil project where they’re continually working on opening the infrastructure, creating common spaces in lieu of a one-way street approach to the process of privatization, the Pula Group is continuously conscious of its responsibility.
*The Pula Group: Iva Marčetić, Sara Perović, Jerolim Mladinov, Emil Jurcan, Vjekoslav Gašparović
The idea of a Communal, common land that they inherently advocate in all of their projects, was recognized by Tomislav Pavelić (click here to read our interview with Pavelić) as one of the key moments in addressing the issue of the relationship between contemporary society and the authorities, proposing they participate in Croatia’s presentation at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale.
We interviewed Emil Jurcan, Iva Marčetić and Vjekoslav Gašparović, “half” of the Pula Group about the upcoming exhibition and the battles they lead for the right to common land.
How did the collaboration with Tomislav Pavelić come about, have you collaborated with him before and what are your expectations in regard to the whole project? He publicly explained your work and role on several occasions – can you explain his?
Pula Group: Pavelić contacted us, even though we’ve never collaborated before, holding that our work is well-suited to his conceptual idea. The elaboration is set to take place over the next 4 months. The concept will be presented within the Pula Group’s activities, through the idea that direct democracy demands direct space. In some 70 square meters in the large space within the Venetian Arsenal, we envisioned exhibiting some of our previous work, along with some new things we’re working on, all of which will be linked to actual demands for direct democracy in Croatia, despite it being a global theme. We’ll attempt to present the environment we live and work within the volume of the pavilion through various media: video, photography, as well as architectural tools such as mapping, creating mock-ups and blueprints.
Pavelić identifies his standpoint regarding architects’ role with the practice we carry out. We’ll be combining those things in Venice: on the one hand we’ll latch onto the political dimension of direct democracy, while on the other hand we’ll be taking a look at how architecture, using certain other methods it has at its disposal, amplifies those demands and conveys them into the sphere of space.
*Emil Jurcan i Vjekoslav Gašparović
In what way, within the context of local activities, does the Pula Group “act globally,” i.e. address the issues of contemporary society in line with the concept David Chipperfield called Common Ground?
Pula Group: That’s a general topic and we recognize numerous directions: on the one hand it’s about finding common ground outside the architects’ discourse. In using the term common, Chipperfield is probably insinuating that it’s not about authorship. That which we have in common with him is the theme of the common good, which is neither public nor private, a possible area where we find that various self-organized groups can carry out their activities. Although, we doubt that he had exactly that in mind.
In recent years show exhibitions such as the Venice Architecture Biennale are losing their edge and almost becoming a reason in and of themselves: on the one hand you see projects that can’t be adequately presented within their surrounding context, while on the other hand we have too-long expositions of projects with political implications whose explicative expositions are lost in a sea of national pavilions. The only ones that remain memorable are certain ambient realizations by architects who target the visitors’ direct sensory experience. What’s your take on the current role of the Biennale, does it have the capacity to communicate anything worthwhile, let alone change anything for the better, or does it all remain a salon laboratory presentation that’s way too expensive?
Pula Group: The issue of the Biennale’s actual range, what it wants to convey, and to whom, is always relevant. We think that its range isn’t all that big, but still believe that it can be significant at least within the profession, at least in terms of establishing a dialogue so we have a broader platform of people joining any given common topic.
It’s not likely that this set-up in Venice will convert anybody, but that by which it justifies its existence is the fact that it takes in an extraordinary large and varied range of architecture-based people within three months of its opening: from global architects, via national architectural stars, down to the last punker.
What is it then you expect from your presentation?
Pula Group: We find it important to notice the presence of like-minded individuals and that they notice us. It’s important that these actions exist, that they don’t stand alone in their local situation. That which is important with this project, isn’t its dimension in Venice, but the potential it holds for discussion and the situation it stands to evoke within the national framework. Things are set in such a way that the media are regularly focused towards national representatives and it’s on us to use that to PUBLICLY communicate all those things we’ve been talking about for years, but which don’t, due to the specific situation, get a chance to be voiced. Venice should be used for changing the situation at the national and local levels. It’s also important that at least one of the Croatian architectural roles are brought into contact with the social aspect, thus stimulating all citizens of Pula, as well as all citizens of locations where battles for space are taking place.
Are you afraid that with the act of your selection for the Biennale you’re treading a fine line in terms of maneuvering ground as you’re financed by those same authorities you’ve been publicly and openly criticizing this whole time? What’s your take on this particular issue?
Pula Group: We think one has to grab the bull by its horns, make us of all available means and use them in a way that will consistently display what we stand for: direct democracy. We’re sure to display in Venice various works that criticize the Government’s projects in Pula and they have to be aware of that. They know what’s at out disposal, we’re the ones who proposed the following theme at the commission: “Direct Democracy Demands Direct Space” and they’re the ones that chose that theme.
It seems as if the media couldn’t wait to crucify the whole case of the Croatian Floating Pavilion. On the one hand one could say that this scenario from two years ago works in favor of this year’s representatives, as from that point on, the media started showing an increased interest in the Biennale, so you, as this year’s representatives, are bound to have a lot of media space and attention. Are you aware of this head start in view of media coverage and what’s your take on it?
Pula Group: Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes. The public’s hunger for sensationalism is a tragic fact of life, they’re either lifting something up to high heaven, the next moment turning into a lynch mob. And the situation within the government’s ranks following the Floating Pavilion case was so “cautious” as to call the exhibition’s curator its commissioner, as if it was a national team on its way to save the honor of fellow Croatians.
However, the Floating Pavilion fiasco is nothing compared to the Brijuni Riviera fiasco that’s been sinking for the last ten years. The ratio of money spent towards building the Floating Pavilion and the ratio of money that can be found, for example, in houses and military facilities in Pula that are progressively decaying, while continued usage is all that is needed for these facilities to stay functioning, is incredible, but the media don’t find that interesting at all. Money is being lost day in, day out, one can link it to this or that political option and really, with all possible confirmations and documentation, one could point the finger at the individuals responsible for impairing the country for millions of Croatian Kuna, but nobody will say it outright. Instead of the failed attempt of the Floating Pavilion constructed at the Kraljevica Shipyard, the real story here is who destroyed Croatia’s shipyards, that’s a subject with much larger social consequences and significance, and it generated a lot less media attention coverage than the Biennale.
than the Biennale.
The aforementioned Brijuni Riviera project is one of the largest private-public projects set to emerge along the entire coastline of southern Istria around Pula. What’s the current situation like – what political relations are in play and under whose patronage is this story being presented in the media?
Pula Group: In view of the Brijunu Riviera project, it’s pretty much clear that probably nothing will happen there, except that huge amounts of money are being poured into all sorts of researches, while the most profound problem is that it’s still in its status quo stage, and is visibly decaying. In addition, there is no political option in Croatia that states that the Brijuni Riviera project is a bad project and that it should be terminated – there’s a common consensus surrounding it, that is, a lot is at stake here. This project doesn’t even have any international capital – a mere three applications arrived, of those the only admissible one by Danko Končar, whom we had a chance to meet as a bidder in the failed tender released for the privatization of companies such as Uljanik and 3.maj.
Those are all games with few and far between promises about a better future tailored by fictitious parameters where selling resources is linked with increasing work places.
What’s your relationship with the authorities and the City of Pula, and are they aware that your exhibition in Venice will put all their compromising actions into light?
Pula Group: They are aware of it, but such professional recognitions mean nothing to them; otherwise, they would have reacted to our initiatives by now. Professional organizations have sent numerous memos to them regarding their handling of the state-owned land; and all the results of our research workshops regarding the military infrastructure in Pula have been promoted internationally, which gives them the credibility the authorities can’t dispute; and that’s way they are not attacking us directly. The only thing they can do is suppress, marginalize, and sabotage the things we talk and write about. The local authorities control the main medium, the Istrian daily Glas Istre, in which they publish the information that suits them in order to manipulate the voters. Of course, the censorship story isn’t exclusive to Pula – it’s a nationwide issue. In small towns and communities there’s the problem of monopoly because the public opinion is shaped and influenced by just one medium; and Istria leads the way in the regime-like behavior – laying off journalists, 22 years of power… The image of Istria as a developed region is created and promoted by those same channels, whereas in reality, it’s actually ruled by microfascism.
It’s interesting to note that we’ve received a letter of congratulations from the Major of Pula who believes that we will represent Croatia with dignity – which if we abide by that and his notions of dignity – will definitely not be good. It’s downright tragic to receive this letter from the Major two days after he had accepted the Muzil golf project by 3LHD, even before presenting the said project to the public! And, for which he had said publicly that it would be accepted at the City Council within a week; exactly as it had!
What’s the way to deal with these political and capitalistic games in high places, then?
Pula Group: Their letter of congratulations is completely out of place because it’s unacceptable to have a group of experts involved in the Muzil research project, and then at one point, have the City pay for the development of a study to the one architectural practice that has “succeeded” in bringing golf to Muzil; after years and years of money spent on studies by various practices that proved it was impossible, because the topography is simply unsuitable for it! The terrain is too steep.
Apart from the fact that there has never been a public bidding, the will of the citizens, who wanted the area opened for public, had not been respected; and the collaboration with the Pula Group, is of course, non-existent.
The whole thing has gone really far; from having the city authorities threaten and refuse to pay the fees to all the practices that have proved that the terrain isn’t suitable for a golf course; to creating fictitious data that has been used to show for accommodation capacities and beaches that don’t even exist at Muzil. However, there is a high classification of hotels.
It seems that you carry a great deal of responsibility towards the nation, as well as the responsibility of the architects’ towards capital…
Pula Group: We have a responsibility towards the citizens of Pula and all those who demand equality in distribution of resources and other goods, and not towards either the authorities or the capital. Of course, one must always question architects’ ethicalness, while events such as the Biennale are just a mirror we can put up in front of the reality we live and work in. But the real burden is on the citizens, workers, people who have to watch and suffer through everything on a daily basis. We hold that this responsibility isn’t inherent to an architect, but it has to be built upon with joint efforts. We approach this entire specter of problems from the position of citizens, while being equipped with tools of engineers and architects that are at our disposal to realize direct space.