Shortly after our studio visit with experimental architecture collective raumlaborberlin, a retrospective of one of the group’s inspirational forerunners, Vienna-based collective Haus-Rucker-Co, is presented at Haus am Waldsee. The mobile, temporary architecture of raumlabor gets renewed significance when seen in historical context next to this generation of late ’60s spatial inventors, who designed the ‘Mind-Expander’ and a series of eccentric pneumatic structures.
Politically, the time of Haus-Rucker-Co’s inception was ripe for new understandings of architecture and public space. Europe experienced a surge of protest – most notably the student riots in Paris in 1968 – and the burgeoning Situationist movement called for widespread political and economic reassessment through an exploration of a new spatial awareness. While the materials exhibited at Haus am Waldsee seem rooted in a very specific historical context, the curation makes clear that their impact persists. raumlabor was invited to assemble their famous ‘Küchenmonument’ bubble in front of the gallery, and opened it to the public during the first weekend of the show.
The exhibition raises questions about the nature of public space initiatives and how (or whether) these tactics can continue to address political problems today. In the 90s, participatory art and architecture gained a fresh following, as relational aesthetics took hold and collectives recognized the political potential in earlier spatial tactics. Today, critics have argued that the utopian fervour of the 60s (and 90s) was just that: utopian. Recognizing the structural problems of global, late capitalism as impenetrable by these small-scale, gradual interventions has not halted their proliferation, but offered the movements a point of self-reflection. Architectural Utopia Reloaded presents an uncritical view of the political question, typical of a retrospective. But the inclusion of raumlabor, and artists like Tomas Saraceno, demands a deeper reconsideration of the principles held in common by these groups.
Instead, we get an aesthetically appealing, and fairly nostalgic account of the heydays of Haus-Rucker-Co, between 1967 and 1977. The more recent ‘quotations’ of these works are presented without much socio-political context: it appears that the political conditions are no different from the 60s and that the architectural responses have not changed much either. The “lab and space aesthetics” of the 60s are eminently quotable for their sheer visual appeal, and as catalysts for thinking novel spatial strategies. In this sense, the exhibition is appealing as a time-capsule of utopian architecture, but the current effectiveness of the movement remains to be explored.
Alison Hugill has a Master’s in Art Theory from Goldsmiths College, University of London (2011). Her research focuses on marxist-feminist politics and aesthetic theories of community, communication and communism. Alison is an editor, writer and curator based in Berlin. www.alisonhugill.com