The World Around Moves Online
31. January 2021
Image: The World Around
The World Around's annual summit was held on Saturday, January 30, at the Guggenheim Museum, where the organization is in residence this year. Recorded presentations and live discussions were broadcast to the strictly online audience.
The day-long event began with a presentation by design critic Alice Rawsthorn, who has been collaborating with MoMA curator Paola Antonelli on Design Emergency, a series of interviews and Instagram posts that explores the relationship between design and the COVID-19 pandemic. The latter is obviously the reason why the summit moved from an in-person event, as in last year's inaugural summit at the TimesCenter, to a virtual platform. For Rawsthorn, the pandemic is an opportunity for designers to use their skills to address the pandemic and other emergencies. Design Emergency also draws attention to designs that have arisen in vernacular contexts or in unexpected places, as in the Afghan teenage girls who made ventilators from old car parts.
Eight hours later the summit wrapped up with a Zoom-grid discussion from the Wide Awakes, "an open-source network who believe in the evolution of society and the power to radically reimagine the future through the power of collaboration." The Wide Awakes formed in early 2020, taking their name from the Civil War-era political movement that fought against slavery and for the election of Abraham Lincoln. The collective, mainly artists, came together before the Black Lives Matter protests in the middle of the year, but the BLM movement drew attention to the collective and their positive message.
The World Around summits and the earlier In Our Time events at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, both curated by Beatrice Galilee, have served to summarize the preceding year, highlighting the most interesting work executed by architects, artists, filmmakers, designers, and other creatives. The bookended contributions mentioned above indicate how 2020 was marked by the coronavirus pandemic and protests over racial violence and inequality. So people tuning in to the summit expecting a roundup of beautiful buildings were probably a bit disappointed, as about half of the participants spoke about ideas and processes rather than actual architectural designs or other creations. The pandemic and the protests have drawn attention to systemic and structural issues that need to be addressed for new, equitable forms of architecture to happen.
Nevertheless, the summit did draw attention to a number of interesting projects more immediately relevant to architects. These included a couple exhibitions: Alia Farid's The Space Between Classrooms, now on display at The Swiss Institute in New York City, and ArkDes's exhibition and book on the whole town of Kiruna, Sweden, being moved due to mining operations threatening the original town. Ensamble gave a recorded tour of Ca’n Terra, an exceptional house in an old quarry. And a few big-name architects presented completed buildings or projects under construction: Ryūe Nishizawa on the OchoQuebradas House in Chile; Francis Kéré on the National Assembly Benin; David Adjaye on a new library and event hall for Winter Park, Florida; SO–IL on projects in China and Brooklyn; and Deborah Berke on NXTHVN, a community incubator in New Haven, Connecticut.
With The World Around's residency at the Guggenheim just starting, 2021 will see more events coming from the organization, Galilee promised in her remarks, though none will be as grand as the jam-packed summit. The three sessions from Saturday's summit can be seen in their entirety below.