What do we do when we don’t know what to do? What do we think about when there is too much in our minds? In the most recent cycle of competitions and conferences, Think-Space, the annual program organized by the Zagreb College of Architects, proposed the answer of studying our history. But in our age of uncertainty, what does this mean? We can note that in previous points of historical uncertainty, such as Italy and England in the 18th century, following the reformation of the church and in anticipation of the industrial revolution, neogothic and neoclassicist styles emerged. Architecture focused on and accentuated its elements and tropes that remained in the fragments of the cultural war of aesthetic hegemonies and that could still established a degree of symbolic signification. However, when we think of history, especially in our contemporary epoch of atemporality, how we think of history it is debatably more important than what we think of it. This cycle, titled Past Forwardand curated by Adrian Lahoud, proposed to vault three competitions from the last forty years, within postmodernism and late-capitalism, to the level of cultural cannon that can act as a foundation of our contemporary history. In addition to this and for the first time, Think Space included an essay competition with the same theme and intentions.
The competition took as a starting point to repeat the canonical works as a means of not just searching for a lost or ignored space of historical operativity within the projects’ context or form, but to create a reflective device with which we can measure the differences between then and now. The projects presented used the historical competitions as empty shells, and in turn filled them with contemporary styles, techniques, thoughts, worries, and concerns. With a content base ranging from Zaha Hadid’s The Peak to FOA’s Yokohama Port Terminal and Diller + Scofidio’s Blur Building, to the Manifesto of the Situationist International and Ludwig Hilberseimer’s theory of urban growth, among others, it would have been difficult to conclude anything concrete from the images and words that were made available online.
The competition concluded with a presentation of the projects in a conference, with an innovative methodology called an Unconference, that effectively broke from the traditional didactic model and a Tumblr-consciousness of relentless stimulation, basing itself around the participation and discussion between all attendees, among them competitors, students, local architects, and more. The conference was coupled with the inauguration of The Competitive Hypothesis exhibition in Zagreb, which presented a wider range of the competition’s received entries and winners as well as establishing a conceptual base for reflecting upon the meaning of competitions themselves.
The conference itself to a certain degree formed a conclusion to the original questions of this text: we come together and get to know each other. With all of the participants debating between each other, presenting their work, and thinking collectively about their intentions and methodologies, moments emerged that were charged with friction and synergy to reveal what is there. Even though it was just for two days, in a social situation of non-stop work, after various presentations, activities, and relaxed meetings between people, it was possible to reveal in the time together, in its great complexity and incompatibility, the thought of towards where we are going.