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Postcards from the radical edge.

SYMPOSIUM/'Edge--Paracentric Architecture' 11th International Alvar Aalto Symposium 7-9 August 2009, University of Jyvaskyla, Finland

For over a generation, the Alvar Aalto Symposium has taken place on a triennial basis at Jyvaskyla in central Finland. The town was Aalto's home, and it sustains his memory with a number of his buildings--indeed, the symposium is staged in the auoitorium of his university. Originally developed in the afterglow of Aalto's reputation as a revisionist modern master, the symposium continues to evolve despite the recent deaths of its two leading lights, Colin St John Wilson and Aalto's biographer Goran Schildt. For this eleventh outing, the radical spirit has been extended under Esa Laaksonen (director of the Alvar Aalto Academy) and architect Juha llonen. In a humanitarian, multi-disciplinary, international agenda, the undercurrent of Aalto's thinking is still perceptible, yet the master's own work is no longer evident other than in the superb auditorium acoustics.

Though the 'paracentric' theme might sound suspiciously nebulous, like the dread parametric, it loosely means 'away from the centre'. With speakers drawn largely from Asia and Africa, it could be construed more simply as getting out of the Western consumerist comfort zone and exploring different yet crucial approaches to architecture, urbanism and sustainable development.


'These people are the pathfinders towards the next revolution in architecture, which will not focus on style but on the balance between man and nature--short, survival,' asserts Norwegian architect Sami Rintala. As chairman, Rintala came up with an impressive roster of speakers, including Alexander Brodsky from Moscow, a self-styled 'paper architect' whose installations prick the bubble of Russia's development glut, plus Patama Roonrakwit from Thailand, Diebedo Francis Kere from Burkino Faso [via Berlin], Bijoy Jain of Mumbai and Anna Heringer from Bangladesh (via Salzburg), all of whom work with 'away from the centre' communities.

Disillusioned with what he calls 'photocopy design', which has become emblematic of India's unremitting growth, Jain makes contemporary buildings that connect explicitly with landscape and place, employing traditional Indian materials and local craftsmen, some of whom are sixth-generation joiners. Jain never provides working drawings; instead, structural models are set up on site. Roonrakwit and her group CASE (Community Architects for Shelter and Environment) work within marginalised urban settlements, applying ideals that echo Aalto's dictum, 'Man is the centre of things'.

Kere is engaged in building low-cost schools and healthcare buildings in his native Burkina Faso on the slimmest of budgets [see page 66], and Anna Heringer's work in rural Bangladesh using rammed earth building methods will be familiar to AR readers [AR December 2008].

Such approaches show what can be done, but it's still only nibbling away at the edges. Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa's talk, 'The Limits of Architecture: Between Reality and Fiction', added a gloomy prognosis for global collapse, citing John Ruskin's salutary warning: 'Nothing less than a Reformation was now needed'. It did not go unheeded by the international audience--but then again, he was preaching to the converted.

+ An impressive line-up of speakers from across the globe

- Doom and gloom to come? More radical thinking, please
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Title Annotation:MARGINALIA
Author:Spens, Michael
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Conference news
Geographic Code:4EUFI
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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