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Stories for Our Time: LINA Writing Awards 2023
Hearing from the convenors and recipients of this year’s prize for emergent architectural voices.

The LINA Writing Award seeks to promote emergent voices that enrich the panorama of architectural thinking, by making their words heard within the architecture community. This week we are continuing our partnership with the European platform LINA with an interview with the convenors of the LINA Writing Award — publishers dpr-barcelona and the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF), both institutional members of LINA, and the authors of two winning publications from the 2023 cycle: LINA Fellows Tom Cookson, for Shallow Time: The Burren, and Francesca Cocchiara and Sergios Strigklogiannis, for Atlas of Urban Mythologies.

Writing in front of the Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland (June2022). From Francesca Cocchiara, Sergios Strigklogiannis, Atlas of Urban Mythologies (dpr-barcelona, Irish Architecture Foundation, 2023).

KOOZ How do both IAF and dpr-barcelona approach books and their publication as tools for discussion and as spaces of encounter? How is this reflected in the selection of Shallow Time: The Burren by Tom Cookson and The Atlas of Urban Mythologies by Francesca Cocchiara and Sergios Strigklogiannis, winners of this year’s LINA writing award?

EMMETT SCANLON The Irish Architecture Foundation is an organisation dedicated to advancing the culture of architecture. As recently stated by Lesley Lokko in her press statement for the 2023 Biennale in Venice, “It is often said that culture is the sum total of the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves.” The writing down and thus the telling of our stories is part of how we both understand and share any culture, including architecture. The IAF embraced the LINA Writing Award because it gave us the opportunity to tell stories and to show how the lives we live are interwoven with stories and histories of landscapes and cities, real and imagined. We are committed to supporting new and emerging writers and storytellers in architecture because it also gives us pause for thought – we have to ask, who is not telling their stories? Who are we not hearing from and how do we offer them the opportunity to write too? The common platform of writing, enriched by the diversity of language and meaning held within individuals and groups, means that writing opportunities and critically, publishing opportunities, like the LINA award, mean we can advance, expand and enrich our culture in generous and inclusive ways.

"The IAF embraced the LINA Writing Award because it gave us the opportunity to tell stories and to show how the lives we live are interwoven with stories and histories of landscapes and cities."

- Emmett Scanlon, Director of the Irish Architecture Foundation.

Limestone field walls. Uncertain directness. From Tom Cookson, Shallow Time: The Burren (dpr-barcelona, Irish Architecture Foundation, 2023).

DPR At dpr-barcelona, we propose to change the limited metrics on which canonical architecture is based —sqm, style, budgets— and position human relations at the centre of our debates. We want to update our current architectural standards and transform them into stories dealing with social, political, and environmental inquiries.

This includes the very nature of the architecture book, which traditionally has been seen either as a manual of techniques, or a monograph detailing the “best-of” certain practices; praising the build object above all things, and contributing to the rise of individual myths. We want to subvert this condition and publish books for resistance, titles that generate discussion between critical thinkers and readers, and to encourage readers to become active participants. Discussion implies dissent, and this allows the agency of ideas celebrating interdependencies, nuances and complexity. We aim to build shelters for critical spirits, intangible architectures from more-than-human grids, time sequences and memories, informed by new myths and symbols.

"We aim to build shelters for critical spirits, intangible architectures from more-than-human grids, time sequences and memories, informed by new myths and symbols."

- dpr-barcelona

For first LINA Writing Award we selected Atlas of Urban Mythologies by Francesca Cocchiara and Sergios Strigklogiannis because their proposal recognises the role of new narratives to describe contemporary urban challenges – moving away from conventional dichotomies: urban-rural, public-private, right-left, and so. Tackling complexity and differences when addressing the spatial manifestations of inequality and injustice in different cities, it centres citizen initiatives defending the urban common in diverse contexts. This Atlas has the potential to connect with urban realities where other LINA emerging creatives operate, thus creating a suggestive recount of contemporary myths and tales.

The second title Shallow Time: The Burren by Tom Cookson, constitutes a strong and rich multi-layered text - inspired, informed and shaped by the karst1 landscape of the Burren in the West of Ireland. Cookson's proposal suggests that this environment and ecosystem has much to teach us... "about managing and inhabiting a fragile environment, the resilience of the natural world, and an architectural attitude for building in such places." Cartographer Tim Robinson's work is suggested as a guide for structuring the study and supporting an understanding of place, as Cookson proposes to reveal the mysteries and depth of this unique landscape.

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KOOZ The Atlas of Urban Mythologies indirectly disseminates eight of the ideas/projects developed by the other LINA fellows (2022-2023) from Athens, Nicosia, Tbilisi, Belgrade, Basel, Ljubljana and Tirana. Francesca and Sergios, could you give us an insight into the structure of the book from the Map of the Journey all the way to the Glossary of Mythical Characters?

FRANCESCA COCCHIARA | SERGIOS STRIGKLOGIANNIS The Atlas of Urban Mythologies is thought of as a common ground where multiple voices contribute to telling the endless stories that make up our cities. The idea of creating a fictional atlas allowed us to juxtapose and connect a variety of contexts, stories, and characters in an open-ended way: though the journeys start and finish in Athens, the intent is to add more cities and enrich the Atlas with further urban mythologies. This is what we believe to be the greatest expressive potential of the Atlas. Furthermore, the serial form of the chapters —each one dedicated to a different city— offered us the chance to connect with the projects of LINA Fellows, due to their connection to the mentioned. We want to give resonance to their work, so that they can inspire your reading even further.

"Stories cross boundaries and the lives of many, changing how we see ourselves, others, and what surrounds us, as long as they can always be rewritten, re-appropriated, and re-narrated.”

- From "Part I: On Myths, Cities, and Other Monsters", Francesca Cocchiara, Sergios Strigklogiannis, Atlas of Urban Mythologies (dpr-barcelona, Irish Architecture Foundation, 2023).

As for the structure of the book, the Atlas starts with an introduction where we lay out the premise of what we intend with the term ‘urban mythologies’. Next is the map of the journey where all cities featured in this edition are connected along narrative routes. Eight chapters each focus on a specific city, its contemporary myths, and related urban issues: Athens, Nicosia, Tbilisi, Belgrade, Ljubljana, Basel, Tirana, and back to Athens. Finally, as a way to provide the reader with explanations and more insights, there is some background information on each city and a Glossary where all the mythical characters of the stories are summed up and briefly described.

“I read somewhere that the only things that move at checkpoints are winds, spirits, and eyeballs - and in this city, I understood that it’s true.”

- From "Chapter 2: Caged Birds Sing - Nicosia, Cyprus", Francesca Cocchiara, Sergios Strigklogiannis, Atlas of Urban Mythologies (dpr-barcelona, Irish Architecture Foundation, 2023).

KOOZ Stemming from the premise that “However paradoxical, the myth hides nothing: its function is to distort, not to make disappear” (Roland Barthes), the project delves into the living mythologies of selected urban environments as a means to give a voice to the voiceless and untold stories of gentrification, division, the loss of urban commons and spatial injustice. What is the potential in deploying storytelling, myths and fictions as a means of communicating?

FC | SS We believe that storytelling is what connects us to each other: the power of imagination, cast in parallel realities, can help us to better inhabit the world we live in. Every story travels, from those narrating it to those who receive it and later pass it on in their own way. Stories cross boundaries and the lives of many, changing how we see ourselves, others, and what surrounds us provided that they can constantly be rewritten, re-appropriated, and re-narrated to continue to be alive. For us, storytelling —and particularly mythology that is strongly context-based— is an open, accessible, and malleable medium for communication. The contemporary mythologies that populate the book —monsters, giants, constructions, spirits and creatures of all sorts— invite the readers to reflect on the cities’ everyday life struggles. Some might be familiar to them, and some might be unknown, but for sure our wish is to stimulate curiosity and invite everyone to look at their cities with different eyes – ultimately, to find more stories to tell.

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KOOZ Tom, your project deploys the Burren as a “touchstone to explore our inhabitation of and attitude to the heavens, landscape, figure, mass and volume, surface and flatness”, revealing how our incapacity to comprehend geological time has led to a callous extraction of resources. What prompted your interest with the landscape of the Burren and the notion of shallow time?

TOM COOKSON I became interested in the tension between depth and shallowness, mass and volume, which I experienced within the Burren’s unique terrain. The notion of shallow time evolved from this reading of the topography, and how a karst landscape instinctively rejects the notion of deep time —geological time— a span measuring billions of years. Its proximity to the visible surface, its seeming lack of depth belies its layered, patient creation over millennia. It represents cosmic time, planetary time, a breadth unfathomable from our biological perspective, as children of the Anthropocene. Therefore, the book explores how the Burren is perhaps the perfect landscape for contemporary society: an environment that is superficially changeable enough that we can begin to infiltrate its mystery. Protected, and therefore not urbanised or extracted from; a place where natural processes can be appreciated rather than exploited; a landscape that can be read.

“The Burren can teach us lessons about managing and inhabiting a fragile environment. The symbiotic relationship between flora, livestock and humans. The resilience of the natural world, and an architectural attitude for building in such places.”

- From "Earthrise", Tom Cookson, Shallow Time: The Burren (dpr-barcelona, Irish Architecture Foundation, 2023).

Poulnabrone Dolmen (portal tomb). Earth, horizon, heaven. From Tom Cookson, Shallow Time: The Burren (dpr-barcelona, Irish Architecture Foundation, 2023).

KOOZ The project is guided by Tim Robinson’s maps which you describe as remarkable repositories of “both information and experience”, which are only made possible by “countless miles of walking the landscape, of observation, of cognition” and of transcribing a “fading oral culture from step to brain to hand.” How does Shallow Time: The Burren build upon these cultural manuscripts and connect this landscape to the ideas of the Abstract Expressionists like Willem de Kooning, Robert Smithson, Donald Judd and so on?

TC The questing of Tim Robinson’s artistic practice is mirrored in that of the individuals named above. Shallow Time: The Burren connects these world views through the auspices of this unique landscape. For example, the Abstract Expressionists stripped themselves of many of the tools that had furnished the practice of their artistic predecessors: perspectival space, the predictability of geometry, and the figure, all of which were considered outmoded. They also found the picture plane constraining, the borders of the canvas an impediment. They tasked themselves with eradicating the significance of the fringes, the dialogue between edge and centre. This whole endeavour may seem both ahistorical and acontextual, when in fact it is intrinsic to the American worldview. The borderlessness of the great plains, a vast continent with the God-given right to ‘manifest destiny’. Masters of space and time at the dawning of the atomic age, occupying a gridded city, where daily experience is dominated by single-point perspective. In this context, we perhaps take for granted the slow contingent accrual of European urban environments; their informality and playful qualities bringing variety to their occupation. Ultimately, both Tim Robinson and the Abstract Expressionists were searching for that which is so effortlessly communicated in the monolithic structures situated throughout the Burren. Something primal, outside of human space and time. They were searching for deep time in shallow spaces.

“The physical act of building to define territory for human occupations has a long-standing tradition to Western culture.”

- From "Periphery & Centre", Tom Cookson, Shallow Time: The Burren (dpr-barcelona, Irish Architecture Foundation, 2023).

KOOZ Ultimately, both publications are journeys across time and space, revealing how our anthropocentric perspective has scarred both our ecological and social landscapes (almost) beyond recovery. How has the research of these two critical publications shaped and altered your approach to architecture? What are your hopes for those who will embark on such literary journeys?

FC | SS The main shift for us was to look at cities in a different way. Architecture is a field informed by numerous disciplines —art, history, science, ecology, anthropology, and more— but somehow even we professionals tend to confine it to aesthetics canons that do not speak about the everyday life of people, their needs, and struggles as communities. The research behind each fictional story of the Atlas forced us to look at those cities with curiosity and to inquire about what lies behind city growth, development, and landscape alterations. This Atlas, and our approach, is mostly a matter of asking questions to rediscuss the image of the cities through the lenses of urban mythologies: some stories are visible on the skin of the buildings, some emerge in the ways people describe their surroundings and give names to them —just like story characters— and some date back to ancient times and formed the city's cultural heritage. Thus, our hope is that this book inspires the readers to embark on their own journeys in the urban chaos and be willing to listen to the myths that are still waiting to be told.

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TC Many of the preoccupations of the book are mirrored in contemporary architectural discourse and practice. Buildings and their envelopes are now predominantly constructed of an accumulation of thin surfaces. The ‘deep’ monolithic constructions that were celebrated by ancient and classical architecture are no longer achievable in their purest guise. These thin layers are often products of the petrochemical industry —for waterproofing, insulating, air-tightness— and are fabricated far from the building site. A globalised industrial machine is counter to the ethos nurtured in the Burren, where no quarrying or transport was required, the stone being literally present at the surface. The practical ideology of homogeneous materiality has defined the character of many memorable urban and regional centres. The Burren’s architecture could be seen as a hyper-local form of construction; and there are lessons that can be learned from this approach.

However, industry and society at large are grappling with a worsening climate emergency. The prevailing norms that have driven construction will have to change; to make a difference, the solutions will need to satisfy both a commercial, contextual and environmental agenda. This challenge is also one that the architect, artist and spatial practitioner will need to grapple with. How to find meaning, character and truth in shallow surfaces, when we’ve been attuned for centuries to the value of depth and solidity?

Hopefully, the books that follow in this family of publications will challenge us to think creatively about architecture as a broad creative practice, and its ability to contribute imaginatively to the climate emergency.

Bio

Emmett Scanlon is an architect, writer, broadcaster and curator. In 2023 he became the Director of the Irish Architecture Foundation, Ireland’s independent organisation for the advancement of culture and discourse in architecture. In 2022 he founded Story, Building, an independent publisher of criticism in architecture, working in print, online and via podcast. He was the Artistic and Editorial Organiser of the groundbreaking 18th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, working with Curator Lesley Lokko, leading her international design and curatorial team. He was previously Project Director at Grafton Architects, Dublin. He is an award-winning and innovative teacher, Assistant Professor of Architecture at University College Dublin, and has taught in schools of architecture in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Europe, and the United States.

Established in 2005, the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF) is an independent organisation dedicated to the promotion of architecture as culture. Through an ambitious programme of curation, education, community placemaking, communication, and the Open House Dublin festival, the IAF seeks to champion the power of architecture to transform lives and improve the places where we live, learn, work and play.

dpr-barcelona is an architectural research practice based in Barcelona founded by Ethel Baraona Pohl and César Reyes Nájera, dealing with three main lines: publishing, criticism and curating. They understand the book as a space of encounter where the act of publishing becomes a form of cultural, social, and intellectual resistance. Their work operates in the field of architecture, political theory and the social milieu. Their [net]work is a real hub linking several publications and actors on contemporary architecture and theory. Their research and theoretical work is linked to leading publications in architectural discourse, academia, and independent studies.

Tom Cookson is an Associate in Hall McKnight’s Cork office, currently leading housing, public realm and cultural projects within Ireland at various work stages. He will be leading a 4th year studio unit at CCAE in 2023, taught at the Welsh School of Architecture in 2020, and is a returning critic at Architecture Schools in the UK & Ireland. In collaboration with Sarah Carroll, Tom was announced runner up in a two stage RIBA International competition in 2020, and exhibited ‘Building Societies’ at the IAF’s Housing Unlocked exhibition in Dublin in 2023. Tom’s writing has been published by Drawing Matter, and his thesis project at the Manchester School of Architecture was shortlisted for the RIBA Silver Medal. After graduating with First Class Honours, Tom worked in London for Karakusevic Carson & Hall McKnight.

Francesca Cocchiara and Sergios Strigklogiannis are architects and researchers from Italy and Greece, based in Athens. Together they explore the complexities and challenges of cities and the diverse ways of inhabiting urban spaces. Believing in the power of storytelling, they initiated the project “Urban Mythologies”. Their intent is to reveal otherwise invisible urban issues and narrate them through the city's untold stories, myths, and tales.

Federica Zambeletti is the founder and managing director of KoozArch. She is an architect, researcher and digital curator whose interests lie at the intersection between art, architecture and regenerative practices. In 2015 Federica founded KoozArch with the ambition of creating a space where to research, explore and discuss architecture beyond the limits of its built form. Parallel to her work at KoozArch, Federica is Architect at the architecture studio UNA and researcher at the non-profit agency for change UNLESS where she is project manager of the research "Antarctic Resolution". Federica is an Architectural Association School of Architecture in London alumni.

Notes
1 Karst is an area of land made up of limestone. Source: education.nationalgeographic.org

Published
06 Sep 2023
Reading time
15 minutes
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