The Mediterranean: Region-making by design
Symposium, March 14-15 2013, Harvard GSD
Sponsored by The Aga Khan Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design
Organized by Nikos Katsikis and the New Geographies Research Lab
With this broader examination of region as its background, the symposium focuses on the iconic Mediterranean region. The traditional definition of the Mediterranean as a de-facto cultural entity casts infinite stereotypes on land and people framing a nostalgic image of its cities, landscapes, and architectures. It also conceals the complexity of the underlying region making processes. While often conceived through solid frameworks ranging from the “vernacular” and the “classical” to the “Mediterranean city” the Mediterranean is at the same time cast as an interregional synthesis, a complex region of interrelating regions. This intense set of cultural, social and material interactions highlights the capitalist and cosmopolitan dimensions of the Mediterranean and offers a reference point for perceiving processes of global urbanization. As such the Mediterranean is also revealed as a world model.
With designers increasingly compelled to address larger contexts and new problems placed on their tables (complex infrastructural systems, emerging urban formations, rural and environmental questions), systematically re-addressing the question of architectural regionalism seems more relevant than ever before. By a critical examination of historical region making processes and contemporary transformations, the symposium aims to reveal the blind spots of conventional approaches to regionalism and open up the question of the agency of design and urban formations.
The definition and processes of region making are becoming increasingly complex. Radical social, technological, political and environmental transformations are questioning the rigidity of regional boundaries. Regions are becoming harder to define as fixed entities and region making processes harder to decode in the continuous dialectical interrelation between the historical and cultural specificity of local contexts and the structures of globalization. Consider for example the Catalan region: A complex interplay of strong cultural identity and multi-scalar development processes, from the local to the national and the European restructuring a territory of intense urbanization. Whether perceived as functional, cultural or ecological entities regions need to be conceptualized as persistent but still dynamically reconfigured constructs.
One of the key processes of a region’s configuration has been through architecture. However, from the functional “ecological region” of Geddes and Mumford to postmodern associations with identity through local vernaculars up to the latest dialectical approach of “critical regionalism” (Tzonis, Lefaivre, Frampton), architecture has mostly been required to deliver a respectful response to a given context and rarely an active force defining it. No matter in which terms a region is defined, architecture is most of the times considered a product of regional identity, adaptation or performance and rarely a shaping factor. For example the iconic settlement patterns of the Greek islands are typically considered an adaptive response to topographic and environmental constraints. Moreover, the construction of regional identity through form has been often considered a requirement rather than an open process of critical reconstruction.
Seen in this light, the aim of the symposium is twofold: On the one hand to revisit and challenge in a contemporary way theories and frameworks of region making with reference to the Mediterranean and on the other hand to offer a platform for repositioning architectural theory and practice as active forces within these region making processes. In this way the symposium will also complement and reflect the theme of the sixth volume of “New Geographies” journal (A. Petrov, editor): The interrogation of the Mediterranean as a spatial model that reconceptualises region making. The journal will serve as a reflexive reference to the symposium panels, which will animate and extend its content. Following the keynote lecture, the main symposium day will be organized around three panels. The first two panels will bring together frameworks of region making from various disciplines focusing on the Mediterranean: From an examination of selected episodes revealing the complexity of underlying region making processes –“the Mediterranean in History”, to contemporary transformations that continuously reconstruct it -“The Mediterranean Transformed”. Finally the third and closing panel will try to offer a platform for introducing the centrality of design agency into the contemporary and future “Region Making Challenges”.