The eye of the needle of local space

Manifesto for a new idea of Localism

These notes are the draft of a Manifesto on the state of contemporary architecture which, as curator of the 2010 Chernikhov Prize, Stefano Boeri submitted to his jury colleagues and selectors as a basis for discussion. Published in Abitare n. 504 (July 2010)

1 Planetary architecture plays a key role in the daily conflict between global flows and territorial change. This is a conflict where globalization – i.e. the supremacy of transnational flows as opposed to historic places – has led, paradoxically, to great emphasis on the innate specificity of local spaces.

2 The “local space” should not be understood merely as a geographical context, or as the localisation of a specific architecture in a place of tradition and historical culture. Local space is instead a spatial device (physical, but at the same powerfully symbolic) that kicks in when external flows of change enter into contact with a specific territory with its own forms of culture and historical legacies.

3 Any transformation of the space, even if it is provoked by global flows, incites and intercepts the device of local space, and inevitably conditioned by it. Local space, in other words, acts like the eye of a needle through which the thread of transformation must necessarily pass. For this reason, local space is not just a container for social, political and cultural processes that forge our contemporary world, but it is also
their fundamental content.

4 Planetary architecture must today be able to recognize and understand this new form of “localism”. This does not imply opposition to global flows, but rather creates opportunities in which these global flows can be absorbed and regenerated through the filter of local cultures and their spatial forms.

5 This new perspective gives a new interpretation of the concepts of Regionalism and of Context and introduces the notion of Translation into the realm of architecture. As with language (that is often regenerated through new linguistic forms that arise due to the mixing with other tongues),
architecture must accept those global flows that create new forms of behaviour (in trade and social relations; in terms of mobility and work etc…) and translate them into the device of local space; thus creating its own local space.

6 Yet this translation is neither a simple reproduction nor a free interpretation. Planetary architecture cannot simply become a kind of Esperanto that erases geographical difference or a sum of dialects that refuse to be contaminated by the variety of flows that are a key part of our world today.

7 The new planetary architecture must be able to translate global flows into the local language which generates them, and this should be done on a case by case basis, individually, and from place by place. The eye of the needle of local space is a creative device that transforms global flows into a kind of fuel for regenerating places. It takes advantage of the whole world in order to construct a place.