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THE DECIMAL POINT

AGENDA

A quarter of a century since Team 10 disbanded, this is the perfect time to take stock of what it did. By now, the differences between the individual members are as clear as what united them - their attempt to give a more human dimension to Modern architecture; their challenge to the dogmatic functionalism of CIAM and the planning edicts of the Athens Charter, which split cities into separate zones for homes, work, leisure and transport.

All the main protagonists - Jaap Bakema, Georges Candilis, Giancarlo De Carlo, Aldo van Eyck, the Smithsons and Shadrach Woods - are dead, so they cannot answer back as the historians get to work. Which is what they have done in earnest for the first exhibition devoted to the group, 'Team 10: A Utopia of the Present', that opened at Rotterdam's Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) last weekend.

The show is fine as far as it goes - one just wishes it went further, for it leaves some fundamental questions unanswered. Its strength lies in the mass of original material it brings together to present key Team 10 schemes: a task made easier by the NAI being the repository of Bakema's and the Smithsons' Team 10 archives.

'For Team 10, 'to build' has a special meaning in that the architect's responsibility towards the individual or groups he builds for, and towards the cohesion and convenience of the collective structure to which they belong, is absolute, ' says one of its declarations. The crucial problem for the group, and one which pervades the show, is the attempt to be 'scientific' without becoming technocrats to whom people are just statistics; a search to reconcile specific situations with more general propositions.

You see this in embryo before the 10th CIAM congress in 1956 from which, as its organising committee, Team 10 took its name. Two early exhibits in the show are the Urban Re-identification Grid, with its photographs of East End street life, which the Smithsons presented at the ninth CIAM congress in 1953, and their Valley Section Grid of 1955. Inspired by the sociologist and biologist Patrick Geddes, the latter demonstrates a kind of place-specificity: the links between human settlement and landscape at five different levels - 'isolate', hamlet, village, town and city.

As, in the rest of the exhibition, Team 10 goes on to tackle mass housing, the place of the car, the role of historic fabric and buildings that accommodate change, so other strategies and structuring devices emerge - Candilis-JosicWoods' pedestrian spine (the 'stem') and the Smithsons' 'mat building' among them.

Presentation methods change as the grid, inherited from CIAM, is supplanted; schemes like Erskine's Byker reflect an increasing emphasis on user participation; but the attempt to generalise persists.

All this comes over well in the exhibition. Items are hung on either side of several loosely parallel 'streets' - which could make for monotony - but low display units for models and documents cut across them to create a more meandering route, with oblique views from one section to another.

The presentation is sober:

the walls are in shades of grey with occasional ochre and just a little pink and yellow, like a glimpse of one of Peter Smithson's shirts. The models are from those innocent days before architects decided they were vital PR tools and started to throw money at them.

But while the show gives an impression of debate within Team 10, of members criticising each other's projects and ideas, what it lacks is any evaluation of the schemes that were actually built. It is about intentions - not the results.

Concepts like 'streets in the air' are presented as if their validity has not been questioned.

Buildings such as Robin Hood Gardens, the Toulouse-Le Mirail housing, van Eyck's Orphanage and the Free University Berlin all tell stories that don't just endorse their designers' aims, but we do not hear them here.

And while the press release for the show claims, reasonably enough, that Team 10's concerns are especially relevant today, there is no attempt to explore that relevance.

In what does it consist? The social conscience, the flexibility, an attitude to materials, the working with history? There is plenty to choose from. Then there is the task of dealing with actual Team 10 buildings, for which Foster and Partners' new library at the Free University Berlin is probably not the model (AJ 15.09.05).

An excellent catalogue edited by Max Risselada and Dirk van den Heuvel, Team 10:

In Search of a Utopia of the Present (NAi Publishers, .69.50 (£47)) accompanies the exhibition - note the slightly different title, closer to Team 10's raison d'être.

With a thorough chronological documentation of the group's projects and meetings, a dozen essays by writers such as Kenneth Frampton and Christine Boyer, and illuminating, reflective interviews with core Team 10 members in the early 1990s, it is an invaluable reference.

But despite the niggles, the show is still invigorating.

It gives a vivid sense of Team 10's thinking as it evolved over the years, and of values rarer in architecture than they should be today.

The exhibition continues at the NAI in Rotterdam until 8 January 2006

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