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Switzerland has produced a reader on a popular topic – crisis, writes James Pallister

[THIS WEEK] Crises of confidence, of governance, the economic crisis, and the ongoing environmental crisis; talking about other people’s crises is a popular business, though as Mark Wigley notes in C-Lab, their announcements always come too late.

Even a non-volatile discipline like architecture isn’t immune. Last week, a RIBA Building Futures report told architects they were facing their own crisis; they must change or die. Modernising and developing their commercial nous was the order of the day and the report predicted the emergence of ‘spatial agencies’ and ‘design houses’, replacing fusty old architects. It brings to mind the antics of one of René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s characters from the Asterix and Obelix books, whose name is ‘Ekonomikrisis’. The 50BC Phoenician charmer is a wily merchant and proto-marketeer who rebrands the rowers of his commercial galley as ‘partners’.

If you’re after a small book that deals with diverse crises (mainly financial-crash related) I’d recommend Lars Müller Publishers’ contribution to the field, After Crisis, part of its Architectural Papers series from Switzerland’s ETH.

The slim reader has some excellent contributions. Tariq Ali writes, in conjunction with Rem Koolhaas, about Dubai’s (an ‘Imperial Petrol Station’) future. Polymath Slavoj Zizek describes the ‘architectural parallax’, an infuriating-sounding but convincing term he’s invented to describe the contradictory characters of today’s big performance art spaces; amusement and high art, sacred and profane, exclusive and popular.

Sociologist Richard Sennett talks about how neutral material palettes within architecture make it difficult to ‘recover the materiality of the physical environment’. Later he bemoans the state’s ‘omnipresence’ in architecture: ‘Building codes are so tyrannical that the notion of discovery as you’re building is grouchily defeated by the system’. This anthology points to a few instances where the overbearing, the global and grand have been swapped for what its editors see as preferable; the local, the manual and the personal.

Architectural Papers V, edited by Josep Lluís Mateo

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