At the recent opening of the Europan Cities and Juries Forum in Paris, a pre-selection of the best schemes from this round of the Europan competition was assembled to form the basis of a two-day seminar involving jury members, site owners and managers, academics, architects and politicians from across Europe.
The goal was to identify and define the reactions and strategies put forward by competitors to the themes of ecology, mobility, and management of urban projects. Conclusions will be relayed back to the national juries for the final round of judging next month.
The first round-table discussion examined landscapes, density and nature in urban development. That architects feel at home with these issues was obvious, but such ease with a comfortable subject led to a certain complacency, and an assumption that familiar strategies and graphics can be applied to new contests: who would have expected that neo-utopian megaprojects sited in unfeasibly tidy agricultural landscapes would provide images that are embarrassingly dated and naive, but, unexpectedly, also annoyingly topical. More positively, a few projects recognised that most European landscapes are, by and large, man-made, and that rural and urban ecologies do not exist in opposition to each other. And, happily, the pointlessness of identifying common approaches to ecological issues was recognised after the full range of regional and cultural assumptions about landscape became apparent.
Management is a theme that does not carry the same cultural load, but participants struggled to come to terms with its intangible and unfamiliar qualities. Those who succeeded, and those projects that were cited as emblematic, were more convincing in indicating how Europan can create an effective forum for different cultures. The question of dealing with an unknowable future tantalised some speakers, and, usually, it was the low-key projects which, avoiding strong architectural imagery, were cited as providing the most convincing responses. While some speakers did not see that the reduction of uncertainty was a necessarily useful strategy, others saw chaos management as possible only after years of extensive analysis of the context, and where planning authorities have been constantly challenged to sharpen their assumptions.
Mobility was probably the weakest competition theme, due perhaps to the nature of the sites, which tended to be enclaves located somewhere adjacent to a transport network, but with a limited capacity to influence and enhance that network. However, it did provide some of the most provocative sites and projects: usually at the junctions of central European motorways where the most full-on Ballardian imagery generated a complete absence of mediating spaces between buildings and cars.
As ever, it was refreshing to see European politicians and planners taking an active role in defining the development of their towns. They will reconvene for another session this autumn at the Europan Results Forum in Geneva, which is open to all and with all the winning projects present.