Opinion

The Oslo Architecture Triennale 2013

Oslo

27 September 2013

The Fifth Oslo Triennale explores the theme of sustainability through its headline exhibitions Behind the Green Door and Far Out Voices and over seventy one-off events. Curated by Belgian design collective Rotor, this Triennale sets out to make sense of our tendency towards keeping it green.

“The exhibition is supposed to be like a walk in the park of sustainability – we want visitors to explore the artifacts and draw their own connections and conclusions,” says Maarten Gielen, founding director of Rotor and co-curator of this year’s Oslo Architecture Triannale.

As he speaks, Gielen stands among a sea of over 600 artifacts, ranging from flashy architectural renders to news clips of Brad Pitt presenting his Make It Right project for New Orleans; a leftover chair from Assemble’s Cineroleum in London to a dollhouse that demonstrates the benefits of sustainable living and the world’s first solar powered lawn mower.

These objects make up the central exhibition, Behind the Green Door, hosted at Oslo’s centre for architecture and design DogA. The exhibition marks a year-long process of research and selection driven by Rotor, a group of architects, designers and thinkers that are most celebrated for their poetic installation for the Belgian pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2010 and their archival approach to OMA’s retrospective at the Barbican in London last year.

Laid out on a 60-metre long "timeline table" alongside a series of thematic assemblages, Rotor’s exhibition for the Oslo Triennale seeks to chart our fascination over the past half-century with the "S" word – from its origins as a countercultural movement in the 1960s to its buzzword usage in the public campaigns of corporations, politicians and celebrities alike. Documenting how we went from Drop City to Masdar City, the show presents us with our many attempts to come to terms with our collective impact on the Earth and within this highlights just how much our current definition of sustainability has become tainted and unclear.

Confronted with these artifacts one can’t help but feel that our efforts seem at best to scratch the surface of the problem and at worst somewhat absurd, futile or worse still, calculated. One yearns for the innocence and utopian enthusiasm of the pioneering self-builders and experimenters of the 1960s and 1970s, whose efforts are presented in clever dialogue across town in the Far Out Voices exhibition at Oslo’s National Architecture Museum.

Displayed on a series of specially commissioned dome-like structures, Far Out Voices takes a more conventional approach to curating and focuses on presenting the countercultural origins of what we today call green design through a series of video interviews, posters, historical documents and photographs exploring the work of pioneers such as Steve Baer, Mike Reynolds, Jay Baldwin and Graham Stevens.

“The verb that connects this exhibition with that of Rotor’s is the verb ‘to try’. We are both exploring the efforts people have made to make a change,” says Far Out Voice’s Co-curator, Dr Caroline Maniaque-Benton

And it is true that the verb "to try" is prominent throughout the Triennale. Rotor is trying to make sense of our relationship to sustainability by presenting the efforts of others throughout the ages. As Gielen says: “The exhibition is trying to be a mirror – it is trying to present a moment in history where not just architects but the whole of mankind don’t know what we should do. It shows that we are not there yet but we are trying…and people are not giving up.”

If one thing is for sure, Behind the Green Door demonstrates that keep trying we will and keep trying we must. Perhaps with a little more optimism and space to dream – as demonstrated by our 1960s counterparts – we may even be able to innovate and progress.