OAT 2019 Curatorial Statement

Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019 will challenge the supremacy of economic growth as the basis of contemporary societies and investigate the architecture of alternatives. The chief curators of the Nordic region’s largest architecture festival are inviting architects, urban practitioners and citizens to explore the architecture of a new economy in which human and ecological flourishing matter most – the architecture of Degrowth.

Over the next few decades, we will see a change in priorities, away from ever-increasing GDP growth toward human and environmental wellbeing. Ecofeminists, ecological economists, Degrowthers and their colleagues have been calling for this transition for some time; arguing against an economic system that encourages exploitation of nature, and beings both human and non-human; instead arguing for genuine social and environmental equity. Unfortunately, studies such as the 1972 Limits to Growth report have too often been dismissed as doomsday fantasies to be averted via technological innovation and a coherent, concerted effort to constrain humanity’s impact on the planet has fallen well short.

A shift to a reduced human impact on the environment is now underway but according to ‘Limits to Growth’ co-author Jørgen Randers, this transition will occur not thanks to ambitious pre-emptive collective action but rather due to a faltering in the mechanisms of economic growth. The world population will plateau as fertility decreases, a crisis in productivity in mature economies will hamper global GDP growth, poverty will persist in the world’s most vulnerable communities, and consumption will stagnate as we are forced to divert funds towards repair and adaptation in the face of climate breakdown. This smaller economy will fortuitously reduce demands on energy, resources, water and food, however not quickly enough to avoid a temperature increase to 3 degrees above pre-industrial levels which will likely trigger self-reinforcing climate change that will prove impossible to mitigate.

As the drivers of growth begin to fail us, we must imagine alternative societal structures that do not incentivise unsustainable resource and energy use, and do not perpetuate inequality. Here we can look to Degrowth, a movement that contests the supremacy of economic growth and seeks to move us away from this stressful, damaging, impossible task of endless growth; not by collapse, but by design. Visioning transformative futures is a difficult process, particularly in relation to overcoming deeply ingrained perceptions about the future and nature of change processes. OAT 2019 will investigate this challenge through art, fiction and performance to create a framework to develop glimpses of transformed and alternative futures.

Architects and urban practitioners, working on the frontline of capitalism, complicit in the property industry yet rarely motivated by money but rather social, cultural and artistic values, are in a compelling position to contribute to this critical conversation. What kind of architecture will we create when buildings are no longer instruments of finance? What kinds of spaces will we inhabit when cultivation, rather than extraction is the goal? What materials and technologies will we build with when general purpose money no longer allows us to trade a rainforest for a smart city? How will the built environment be procured in an economic system that doesn’t seek to exploit global differences in wage levels, land prices, and environmental legislation? How will we form our environment when it is human and ecological equity that matter most?

Photo: Johnny Miller