History shows that architecture education has never been a static field or a stable entity. Practitioners from all over the political spectrum have tried time and again to push its boundaries, with varying levels of success. But those obsessed with the future have been known to forget their own historical precursors – a situation that a recent exhibition and symposium at SALT Beyoğlu in Istanbul addressed, by uniting those on the educational vanguard with members of a radical Italian pedagogy group from the 1970s.
The multidisciplinary, experimental education program Global Tools was founded in 1973 by members of the Italian Radical Architecture movement, as a direct reaction to the political, ecological and socio-economical crises in Italy at the time. Responding to what the the group saw as conservative teaching methods in architecture, Global Tools intended to re-conceive the field as a political project through a new form of education.
Operating abstractly and anti-didactically, Global Tools called itself a “non-school” – focusing on everyday life and aiming to rediscover a direct relationship between craft and design product. Seminars were held as “happenings” and “pre-ecological” operations were performed, promoting the use of “poor” materials and, among other forward-thinking initiatives, it proposed simplifying the design process to counter the early mass-industrial adoption of plastics.
The exhibition and symposium Global Tools 1973-75: Towards an Ecology of Design attempted to recreate the experimental atmosphere of the original Global Tools project within the context of Istanbul’s cultural institution SALT Beyoğlu. Curators Valerio Borgonuovo and Silvia Franceschini spent two years sifting through over 15 archives of work by the group’s original members in order to prepare this first ever retrospective on the topic. Deciding how to present the wealth of archival material was no small task. Franchesini says, “one of our main choices was not to show the ‘artifacts’ produced by the Global Tools laboratories but to exhibit the processes and the documents of the foundation and organisation of the school itself.”
The month-long exhibition was inaugurated with three workshops by young architects that focused on the main subjects explored by the original group – “testing the Global Tools methodologies and ideas by connecting them with contemporary technologies, in order to address urgent urban issues today”. A workshop called Communication, led by Paolo Patelli, explored the polyphonic discourses interwoven between the street and the social web; Alessandro Mason’s Construction workshop focused on methods of re-appropriating body and space; and in the Survival workshop, Herkes İçin Mimarlık from Architecture for All questioned the meaning of basic survival in today’s context.
These workshops fed into a symposium exploring contemporary models for radical pedagogy. Artist Angelo Plessas presented his project The Eternal Internet Brotherhood, a residency/happening held yearly in varying remote locations. Its emphasis on new forms of distribution, social interaction, and “de-intellectualisation” place it in the lineage of Global Tools. Another initiative with a different angle called The Silent University was presented by artist Ahmet Öğüt. This autonomous knowledge exchange platform involves refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, and eschews the student/teacher hierarchy – another direct parallel with Global Tools. Finally Global Tools was literally brought into the conversation, as two of its original members, Lapo Binazzi and Franco Raggi, were invited to speak with Plessas and Öğüt, comparing and contrasting their experiences.
With this multi-faceted event, curators Borgonuovo and Franceschini painstakingly traced the footprints of a project clearly ahead of its time, recontextualising it in a way that makes it directly applicable to today's challenges. According to them: “Our idea since the beginning – for the exhibition, symposium, and the book we are currently working on – has been not to merely historicise the experience of Global Tools but also to re-contextualise it in the contemporary moment. Even if times are different, we are still living in a period characterised by a deep ecological and political crisis – and especially by an ethical crisis in the field of education, which became especially evident after the Bologna Accord in 1999. We feel an urgent need to examine past projects that have critically addressed these issues.” It's not easy to transmit knowledge about knowledge transmission; by taking a practical, idea-based approach, this ambitious research project employed a methodology – a complex set of “global tools” as opposed to a universal ideology.
- Beste Sabır & Elvia Wilk
Silvia Franceschini is a researcher in contemporary art and design based in Milan and Moscow, where she works as an independent curator and writer. Valerio Borgonuovo is an art historian based in Bologna, where he works as a freelance researcher, curator and consultant for the cultural heritage of Regione Emilia Romagna. Franceschini and Borgonuovo are currently working together on the first comprehensive publication on Global Tools.