Curatorial Note

Ongoing public debates tell us that we live in a turbulent world whose future is catastrophic. In these debates, vivid representations of extreme events draw our attention to cloud bursts, storms and tsunamis that submerge cities and countries; civil wars, nuclear radiation, food and water crisis that annihilate them; financial graphs that quiver, skyrocket and tumble as human prospects crumble under avalanches of debt-mountains and retired currencies; long trails of peasants and refugees cross near and far borders; silent strokes of a pen that come to reposition the sovereignty of large populations on shaky foundations; feeble opinions and notes in a post truth media that reinforce some powers and destabilise others; and intelligent algorithms that cast fears about human species going the way of the dodo. Turbulence, in today’s world, thus appears to mark its real presence in the spheres of nature, economy, society, technology and community, all of which are hard to lock into separate compartments. In this backdrop, academic inquiries in several disciplines, including architecture, are making serious interrogations into the discourses and practices of uncertainty and turbulence, and offering new provocations to engage with them. 

Architectural practices have stood on both sides of the debate, having contributed to the creation of turbulence as well as attempted to resolve disputes, conflicts and contests that arise from it. They have contributed to the creation of unsustainable landscapes or shepherded environmental movements, created gated enclaves or championed for mass housing, endorsed urban renewal or advocated for heritage conservation, provided form to organizations of power or collaborated with marginalized communities to resist resource appropriation, and even embraced artificial intelligence or revived ancient logics to organize space. The problem, however, is that these discourses reinforce and perpetuate each other. Turbulence is neither new to humanity nor is its experience. Turbulent energies of the past have created the world that we live in today: they have not only produced crises, breakdown and catastrophe but also innovation and promise of achieving cherished ideals of justice, freedom and equality.  Moreover, the everyday experiences of turbulence are so highly nuanced and diverse that they cannot be captured through these discourses.

The question to be asked is, how can we as architects, reconceptualize the energies of turbulence and engage them in the making of places? How can we think with turbulence; of environment beyond crises, cities beyond contests and narratives of lack, difference beyond discrimination, technologies beyond fear and annihilation, and communities along with all the diversities within them? How do we inhabit the flotsam and jetsam, the stillness and the ripple, the trickle and the ooze, the seepage and the leak, the crack and the shear, and the blister and the cut? How can we also privilege surprise, serendipity and promiscuity in riding a turbulent storm that never offers certainties of knowing or making things, all at once? How can we narrate stories, recite poems and sing songs of our engagements with the experiences of turbulence? In short, how can we come to learn and practice architecture amidst turbulence?  And when we do that, what will our architecture be? 

Over the course of the past five years, the School of Environment and Architecture (SEA) is engaged in articulating the questions of the contemporary and exploring architectural responses to it. The symposium Songs of Turbulence, Five Conversations on Contemporary Architectureframes some of the questions that have emerged along our journey for dialogue with a wider audience. This symposium draws the experiences and provocations of five diversely situated practices into conversation with practitioners at SEA with the hope that the ensuing dialogue will open new ways to think about engagements with our turbulent world. The invited practitioners have made long-standing commitments to environmental issues, urban conditions, questions on difference, technological imperatives and communitarian agendas.