Migrating Landscapes

Interviewer Ian Chodikoff

Migrating Landscapes will be Canada’s representative at the 2012 Venice Biennale in Architecture. The project was initiated by Sasa Radulovic and Johanne Hurme of Winnipeg-based firm 5468796 Architecture Inc. and University of Manitoba architecture professor Jae-Sung Chon. To develop this highly collaborative and inclusive exhibition project, these energetic individuals have established Migrating Landscapes Organizer (MLO), an entity that will evolve into a forum for young Canadian architects and designers to “investigate, provoke, document and expose the unique manifestations of cultural memory that overlay contemporary Canadian architecture culture.” Radulovic, Hurme and Chon are all immigrants to Canada from the former Yugoslavia, Finland and South Korea respectively. Their own cultural backgrounds have influenced their outlook on architecture; accordingly, Migrating Landscapes will incorporate a collection of their own experiences relating to cultural memory, as well as those of the architects and designers selected to participate in the exhibition. MLO has already begun a fundraising campaign, and Canadian Architect intends to follow the unique evolution of MLO right up until the exhibition’s opening in Venice next summer. The following discussion is an excerpt from a recent interview with Radulovic (SR) and Hurme (JH) about their project, their intentions and some of the ideas behind MLO.

MLO seeks to establish a series of conditions for a project that is unusually inclusive while highly purposeful to influence a diverse and progressive design culture. Can you describe your vision for this project?

SR It is very hard to include a singular vision for the project. We would like to raise the level of architecture in Canada through increased public engagement and exhibitions so that our profession can put its best foot forward in Venice. Our fundraising and preparations seem to be going well because we are getting interest from young architects, and we are receiving interest from the various members of the juries established across Canada [who will be selecting a final roster of designers whose work will travel to Venice]. We have been very fortunate to convince architecture firms to provide financial assistance through donations, although much more money still needs to be raised. The project essentially involves migration, the accepting nature of our country, and how we can speak to this through architecture.

What will the future of Canadian diversity look like? How can showcasing young designers’ work influenced by their cultural backgrounds enhance the future of Canadian architecture?

SR We are definitely searching for a pattern. One of the important distinctions to make is that if we were doing this kind of project in Germany or Finland, it would be more about representing the national pride of those countries, whereas in Canada, the pattern is more about representing a national modesty or acceptance of others.

What has been your reaction when discussing your project with the older generation of architects?

SR All but one or two that we have contacted thus far were immediately interested in our project. Engaging the architects has proven to be a positive experience. The project has certainly become a collection of stories, and our job is to curate it into a series of coherent statements. The most compelling example was when we met with Bruce Kuwabara, who spoke of his experiences at previous Venice Biennales. He encouraged us to question, to not be afraid, and to expose ideas.

JH The process of including the whole [design] community has helped shape the project, which has become richer through a series of conversations. This process has also helped expand our ideas about what the project should be. 

Is the project about architecture, or is it about culture? If it is about architecture, shouldn’t we be encouraging architects to assert their cultural backgrounds which can then shape their designs? If it is about culture, then how can definitions of community vary from one architect to another? 

SR At a recent Pecha Kucha night in Winnipeg, Johanna chose not to speak about our own architecture, but about the concept of the “yard” and what the definition means in Europe versus Canada. In Europe, the yard is shared by the residents of a number of buildings while in Canada, the only shared community space seems to be the parking lot. Each of our projects contains an element of public space, and this has certainly influenced the design of our projects–the idea of the shared space has affected the ways in which we develop our own approach to design.

Many of us effectively continue to migrate-we might work in Barcelona one week, then Shanghai the next. How can we respond to these different cultures and practice responsibly without abandoning our cultural backgrounds? 

JH This is the kind of global issue that we want to tackle in our project. Having been educated in Manitoba and then returning to Finland for a school term, I realized that I was already Canadianized as far as my approach to architecture was concerned. The way in which we think about architecture in Canada is very different from the Finnish mentality. The Finnish architecture profession thinks intuitively about form and there are many unwritten rules about pursuing a much more open-ended architecture.

What about issues of architectural education in Canada today? In what ways can architectural education improve for the next generation of architectural designers who come from diverse backgrounds?

SR The best education is achieved through learning from each other, as opposed to education that is served to you. Rick Haldenby [Director of the School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo] told us that he has noticed a tremendous change in students’ ethnic backgrounds, where today’s architecture schools are 80% comprised of visible minorities. Maybe we can work harder on trying to get the best out of our global student population while becoming more accepting and immersive so that students don’t have to be entrenched in Western civilization.

JH At the same time, we have to prepare our students for the practical world with practical knowledge while teaching them to be fearless about innovation and experimentation. Practically speaking, this is difficult because it takes so long to get on your feet in this profession. By the time you feel confident, you have already been converted, so you must never forget that there are new ways to practice and achieve your ideas in the world.

Clearly, the fundraising effort for Migrating Landscapes is not about promoting your firm, but it is about promoting a sense of collegiality and innovation in the profession.

JH This is our message. If everyone can share ideas, we all benefit. I grew up in an environment where I was taught to believe that our profession is about guarding your own ideas, yet I later discovered this isn’t true. As long as you open up and welcome an inclusive project, you will benefit tenfold.

SR For some established architecture firms in Canada, to donate money to this project is significant for no other reason than to stimulate ideas, proving that there is a collegial spirit in this country. The discussion is always about a project, and it is always about a personal story. This is exactly what we wanted-to remove ourselves from the equation. How we get there will certainly help us gain a better idea and understanding
of our diverse Canadian identity. CA

For more information on Migrating Landscapes, or to support Canada’s official entry for the 2010 Venice Biennale in Architecture, please visit www.migratinglandscapes.ca.