Editorial: Banff Banality
Perhaps it is a sign of the times that the motivation to collect continuing education credits seems to have overshadowed the original purpose of attending architectural conferences like the Banff Session. The commoditization of architectural ideas seems to have invariably extended to the speakers themselves who adhere to their trusted digital slide presentations as they travel from city to city espousing the well-scripted virtues of their work with machine-like precision.
Held in the majestic Alberta town after which it is named, the Banff Session–expressed in the singular–has its own particular history that began in 1955 at the Banff School of Arts, and which was intended for architects to spend a few days to “live communally and without other distractions.” In 1956, Richard Neutra delivered a series of lectures over the course of an entire week to a group of 38 architects. In 1984, Ricardo Bofill and Peter Eisenman famously debated each other in a heated discussion–sparked by a comment made by Michael Graves at the Banff Session the year before. Over the decades, organizers have made considerable efforts to invite the most engaging architects around the world to make the journey up to this mountain retreat and talk about their work and design philosophy. As the profession of architecture has evolved, so too has the energy and intensity of the Banff Session, which is now held for just a couple of days every two years. But in 2012, with crisp cell-phone reception widely available despite the surrounding Rocky Mountains, one would be hard-pressed to find even a handful of architects capable of dedicating their undivided attention to the discussion of lofty architectural ideas.
The theme of this year’s Banff Session was “Cultural Context”–a term that is as broad as they come. Held in conjunction with the Alberta Association of Architects’ annual conference, over 550 registrants descended upon the Banff Springs Hotel for two days of courses, croissants and coffee. Although the Session was essentially embedded within a provincial architectural conference chock full of professional development courses, the list of keynote speakers from Europe and the US remained impressive: Anna Herringer, Craig Dykers, Kim Herforth Nielsen, Lauren Rottet, and Lorcan O’Herlihy.
Nevertheless, it was disappointing to listen to the careful and articulate–if somewhat formulaic–keynote presentations of speakers who have delivered virtually identical lectures before. Yet who can blame these accomplished world-weary individuals for being so reluctant to reveal too much about their working methodologies? Moreover, today’s architectural audience yearns for easily digestible sound bites that tend to favour aesthetics and pragmatics over a greater philosophical purpose. For these reasons, it is unfortunate but perhaps a reality of contemporary practice that the celebrated architects of today have fewer opportunities to open themselves up to candid debates with their professional colleagues. Despite the fact that Banff Session organizers made provision for more informal breakout sessions, a more meaningful discussion failed to materialize.
The focus of the Banff Session has inexorably shifted to the pragmatic aspects of practice. Again, this may be yet another sign of the times, but it is a pity that the “cultural context” of the Banff Session has been somewhat reduced to the banality of an architectural conference like any other–souvenirs of moccasins, key chains and ammolite jewelry excepted.
Ian Chodikoff [email protected]