“…the petty bourgeoisie has only one choice: to strengthen its revolutionary consciousness, to reject the temptations of becoming more bourgeois and the natural concerns of its class mentality, to identify itself with the working classes and not to oppose the normal development of the process of revolution. […] the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie must be capable of committing suicide as a class in order to be reborn as revolutionary workers, completely identified with the deepest aspirations of the people to which they belong.”
Perhaps an unlikely point of entry into a dialogue on architecture, yet a relevant one in an age where urban spaces are formed and moulded by the high pressure dynamics of burgeoning urban populations.
The competition for resources and space has long threatened the sustainability of urban areas, throwing class disparities into stark relief as the wealthy and powerful thrive, while the invisible – read: poor, disempowered – disappear. The term developed has come to be synonymous with images of skyscrapers and boulevards, towering shrines to hegemony.
This world is unsustainable but a shift in this mentality can be seen clearly in the world of architecture. In the Iranian capital of Tehran, the construction of the Vali-e-Asr mosque – which takes the form of a gentle dome with none of the familiar minarets or towers – has been the source of considerable controversy. In an article in the Guardian, architects Reza Daneshmir and Catherine Spiridonoff reference ancient mosque design and how they “tried to design this mosque with modesty, simplicity and good faith, and not a mosque which would get its pride from its structural height […] We wanted it to connect better with the younger generations.”
The idea of early architecture as a more accessible form calls to mind Vitruvius’ theory of evolution with regards to the origins of architecture, which outlines how early shelter evolved into the modern temples and other structures of his time. As early man became more conscious of himself and his ability, he began to move out of caves and other naturally occurring shelters, constructing intentionally designed spaces. In imposing his will on the soil he began to see himself as above nature, creating geometric structures and altering his surroundings to suit him.
With the birth of this new consciousness came an understanding of our mortality and our desire to transcend it. The heavens, the cosmic in their vastness and inaccessibility became the representative of this unknown, and so this desire manifested itself in tall, reaching structures. Man wished to connect with the unknown. The pyramids and the obelisks of K.mt, the stelae of Aksum, the Christian bible's Tower of Babylon, perhaps even the skyscrapers of New York, are all representative of our desire to defeat death. They are our wish to live forever.
Axis Mundi: The connection between earth and the heavens, the cosmic.
This could be the genesis of hierarchy in society. Only the wealthy or those with access to resources can afford to reach the stars; only the wealthy live forever, the poor die. The pharaohs live on, while their slaves are lost to time. The pastors in their massive churches thrive, while their poor congregations starve. The illegally constructed mansions in East Legon and other wealthy suburbs stand, while the slums, the shanty towns, the ‘informal’ settlements fall.
Occupy Axis Mundi
One hopes that what the architects of Vali-e-Asr and many others seek to do is to revolutionise structure, diminishing form in order to make minarets of the greater society. In this world, the role of the architect becomes more one of facilitator, weaving the collective needs and desires into spaces, forms and structures of greater access. Creating greater access does not reduce resources, it promotes sustainability. If sustainability is legacy, then surely we can all live forever.
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