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contents icamprint 04 | letter from the president | editorial |
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letter from the president

Dietmar Steiner, president (2012)
When in August 2009 icam held its 30th jubilee in Helsinki with a look back and a look forward at prospects for the future, the current worldwide economic crisis was still restricted to a property crisis and peculiar financial products. In the meantime almost all of the institutions in icam have either undergone dramatic cuts to their budgets or had their budgets frozen. So we are all challenged to respond to the new situation with a reflective cultural programme. However many of the contributions in this issue of icamprint show that the current programmes on offer by architecture institutions had already begun to change independently from and before the crisis. Many elucidate on their departure from the monographic marketing exhibitions by star architects that had been standard fare in the past (Zardini, Bouman, Dethier). What is happening is a return to thematic exhibitions that connect with the reality of people’s lives or that explore the production and impact of architecture itself.

The background to and reasons for this are manifested in a development in architecture that has been apparent for about ten years now. The global inflation of individualistic egomaniacal designs has already led to an extensive loss of authorship —accelerated by ever-improving rendering programmes—and is, in the meantime, increasingly also beleaguering truly high quality architecture in buildings and projects. So the air has been slowly but steadily seeping from this ‘iconic bubble’. This was articulated in two events held in 2010 that could be described as manifestos for a paradigmatic shift in architecture. The first was the architecture biennial in Venice by Kazujo Seijma, who did not organise the usual parade of stars for the first time in the Biennale’s history and evoked the atmospheric content of architecture instead. This was followed a few weeks later at the MoMA by the exhibition Small Scale, Big Change—New Architectures of Social Engagement, whose subject matter was blazoned in the title. And when key marketplaces for contemporary architecture like the architecture biennial in Venice and the MoMA show such similar programmatic exhibitions in terms of content in the same year, then one would certainly be justified in talking about the start of a new architecture debate.

It is now a key challenge for the institutions of icam to take-up and to develop accordingly with the content of their programmes, to engage with this new status quo. After the big party of interchangeable icons, it is simply a matter of being aware of the original purpose of architecture museums. The substance and power of the archives and collections lies in their capacity to activate the memory of architecture as the yardstick for quality. So that an identity for the culture of building can be created beyond racy lifestyle sensations, one which has to be communicated to a broad public. With an easy mind, we can concur with the last sentence in ‘Jonathan Glancey’s passport to the planet’, the author’s final article after 15 years as architecture critic for the British newspaper The Guardian: “It’s time to aim for a world of intelligent, crafted architecture—one that projects a sense of true worth— and to leave the era of limitless aspiration behind.” With its exciting programme developed by our German hosts, the upcoming icam16 conference is providing an opportunity to reflect on the core functions of our ‘architectural memory bank’ and a lively exchange at this new beginning of architecture.