The Future of Modernity

17 September 2021

Moderation Shirley Surya

Shirley Surya is Curator in Design and Architecture at M+, Hong Kong’s new museum for visual culture. Surya has contributed to shaping M+’s permanent collection through her research and acquisition of works that engage with plural modernities as well as transnational and interdisciplinary knowledge networks in greater China and Southeast Asia.

At M+, she co-curated the exhibitions In Search of Southeast Asia through the M+ Collections (2018), Mobile M+: NEONSIGNS.HK (2014), and Building M+: The Museum & Architecture Collection (2014). Outside M+, she made curatorial contributions to Incomplete Urbanism: Attempts of Critical Spatial Practice (NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, Singapore, 2016) and Yung Ho Chang & FCJZ: Materialism (Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2012).

She received her BA in Media Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and an MA in History of Design from the Royal College of Art in London.

Strategies, Progress, and Prospects: Southeast Asian Modernity Johannes Widodo

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of mAAN (modern Asian Architecture Network) by the mAAN Macau Declaration 2001, which marked the beginning of the discourse in Asian modernity and modernisms. The efforts to push forward the discourse has been very fruitful. In 2015, the mASEANa (modern ASEAN architecture) project was launched, focusing on regeneration in Southeast Asian countries (Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Brunei Darussalam, and Myanmar).

ICOMOS Singapore was established in 2014; ICOMOS ASEAN Network and Docomomo ASEAN were created in a Facebook Group in 2017; Docomomo Singapore was officially established in 2021; and Docomomo Indonesia is currently being prepared. In 2020 the mASEANa project was concluded. Now we are looking into the possibilities of continuing the push towards producing new knowledge through the project mASEANa II, in collaboration with ICOMOS ISC20, Getty Conservation Institute, Docomomo Singapore, Docomomo Japan, and the University of Tokyo. In January 2021, the National University of Singapore (NUS) launched new graduate programmes in architectural conservation. We are building up capacity in the conservation of modern heritage and very actively involved in establishing policies to save and extend the lifespan of the 20th-century heritage that is directly relevant to the sustainable development goals.

Those are some examples, among many others, of new developments in the Southeast Asian region that are related to the documentation, theoretical discourse, education, and conservation of Asian modernisms and modern heritage. Strategies and experiences in regards to the continuation, invigoration, regeneration, and rejuvenation of modernity in Southeast Asia will be shared in the talk to inspire others in various places.

Johannes Widodo, National University of Singapore

Dr. Johannes Widodo is the Director of the Graduate Programmes in Architectural Conservation and of the Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Asian Architectural and Urban Heritage in Melaka at the Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore.

He is an Associate Member of the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA), Founding Executive of mAAN (modern Asian Architecture Network), Founding Director of iNTA (International Network of Tropical Architecture), Executive Committee member of the Asian Academy for Heritage Management, jury member for UNESCO Asia Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation, Voting Member of ICOMOS International Scientific Committee, Founding Director of ICOMOS National Committee of Singapore and Indonesia, Founding Director of Docomomo Macau and founder of Docomomo Singapore, co-founder and Executive Board Member of SEACHA (South-East Asian Cultural Heritage Alliance) platform (since 2019), and member of the Alumni KU Leuven Regional Council South East Asia (since 2020). He served as an Advisory Board Member of the Preservation of Sites and Monuments of the National Heritage Board of Singapore (2013–2019).

SOS Brutalism: Expanding knowledge, exhibiting monsters Oliver Elser

The project SOS Brutalism, which was created in close cooperation between the Deutsches Architekturmuseum and the Wüstenrot Foundation, is based on the working hypothesis that Brutalism did not begin its worldwide triumphal march until the mid-1960s, at a time when architectural historian Reyner Banham described the movement in his 1966 book “The New Brutalism. Ethic or Aesthetic?” had already declared it dead. At the same time, the lack of theory from 1966 onward was countered by an immense boom in expressive-sculptural concrete buildings on all continents.

The project continues to grow. Most recently, the exhibition was shown in Taipei (JUT Art Museum) and expanded to include six projects from Taiwan. The goal is to re-evaluate Brutalist architecture in a worldwide comparison and with the involvement of a dense network of local correspondents. The approach is simultaneously scholarly and activist. The canon of historiography is to be radically expanded. Important tools are the hashtag #SOSBrutalism and the “red list” of currently acutely endangered buildings.

Through hashtag monitoring, direct submissions from the international Brutalism community, and its own research, the database grew from 200 entries to a current total of approximately 2160 buildings, 210 of which are on the Red List. SOS Brutalism was conceived by DAM as a pilot project for a new understanding of museum work and stands for a new model of how historic preservation can come into contact with an interested public in new ways.

What are the experiences from the initiative? And how has it been received in other countries? What is the way forward?

Oliver Elser, Curator, German Architecture Museum, Frankfurt/Main, Germany

Oliver Elser is Curator at the German Architecture Museum (DAM) in Frankfurt am Main and 2021 substitute professor for Architectural Theory at KIT, Karlsruhe. In 2016 he curated Making Heimat, the German Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. At DAM, he has curated exhibitions on Brutalism, Postmodernism, architectural models in the 20th century, and Simon Ungers. In 2012/13 he was a substitute professor for Scenography at the University of Applied Sciences Mainz. As a freelance curator, he developed the exhibition Housing Models: Experimentation and Everyday Life with Michael Rieper (Vienna, Sofia, and Belgrade). He developed the project Special Models together with the artist Oliver Croy in 1999, which was last presented in 2013 at the Venice Art Biennale at the Palazzo Enciclopedico. Together with Philip Kurz and Peter Cachola Schmal, Oliver Elser edited the book SOS Brutalism — A Global Survey, a documentation of the growing database and campaign “#SOSBrutalism”.

Conserving the City’s Heritage: Architectural Modernism in Yangon Moe Moe Lwin

Myanmar gained its independence in 1948 and enjoyed a brief postwar window of 14 years, during which a bumpy democratic nation-building process began. It was remarkably successful in its diplomacy and influence in the region, as well as being one of the fastest-growing countries in terms of economic, social, and infrastructural development. The legacy of that progress can still be traced in the architectural landmarks built during this period.

Following the 1962 coup d’etat that installed a military-backed socialist government, Myanmar was quite literally frozen in time. Development came to a halt, and Myanmar’s cities were spared the experience of aggressive automobile intrusion, extensive urban sprawl, and unregulated building booms that transformed many other cities during the 1970s. But with the country’s reentry into the global economy in 2012, Yangon once again faces increasing development pressure.

Now it is a matter of how we define our heritage, what quality these architectural treasures contribute to our city’s built environment, and how we regard them as the pride of our city in order to secure their preservation.

Moe Moe Lwin, Director of the Yangon Heritage Trust, Yangon, Myanmar

Moe Moe Lwin has been Director of the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT) since its founding in 2012. The trust, an independent non-profit organization, advocates for urban heritage protection within broader urban development planning and develops clear and sustainable policy options following the vision of Yangon as one of Asia’s most liveable cities. It also provides technical assistance for conservation projects and facilitates research and training.

Moe Moe Lwin was trained in Architecture and Settlement Planning and Design at Rangoon Institute of Technology and received an MSc in Urban Planning from the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok in 1991. In 2015 she was recognized in the ASEAN Architect Register. She has served as an Executive Member of the Association of Myanmar Architects since 2001 and the Myanmar Architect Council since 2015. She regularly contributes articles related to architecture and heritage conservation to local journals and newspapers.

Modernist buildings in Berlin - How to deal with them? Christoph Rauhut

Berlin is home to numerous modernist buildings and ensembles from the second half of the 20th century that are special in terms of architectural culture and worthy of preservation. Many of these buildings and complexes are already listed: this applies to places of reconstruction after the Second World War, town halls, libraries, and other public buildings, such as the Diesterweg-Gymnasium secondary school from the 1970s, which was recently placed under historic protection, and also concerns such icons as the ICC (International Congress Centre) and the recently closed Tegel Airport.  While a World Heritage proposal is currently being prepared for the post-war monument residential ensembles on Karl-Marx-Allee and Interbau 1957 in Hansaviertel, the value of the objects from the 1970s and 1980s is still disputed. Initiatives are campaigning to maintain some of these buildings, at the latest when demolition plans become known.

Questions in the discourse include: At what point is a building an outstanding example of its time? Which aspects play a special role in the consideration of recent heritage? What difficulties are faced in practice? How can usage concepts be developed, and can the need for spaces in the city be solved through the existing buildings? What role does the issue of grey energy play?

Christoph Rauhut, State Conservator and Director of the Berlin State Monument Authority, Germany

Dr. Christoph Rauhut has been State Conservator and Director of the Berlin State Monument Authority since October 2018. Before that, he was an advisor at the office of the German National Committee for Monument Protection (DNK) at the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM) starting in 2016. In that role, he was jointly responsible for the monitoring and coordination of the European Heritage Year 2018 and specialist policy advice, among other things. Christoph Rauhut studied architecture at the RWTH Aachen and the ETH Zurich and received his doctorate in Zurich at the Institute of Preservation and Construction History (IDB). He is a member of various international and national professional associations and, among others, on the board of the German Construction History Society (Gesellschaft für Bautechnikgeschichte).

Archiving Architecture: A Few Approaches Taken by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust, Colombo Shayari de Silva

The Geoffrey Bawa Trust is a non-profit organization established by the late Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa in 1982. Its objective is furthering the fields of architecture, the fine arts, and ecological and environmental studies. The trust is largely self-sufficient in maintaining and preserving the buildings and collections in the architect’s estate in the context of its base in Sri Lanka.

Recent examples of the efforts taken in conserving modern architectural heritage in Sri Lanka are the physical relocation of the Ena de Silva House (2016) and the renovation of the Saram House (2018). The trust believes that the occupation and utilization of the buildings is integral to their conservation given their geographic and climatic contexts. The model developed by the trust integrates the tourism industry with conservation to maintain feasibility.

Shayari de Silva, Curator of Art & Archival Collections, Geoffrey Bawa Trust, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Shayari de Silva is an architect whose practice focuses on curatorial and editorial projects. She joined the Lunuganga Trust as Curator of Art & Archival Collections in 2018, where she manages the Geoffrey Bawa Collections, including the programmes around exhibition, publication, and conservation. She curated the year-long Bawa 100 Centenary Celebration programme, which was inaugurated in July 2019. Shayari de Silva was an editor of Perspecta 51: Medium. The Yale Architecture Journal, published in 2018 by MIT Press. She is currently working on the exhibition, It is Essential to Be There: Drawing from the Geoffrey Bawa Archive, and an accompanying publication of the same name.

Online symposium
Friday, 17 September 2021, 2 – 5 pm CEST (CET+1 / UCT+2)

Upon gaining independence in the mid-20th century, many cities in Southeast Asia changed dramatically in terms of their physical appearance. The task of becoming an independent nation was accompanied by the desire for a symbolic new beginning in architecture and urban planning. International modernism not only offered an aesthetic programme that reflected expectations of progress and prosperity, but also served as a means of emancipation from the colonial powers. Local modernities were created, based on an understanding of cultural specifics and the climatic requirements of building in tropical regions.

Today, however, the built legacy of this transformational period is increasingly under threat. Rapid urbanization and the accompanying rise in property values, reassessments of local architectural histories that are often politically motivated, and demands to adapt old buildings to new uses are causing ever more iconic structures to be razed or disfigured through careless modifications. And such developments are not limited to Southeast Asia. In Germany as well, architecture from the 1950s to 1970s is falling victim to demolition for very similar reasons.

It is therefore necessary to exchange views, examine successes, discuss strategies, and to determine what added value is created for society if buildings from this period are preserved. What concepts are being discussed in Germany today, and how do they correspond to strategies being implemented in Southeast Asia? How can contemporary usage concepts for modernist buildings be developed? What kinds of arguments could help secure a future for these buildings?

The symposium is over. You can view the documentation here.