In November 2013 The New Institute and Crimson Architectural Historians organized a series of public meetings during the X Bienal de São Paulo called ‘Track Changes’. A generation of architects and urbanists, who are connected through a common attitude, were invited to meet in an arena built especially for the occasion. Whether working in the favelas of South America, the slums of India or in the crumbling housing estates of Europe, this generation has replaced the large-scale top down masterplan and the iconic hypermodern building with a participative, temporary and flexible bottom-up approach.
What does this global convergence of design attitudes mean? Are we really seeing an international shift that explains the shared values of our generation? Or is the consensus about participation and bottom-up just a fashion? And secondly: Is the acupuncture approach working? Or is it just creating short-lived dreams of a better world that are quickly appropriated by the very forces of commercialism and top-down power which they are supposed to replace?
In open discussions an international group of architects, city planners, economists, historians and critics explored their common ground, but not without defining their differences clearly. Projects and experiences from all over the world were shared, with a focus on three themes:
- We the People, on the democratic value of master plans, particularly the new one formulated for São Paulo;
- What’s Your Crisis?, on how economic and political crises and dramatic social changes are forcing architects to reevaluate their way of working;
- Bottom-Up Is Not Enough, on if and how bottom-up projects can exceed their small scale.
Perhaps the most important ambition of Track Changes was to take architecture and urbanism out of the ghetto of academia and the black boxes of politics and business, to put them back into the centre of public debate.