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Monday, October 15, 2007

Book Review: Organizing for Change

Organizing for Change: Integrating Architectural Thinking in Other Fields edited by Michael Shamiyeh and DOM Research Laboratory

According to its web site, the DOM Research Laboratory, based at the University of Arts and Industrial Design in Linz, Austria, is "a sort of independent think tank [that] attempts to define early relevant topics, to show the need for action, and to formulate a set of future actions" in the fields of urbanism, architecture and design. These aims are tackled via research, education, and conferences, the last of which are documented in a series of books. The most recent book is for the third and most recent conference held at the University in 2005, titled Organizing for Change and focused on the question: "how we can transfer architectural thinking to other areas and to initiate a shift from architecture of form to architecture of organization?"
This question is influenced as much by Rem Koolhaas and his two-sided practice of OMA/AMO as it is by advertising executives and managers of corporations. This avante-garde/corporate mix comes across in the papers of the book's first half on the profession. Where Ole Bouman calls for architects to eschew the current image- and media-saturated path the profession is on in favor of practice that reaches beyond architecture, Norbert Bolz and Michael Kieslinger separately see how global communications and digital technology intersect with the world of design. Koolhaas's presence is found in a paper by book author Shamiyeh and Thomas Duschlbauer on AMO and its apparently groundbreaking work for Prada stores, if shifting the attention from fashion to style or from "marketing tools in space" to "space as marketing tool" is groundbreaking. The theory- and business-based essays of this half of the book make for an enlightening and frustrating read, one that seems to pull in multiple directions at once, though perhaps this condition is symptomatic of conferences in general, and the multiple voices they entail.
Regardless, the second half, focused on "space," is a more consistent read, at least for this reviewer, an architect and therefore only one part of the book's intended audience. Dealing with space in its various definitions, and the designs that address them, this portion of the book finds reconsiderations of practice put into, well, practice. Andreas Ruby's lengthy presentation of various works that question how architects not only respond to design programs but also how they actually get and make work (without clients, for example) could be the core of the whole book. The 14 projects range from a "non-design" for a plaza in Bordeaux by Lacaton Vassal to stereo platforms for the Berlin Love Parade by realities:united, showing in these cases how architects can choose to preserve an existing design in favor of a new one and take on a design without a client in order to improve the social functioning of a popular event, respectively.
Ruby and other authors understand that a conference and book on theory and practice should include design, even if what design is is changing. For one to fully appreciate the voices included in these pages they must accept that architecture must change what it is doing, something the authors spend less time doing than explaining how the profession can and, in some cases, must change. 

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