Gentrification at Ark Rex

Ark Rex was a two-day architecture documentary and film event at Bio Rex. I never knew there were events like this where architecture and film collide. The curator told the audience that they are fairly scarce. I was glad I had a work-related reason to go. Sadly, I was unable to attend Friday screenings due to work and had to make mine a one-day event.

The Nobel Snowflake was a tragicomic tale about Gert Wingårdh’s team’s efforts to design a new Nobel Centre in Stockholm. They did well, but their proposal ended up not winning the competition. In fact, even the winners of the competition lost, because the people of Stockholm (including some very rich neighbours next to the barren lot of the proposed centre) simply did not want a new building on Blasieholmen. The documentarists were present at Ark Rex and took part in a discussion that also took aim at Helsinki’s mayor and his strange solo effort to get something – anything – built on the site where Helsinki’s Guggenheim Museum was supposed to be built some time ago. The Guggenheim project suffered the same fate as the Nobel Centre. You could feel the tension in the room rising as the discussion progressed.

Thomas Haemmerli relieved much of it with his adorable antics. His film I Am Gentrification was a frantic tale about why left-wing activists in Switzerland have historically been against rebuilding Swiss cities and why right-wing officials absurdly claim that “Switzerland is full!” (It is not.) His broad historical view of gentrification reached Tbilisi, where the lack of renovation and rebuilding has led to dilapidated buildings that would actually benefit from a little gentrification: conservation without renovation leads to ruins. We learned that there are two sides, many sides, to arguments for and against gentrification.

Whose City? by Hans Christian Post transported the audience to Berlin, the hippest of Europe’s hipster cities. Here, more than in any of the other films, you could actually see how money ruins everything. Creatives who rejuvenated certain areas were ousted by businesses and city planners, each of whom had their own ideas about the city’s character. One of the artists spoke about Berlin’s “breached character.” I was not completely sure what he meant, but it sounded like he was talking about how cleaning up everything and subjugating the city’s spirit under plans for yet another chain store that sells overpriced handbags leads to barrenness and, eventually, death. And in this case, empty office blocks. Creatives are treated like reverse-locusts in this scenario, people who rejuvenate the earth only to be evicted to another plot of misery once the fruits of their work are ready for harvest.

Needless to say, I left Bio Rex feeling slightly depressed. Architecture begins with spaces meant for people to live in, and it often ends up tangled in bureaucracy and NIMBYism. Or luxury goods manufactured in sweatshops. On the other hand, it made me think that architects really have to be great communicators to get their plans off the ground. Persuasive communication skills can be taught, even if they are only the first hurdle of many that have to be overcome to fulfil a vision.

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