Speech by architect Mitja Zorc, Slovenian national Piranesi selector, at the 2021 Piranesi award ceremony
Auditorium Portorož, 27 November 2021
photo Jadran Rusjan
Esteemed mayor of the Municipality of Piran, esteemed conference organisers and lecturers, esteemed colleagues.
Because we are gathered here in Piran or Portorož, I would kindly ask that you bear with me and allow me some maritime metaphors that I will use in my address …
Every so often, it seems that we are living in momentous times. When the old falls into oblivion, and we are ushered towards the new. Considering our current circumstances (and by that I am not referring only to the pandemic crisis), this feeling of momentousness may indeed be justified.
A similar feeling of momentousness marked the 1990s. Particularly in countries participating in the call for Piranesi award. It was more than justified at that time.
It was in 1998. Architect Vojteh Ravnikar, the founding father of the Piran Days of Architecture, wrote the following in the editorial of issue 7/8 of magazine Piranesi, which he titled "Some Thoughts at the End of the Millennium":
"We are determined by things outside us. The world surrounding us is no longer created for us. We alone are created to be part of this world. In order to establish a relation to the world surrounding us we establish a thought system whose measuring unit is the measure for measuring our own position in relation to the universe. The architects from Vitruvius onwards attempted to develop a measuring system which would be used to master the world of form and achieve the absolute – measurable beauty.”
(end of quote)
He considers beauty as the truth, at least, if not even kindness.
He then continued by referencing Andre Breton:
"In the confusion of established truths man asks for some pre-unit which could be the unit of truth on which we could again build a truth of our own.”
To sum up … measures, measurement systems and rules, as well as all other principles derived from them, are the tools of man, through which he seeks to know, understand, dwell and function in the world. To finally master and make it his own, and above all to make it according to his own image and mind. To build his own world. Man is of the world that is his world.
In this process, man has always tried to move away from his own imperfection, superficiality and fallibility … towards something absolute, perfect, irrefutable.
If I may exaggerate a bit: "From a foot through a fragment of the Earth's meridian to the path of photons in a vacuum."
But this is what modern man does from a clear anthropocentric point of view. The self in the world. The self against the world. The self above the world.
Architects are clearly aware that this is not just a thought process, but also a centuries-old very concrete practice.
Reflecting on this premise at momentous times, times of change, can take us in two directions.
We can find that the "pre-unit of truth" remains the same. That nothing has essentially changed, and that despite the upheavals and turbulences of the world around us, our position in the world has not changed significantly. We have checked the anchor rope, maybe untied it and fixed it a bit … Our anchor keeps us safe in the stormy sea.
Or we find that something crucial in the world has changed to such a degree that it is necessary to find and establish a new "pre-unit of truth", and build a new world out of it. In doing so, the raging sea takes us to unknown places. And we must use all our strength, knowledge and abilities. We have to coordinate the position of the rudder, the oars and the direction of the sails, to find some new port.
Do the current momentous times require a radically new consideration? Or just consolidation in the past one? Does the "pre-unit of truth" and the world built on it still hold true? Has our anchor rope snapped?
We may not know how – or maybe even not want – to honestly admit to ourselves that our anchor rope has snapped long ago, and we are adrift in the rough open sea. Also, we were never alone in the boat. Not only as one man, and not only as mankind.
Therefore, the "pre-unit of truth", on which we must build a new world, must not be based solely on our truth. Man's truth. But on the truth of all being – a planetary truth. Which must also be our own.
Now, it is no longer a question of how to establish a relation with the world in order to become a part of it, but in such a way the world would belong to us. No. It is primarily about the change of perspective. From singular to plural. From mankind to the planet. From anthropocentrism to ecocentrism.
And where in all this is architecture?
Today, it is considered almost indecent if we do not add "sustainable" next to the label of "good architecture", meaning comprehensively efficient, socially and environmentally responsible. Indeed, the diverse principles of sustainability that guide the design (and as of yet, quite timidly, the construction) of architectural creations are certainly a necessary shift in the right direction.
In order to be able to plan them, and review their effectiveness, we have incorporated them into our measuring apparatus. Our truth and the world built from it must now also be sustainable.
But there is still a long way to go before the real shift in perspective and revaluation of values.
The ideas expressed at today's conference and the architectural projects presented at the exhibition at the Monfort Exhibition Centre point in the right direction. They are like birds in the middle of the sea, filling us with the hope that the new world must be somewhere close.
Let us follow them with determined strokes!
photo Jadran Rusjan