This outlook has guided the architect-turned-curator, specifically as he spearheaded MoMA’s recently closed exhibition, “Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities,” which will next be shown in Vienna. The exhibition looks at the fact that, as the world’s population climbs to a staggering eight billion people, “over the next years, city authorities, urban planners and designers, economists, and many others will have to join forces to avoid major social and economic catastrophes, working together to ensure these expanding megacities will remain habitable.”
Taking a break from his role at the museum and his now “hobby” of practicing architecture, the Portuguese architect sat down to talk to gb&d about himself, his new gig, and the future.
gb&d: You’ve now been at MoMA since 2012; what’s the best part about this role?
Gadanho: Certainly for me there was the discovery of a whole new area that I haven’t been involved with before, which is the collection. It was very exciting to come to work with such a fantastic collection of architecture and design. There are also other aspects that continue things I was already doing before, like working with emergent practices. And the young architects program has provided a platform to get to know many important young practices not only in the United States but also Asia, South America, and Europe. This has helped understand what sort of themes people were dealing with, what sort of materials they were exploring anew, and what sort of strategies would come up, which has been very rewarding as well. And of course, there’s Uneven Growth, which was more of a research project and more of a protection of new ideas that continued certain curating trends that I was experimenting with before I came to MoMA.
gb&d: I was just going to ask if Uneven Growth was your brainchild. What was the process of curating that exhibit like?
Gadanho: It was a very interesting process. I don’t think many people actually know about the complexity and the time that is involved in conceiving an exhibition. For Uneven Growth, I had to select the cities I wanted to look at after presenting the idea to the exhibition committee. I started thinking about what could be interesting questions to address in a situation in which architects are asked to produce ideas in a workshop environment. I thought this could be a good follow-up piece in MoMA’s series, which had previous themes of climate change and the economical and social problems of the foreclosure crisis in the US. For this one, I thought we should go global. In 2008, for the first time in history, 50% of the population was living in cities, and I also learned that 2/3 of the urbanites would be poor, which also presents enormous challenges that you could see as catastrophic. It was a question of raising awareness of a certain issue and at the same time, proposing design scenarios of what could be envisaged not as solutions but as least as ideas to be debated in regards to the problem.
gb&d: How did you choose the cities you would focus on?
Gadanho: We showed the cities that we thought would represent different levels or different moments in historical development of inequality as expressed in distribution of resources, special differences and segregation, exclusion and inclusion, and so on. So what would be the cities that, around the world, would represent the stages of those processes? Then we looked for teams in each city that were somehow already dealing with these questions or perhaps just discovering the problem. We paired the local teams with international research teams that were dealing with urban issues on a more global level, and that chemistry of having these teams work together was something that was very important as a curatorial experiment to see how local and global knowledge could interact and produce something that was very specific and idiosyncratic for each city. So we got people together through workshops for a year, and they would eventually produce ideas for the catalogue that was presented here.
gb&d: Fascinating process. So, there are a large number of people who understand the implications of what a massive population boom by 2030 can mean and what even growth will look like, but do you think there’s a general lack of understanding of the severity of these problems within the public and even perhaps within the architecture community?
Gadanho: There are certainly two answers for that question. One is that yes, I don’t think that the general public is aware of how the forces of inequality— which sometimes you recognize on an everyday basis but you manage to keep at a distance—could be evolving toward a catastrophic situation. I don’t think people realize that if you’re in an American city—although there is Baltimore and Occupy Wall Street and so on—I don’t think people really interiorize the possibility of things becoming worse and in that sense, I think the discussion is needed so we can anticipate what could be the dystopian scenarios and start a conversation about what needs to be done. And actually I think using a platform like MoMA gives the extreme advantage of the impacts of such a discussion really becoming mainstream rather than very specialized.
When we’re talking about the specialized audience, then that’s a different story. I do think that architects were engaging ideas of social responsibility by the beginnings of modernism. By the 1920s, they were thinking of mass housing as a problem that should be addressed. But I then I think that was lost through the century, and many times architects actually became these service providers responding more to those who have the economic power to build than to real social issues. And I think there was a need for a call for social responsibility again, and I do think that in fact was also felt. I must say that I see now more now than one year ago universities organizing seminars and classes around topics like inequality in cities, and I think that issue was already there but became much more topical.