touring the bush (19) : caribbean, tropical nonplace (supersudaca)

“the assertion is very bald, very clear : architecture should no longer recoil from the degraded world of business and corporate thinking; on the contrary, it should aggressively seek to transform itself into a research-based business…” michael speak’s assertion is also risky and overwhelming. playing with the rules will always be more difficult than playing against them. the problem is, not all rules are explicit, and even worse, playing can become so seductive that the aim is sometimes lost. for architects embracing the contemporary globlal/corporate state of (building) affairs, this can mean forgetting that they got into the game hoping to get something different out of it, not winning in the usual terms.

we are starting to see the multiplication of architecture programs and practices turned into “research architecture” initiatives. the concept itself is old, and even the earliest cold-war era “think tanks” showed an inclination –although it usually remained indirect– towards architecture –i.e. rand. today architectural think tanks and research architecture initiatives are well established in the mainstream and thriving, from amo to center-periphery programs to localized actuator groups, to the recently notable research architecture program led by eyal weizman at goldsmith’s. they all have different approaches and aims. some have actually parted from the practical (building) requisite, understanding practice as critical practice. this is not architectural theory, but more a different idea of architecture, architecture as a set of complex (beyond architecture) tactics.

supersudaca is one such initiative, a group of people set to “harass latinoamérica with architectural ideas.” super = over, on top, beyond what is normal, beyond what is ordinary, beyond what is usual. that transcends what it is. that develops in a higher degree what is given. sudaca = sudaca is the term –usually pejorative- used in spain to refer about latin-americans. even though it derives from ‘sudamericanos’ in fact it includes all spanish-speaking people of south america, central america, mexico and the caribbean, all those who share a ‘sudaca’ way of being. these berlage kids got together in 2001 to establish a series of project and research networks, that spawn anything from social housing to barrio activism to urban “latinization.”

for al caribe! supersudaca was drawn to the powdered-sand beaches, cruise itineraries and trashy all-inclusive resorts of the caribbean. in their own words :

“al_caribe (meaning latin america_caribbean but also meaning “let’s go to the caribbean” as tourists say) is so far the largest and most ambitious project of the supersudaca collective. the project came about from two initiatives - on the one hand the group was interested to explore the urban network possibilities of this region known for its internal disconnection, this in the framework of our continuous effort to expand (our) experiment to different points of latin america and the caribbean.”

the project was presented as part of the “mare nostrum” exhibition at the biennale in rotterdam, dealing with issues of tourism, exploitation, sustainability, development, and architecture in this somewhat undefined and substantially overlooked “region.” in an interesting combo of statistical compilation and exercising polemics, the supersudacas managed to stir things up a bit and to bring attention to the caribbean as a site of (and for) architectural experimentation.

tackling issues like useless accumulation, overdevelopment, architectural excess, standardized spatial production, and exclusionary architectures, as well as recognizing potentials for development and integration within this contradictory panorama, the work is eventually oriented to rethinking schemes for action. in this sense, a particularly interesting offshoot of the al caribe! project is the cuban workshop :

after the fall of the soviet union, cuba was driven into an economic crisis that triggered the so-called ‘periodo especial’. this is the time that tourism is seen again as economic saviour. already at the beginning of the 80’s in cuba studies are done in relation to the introduction of international tourism and its planning and in the 90’s cuba bets for the development of the tourist industry in a very orderly and highly planned version, far ahead in targets and strategies than most of the caribbean competitors. it’s a strategy that attends macroeconomic interests yet with a clear policy of decentralization in order to benefit most of the national territory..., that prioritizes the products and locations with more demand, profitability and potential. this policy is backed by a well-balanced study of the territory that puts high in the agenda the preservation of the environment and specially the coastline, the very base of beach tourism. still in most cases this high level of planning led to the same all inclusive sun and beach product that characterizes the other caribbean islands... if cancun is the example of uncontrolled exploitation by tourism, cuban beaches are characterized by an endless repetition of the same 350 rooms all inclusive hotels, their golden formula.

next : tropical nonplace (easterling, epilogue)

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