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In previous editions of Failed Architecture, it was often not without question whether a building or part of the built environment was failed. To whom is it failed and in what sense? Is it not possible to rejuvenate or reuse a piece of architecture? Many of the cases discussed were not failed per se but perhaps subject to certain shortcomings or unexpected outcomes – they deviously evolved from what their designers or planners had in mind.
Asbest II
This could not be said of the failures that were addressed during Failed Architecture’s sixth edition. Put forward were technologies, materials or designs – less ambiguous and susceptible to different interpretations – that turned out to have unforeseen negative implications for inhabitants, users, repairmen and janitors. Two speakers were invited to talk about this matter: professor Peter Luscuere and assistant professor Hielkje Zijlstra. Luscuere approached the topic from a mortal point of view and demonstrated how buildings could literally kill people. He discussed ten ways in which buildings can cause irritation, sickness or even death. In his presentation, he explored the numbers of non-natural mortal accidents in the Netherlands, of which around half is classified as ‘private accidents’. These private accidents represented to a large extent building-related mortality scenarios, according to Lucsuere. By addressing these ‘mortal mechanisms’, including fire and suffocation, explosions, overheating, electrocution and falling, but also poisoning (most common: CO-poisoning), infection (through ventilation systems), sickening (e.g. asbestos) and even depression (due to dysfunctional lighting, no view or bad acoustics), Luscuere demonstrated how faulty technologies or ill designs can negatively influence people’s wellbeing.
Hielkje Zijlstra’s lecture was titled ‘Lost in space’, by which she referred to buildings that were out of place in their urban environments because of an ill connection or a mismatch between the building and the public space. Installations and services meant to connect buildings and places, and guide their users, are more often than not obstacles to users and inhabitants instead of helpful devices. By using the TU Delft Campus as a case study to exemplify these mismatches, Zijlstra demonstrated how details of a place were not corresponding to their context and how the use and functioning of a place or a building were affected by non-effective or incomplete interventions. By showing incorrect or confusing signage, hidden passages, unfinished constructions and other faulty details on and around the TU Delft Campus, she concluded that the details were undurable and not fitting the context (or culture) of the place. In her final words, Zijlstra argued that architecture changes the condition of space and that architects, planners and city officials are jointly responsible for the inside and outside space of a building and the connection between the two. According to Luscuere, the same goes for buildings equipped with non-operating technologies; a better understanding and co-operation between the implementers of technology, designers and users will result in less ‘lethal’ buildings.