The Dialectics of the Transition Period

18 November 2013
Michael Zinganel graduated at the faculty of Architecture at Graz University of Technology. Most recently he produced and co-edited the book Holiday after the Fall – Seaside Architecture and Urbanism in Bulgaria and Croatia.

How and when did you get involved in architecture?
I originally wanted to study art. But I started to study architecture because the curriculum promised a broad scope of skills to learn which should open several different options how to establish yourself later…

What is like to be an architecture theorist? What are some of the opportunities and challenges you face now?
I am not only a theorititian, I started as an architect, but I remained highly interested in art and theories of all kind. As a first attempt to escape from a pragmatic approach I started to build minimalist furniture and video-installations. There I also became an artist, developed a more ethnographic and participatory approach and was invited to work as a curator for fine arts, but I continued to deal with architectural and urban issues. When I started to teach I got more seriously involved in history and theory. But even when I organized symposia I used to design an artsy choreography and to build visually attractive stage sets myself...

Are you happy with the path you have chosen? Could you name at least 3 things to prove that being yourself is the best thing to be...
It was a tough time and it still is positioning oneself between all the disciplines. But because of my broad CV and competence I am able to work both in galleries and public spaces, in academia or on a popular theatre stage, I can write, do a walk or a bus tour, or an exhibition, whatever I suppose to fit best for the current issue and the budget available. When I was working on Karl Marx’ notion of the productivity of crime for the development of capitalist society in general, and especially on architecture and urban design, no serious research program would have supported me at the start.

What books do you have on your bedside table?
There is my all time favorite book: T.C. Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain – and a DocoMoMo Journal about Art and Architecture, I need to prepare myself for a conference. There is also a theory book, but that turned out to be too boring.

Tell us please about your book - Holiday after the Fall – Seaside Architecture and Urbanism in Bulgaria and Croatia. How long did it take you? What's the main focus in it? And why did you decide to make that kind of research?
The book took a long time, mainly because the budget was very limited. Therefore it was very difficult to synchronize the time schedule and the intensity of work of all people involved. Actually we started already early in 2010. But even before part of the team had been investigating tourism issues and/or post-WWII mass housing projects. It was only a small step to merge theses issues into a project about post-WWII mass leisure developments, and to integrate my own obsession in economic and materialist arguments. The architecture of coastal destinations had been most attractive for us, first because of our own travel experience to Bulgaria and Croatia, our Western melancholic gaze towards great examples of late modernist architecture and urbanism, and second – and most importantly – because of the destructive impacts of rather intransparent privatisation and deregulation onto the coastal landscapes after the fall of the communist regimes. We therefore wanted to compare two formerly ‘socialist’ destinations with very different political and economic interpretations of socialism, different planning traditions, and very different ways of ‘transition’.

Have you been in Bulgaria? What have you heard about Bulgarian tourism? In which Bulgarian seaside resorts would you like to stay?
My Berlin based partners had been on holidays in Bulgaria since their childhood. I am Austrian: our nearest seaside leisure periphery had been the northern Adriatic coast. Therefore I am an ‘autoditact’ expert for Croatia – not for Bulgaria. I had been in Bulgaria as well, but only recently. To be honest – I am too much pre-occupied by the romantic educated middleclass longing for picturesque fishermans villages and small harbor towns which are largely untouched – and small hotel or resort in decent distance surrounded by ‘nature’, a nicely stagescape where I can enjoy the illusion of a self-defined experience.

In your opinion what are the consequences of that ‘boom and bust’ construction on the Black Sea coast nowadays?
There is almost no chance to fulfill the longing and enjoy the illusion I described before. There is the famous notion of the tourist gaze, the capacity to see only what they want too see. From my point of view the very attractive sites and sights – I also experienced at the Black Sea coast – are almost completely suppressed by ugly new huge developments.

Do you like to travel? What have you seen on recent travels that inspires you? The wildest situation you have ever been?
I like to travel, of course. But I have to travel a lot for professional reasons, when there is a lack of time to stroll around. Like many other middleclass kids of my generation I love to visit not only the classic cultural and tourist attractions but also the authentic, informal or even dark sides of destinations. I never went to current war sites intentionally. But traveling from Dubrovnik to Sarajewo short after the end of the Yugoslavian war definitely was a shocking experience.

Destroy and build again or just renovate - that's the question. Do we need to preserve the past as it was or we have to build upon it?
There is always something worth to be preserved – of each of the periods, also of the late modernist developments. And maybe in the future one might propose to protect these new gigantic neo-barock hotels at the coats as evidence for the glorious period of turbocapitalism and to add an ethnographic museum celebrating the economic elite of our time.

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, they say. Do you try to see beauty in every building, every place you go?

There is no beauty in general. It depends on the cultural values of the producer and the beholder. I am a fan of popular culture studies and cultural semiotics. Things have to make sense in co-construction one’s own identity. If they do, they will be appreciated. If not, they will be neglected.

What future holds? What are you afraid of regarding the future?
There will one crisis following the next. And there will be a fight for resources. But had not that been the case since ever?

What’s your forecast for the next revolution in architecture?
Architecture is a pretty slow medium and rather solid. We will see a lot of new tendencies – in Art Shows, Biennales, in magazines and in TV, despite all fancy trends there will always remain the need for affordable housing for all – and minimum degree of ecological sustainability. I just have re-read an old magazine form 1991 featuring ‘media-architecture’ as the utmost end of the development of architecture. Up to today only a very small part of the promising technologies featured could be realized at affordable costs and even if so no one was able to succeed against the power of the natural sunlight. There is not yet anything working better than Times Square at night, which is fueled by commercials only.


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