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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.102 Santiago ago. 2019 


Taking risks

Francisco Díaz1 

1 Editor revista ARQ, Profesor Asistente, Escuela de Arquitectura, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile

Originated in the Latin, the verb “to speculate” means “to look (at)” from the lookout post.2 At the same time “speculator” means “explorer” or “spy.” If both the spy and the explorer are someone who moves ahead and latter communicates what he/she has seen to those who are further back, to speculate would be something like “to see in advance,” not for personal profit but so that the community could make better decisions. However, the speculator is not an oracle. Rather, it is someone who observes what is happening and determines the probable scenarios that could turn out. In other words, speculation is an observation that, thanks to a baggage of accumulated knowledge that allows for a serious reading of the possibilities, seeks to anticipate what might happen.

We architects are used to it. Design, eventually, means anticipating a future possibility based on knowledge that makes that alternative credible without the need of being real. For architecture, whether a project is built or not is irrelevant. Architects are constantly showing possibilities. Without even realizing it, we live by speculation.

But we are not the only ones. When understood as an assumption about the future, speculation presupposes an uncertain prospect. Thus, if the architectural variant shows the opportunities of this uncertain future, financial speculation bets on this uncertainty and profits from it, either by taking advantage from fear that things will not turn out (through securities or insurance), or from the need for immediate liquidity (through debt buying or factoring).

When both forms of speculation concur in the city, the result is not necessarily a virtuous one. Those who own the land speculate with the revenues of its multiplication, while architects cease speculating with possibilities and, usually, prefers to ‘play safe.’ Thus, this strange tacit formula in which financial and architectural speculation are inversely proportional emerges.

This issue of ARQ introduces examples that resist this axiom while still speculating on the possibilities and contradictions of architecture. Living in a world in a state of permanent crisis, Liam Young reminds us that the risk is precisely not speculating at all. Gramazio Kohler Architects shows an infrastructure to test real-scale architectural speculations. Guarano, Raschillá, Ruiz, and Faúndez speculate on how the failure of the 1968 Milan Triennale enabled the emergence of the Venice Biennale. Igor Fracalossi presents a design method that makes space for an uncertain outcome. Riccardo Villa states that the work that seems wasted when losing a competition can be transformed into a form of capital that any office can accumulate. The building for Santiago’s subway by Beals Lyon shows how to take advantage of urban land without having to speculate with it. Daniel Díez argues that real estate developers’ lobby can strangle architectural speculation. MAIO succeeds in making architectural speculation an agent of change for how real estate buildings are thought. Galli Rudolf Architekten presents a residential building where the diversity of potential inhabitants allows speculating with an unusual amount of different apartments. Encinas, Aguirre, Truffello and Hidalgo examine the notion of ‘risk’ that supposedly justifies real estate speculation. Ateliers Jean Nouvel develops a building in which financial speculation presses on architectural speculation. Finally, faced with the issue of a possible real estate bubble in Chile, the debate offers two positions that, from different angles, are still speculations.

These examples were not easy to find, since architectural speculation seems to have fewer and fewer followers. It does not come as a surprise to see architects questioning its legitimacy while remaining silent in the face of financial speculation. Thus, as the planet seems to be going straight towards the cliff, the only speculation they would accept is the one that leads us precisely in that direction, as they forget that today, gambling with profits placed on the future is more utopian than any idea that architects may have.

Unlike what its pejorative connotation indicates - to make a conjecture without any evidence - speculation supposes running a risk and, therefore, must be based on a credible scenario. Perhaps that is the reason why it is acceptable to speculate with the extinction of the human race, while to pose that humanity may change its customs in order to avoid such extinction is considered idealistic or naive. We have reached the point where the first scenario seems much more credible that the latter.

But if the architecture that we value is the one that dares to take risks, when did we stop speculating about possible futures and settled for operating here and now? Isn’t it now, in the face of a real extinction threat, that speculating with different prospects once again becomes crucial? Architecture is one of the few fields that allows ‘observing from above’ in order to speculate with a world based on different coordinates. Hopefully, this arq issue will be a boost in that direction. As Liam Young points out, the only risk is not speculating at all.

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