2.2.1 EASA (European Assembly of Students of Architecture)
This text is part of my master thesis “Architecture Laboratories – Education and Research in a big scale”
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When speaking of temporary laboratories, a major event by the architectural student society should not go unmentioned. The EASA ( European Assembly of Students of Architecture ) is a Europe-wide organization of architecture students that manifests itself in a series of meetings and a networked community. It consists mainly of representatives from approximately 50 nations in Europe, where the term members refer to all persons who have already participated in an EASA event. It is a non-profit, self-managed structure without an organizational hierarchy. There is neither a central financial structure nor a central information point, such as a common internet presence. The two representatives from each country are called National Contacts. They decide on the future of the organization, take care of the exchange of knowledge and are the contact people for the architecture students of the respective countries. The two main events are the EASA ( European Assembly of Students of Architecture ) and the INCM ( International National Contact Meeting ). These are held annually. The biggest event, is the EASA, where around 600 architecture students from all over Europe meet for two weeks each year to exchange ideas and socialize in workshops. (41)
126.96.36.199 The Place
The venues of EASA ( European Assembly of Students of Architecture ) and INCM ( International National Contact Meeting ) are awarded to a different European country each year. Thus one can speak of temporary laboratories. In the main event, EASA, the country’s organization team has the task of finding a suitable venue, usually a medium-sized city. It then negotiates with the heads of states and other stakeholders on aspects such as housing, infrastructure and budget. The organizing team has a very good position at the negotiating table due to its many years of success and the public attention that the event brings to the city. For example, in 2014, the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria applied for the European Capital of Culture 2019 and hoped to gain with EASA an competitive advantage against other cities, an awareness of the population for the subject, as well as ideas and constructions for the valorization of the city. It was therefore in the interest of the national leaders that the event would be a success. A school closed during the summer holidays, as well as a building used for youth camps were provided as accommodation. Vacant conference rooms were adapted for the workshops and building permits were granted for larger constructions. The city employees helped with earth excavation, laid water, electricity and telecommunications lines, and much more. Based on this, EASA participants could then emanate into the city and realize their projects.These ranged from temporary art installations, to the construction of a boathouse on the Yantra River running through the city, to the construction of an outdoor stage next to the city’s historical landmark, the Asenevtsi Monument .
According to an article by Conor O’Brien, EASA began in Liverpool in 1981; initiated by Richard Murphy and Geoff Haslam as a follow-up to the ideas of Brian Anson’s Winter Schools in Britain in the late 1970s. Anson was one of the founders of the ARC ( Architect Revolution Council ) and the SAC ( Schools of Architecture Council ), which emerged from his discussions with architects such as Peter Cook on the relevance of the integration of society in the architectural process. He felt that his colleagues were following the wrong path and tried to find an alternative future for the architectural profession. Together with 800 architecture students from Great Britain, he tried in 1979 to establish new teaching systems in a meeting. However, the SAC was very soon dissolved and its successor by Anson’s students Richard Murphy and Geoff Halsam, was the so-called Winter Schools in Liverpool, which became an international character, as in 1981 they sent invitations to students from across Europe. Finally in 1981 the first European Architecture Student Assembly took place (EASA). (42) The final statement of this workshop declares that its success lies in not being just a simple collection of individual factors. It’s the whole process; the chemistry of being together. Today, EASA defines itself as a platform for the exchange of ideas and knowledge for European architecture students. (43)
188.8.131.52 EASA – the event
The bottom line of the organization EASA ( European Architecture Student Assembly ) is an annual seminar of the same name. Architecture students and those interested come together in one place to exchange views on architecture and art over a period of two weeks in workshops, lectures and projects. Essentially, the event comprises of 600 people per year, consisting of 400 participants and National Contacts as well as 200 tutors, helpers and hosts. The budget and resources for the event vary greatly each year due to factors such as the level of sponsorship and the gross domestic product of the country in which it takes place. Fixed revenues come from the registration fees, which represent the bulk of the budget. Here, the fees vary from country to country, based on the respective gross domestic product in which EASA takes place. For example, in 2014, an Austrian participant paid € 300 fee to EASA Bulgaria in Veliko Tarnovo, while for participants from Latvia it was € 100. These finances are managed from year to year by the respective organizers of the event. In 2014, a total of approximately one million euros came together.
The organization of each event is divided between hosts, assistants, tutors, national contacts and participants. Hosts form the organizational team and consist mainly of architecture students from the respective host country. The number varies greatly from year to year, depending on how many people from the country can be motivated to work. The hosts take care of the preparation and follow-up, as well as the main organization during the event such as sponsoring, accommodation, selection of workshops and lectures, contact with the city and much more. The next level is the helpers. They usually arrive a week earlier and stay until one week after the event ends. They support the organizers and the tutors of the workshops and take care of the dissemination of information, the distribution of resources and the like. These two groups do not participate in the workshops. This is different for the tutors, the National Contacts and the participants.
To organize a workshop, the tutors must apply several months before the start of the event. Most of them are themselves architectural students or young architects or artists. The hosts then decide among the submissions for about 40 workshops. The diversity of these workshops ranges from artistic and architectural installations in public spaces, through theater projects and digital design, to the temporary installation of a festival radio and a magazine to disseminate information during the event (Figure 41). The standards range from permanent realizations on a scale of 1: 1 to temporary performances (Fig. 42, Fig. 43, Fig. 44).
The National Contacts act as middlemen between the organizers and the participants of their countries. In order to select the participants for the next EASA, national competitions will be held in each country. Mainly, these consist of a letter of motivation, a portfolio or the preparation of a project, where there are no strict rules. Eight architecture students can participate in each country, including National Contacts. (44) Unlike the hosts and helpers, however, they also participate in the workshops (Fig. 45).
In addition to attending the workshops, the participants also have responsibilities for ensuring the infrastructure. For example, they alternately take over kitchen, cleaning and security services and organize an international evening, a tradition in which each country represents itself with food, drinks and cultural peculiarities (Fig. 46).
After a big closing party, usually with everyone involved, the accommodation is given up and the participants and National Contacts leave. The organizational team and the helpers, who finish the follow-up of the event one week later, remain behind. It often happens that a workshop does not manage to complete its project in a timely manner despite the help of all its forces. In this case, the tutors of the project often remain with interested participants and try to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. This was the case in 2014 in Veliko Tarnovo with the Skywalk project (Fig. 47).
The EASA event is held annually. The decision on where the next event should take place is made two years in advance at a specially organized event, the INCM ( International National Contacts Meeting ). Here, all National Contacts meet over a weekend at a changing location in Europe. The goal is networking, knowledge sharing and the presentation of contenders for the next venue of EASA. Two or more countries present their theme, their program, and demonstrate that they can handle this big event both in terms of budget and organization. Afterwards, it is decided in a grassroots voting procedure which country will be elected in two years time. The events of the INCM are basically open to all interested EASA members, which is why some see it as a small EASA event. Every year, approximately 150 people attend.
The urge for social and collective learning experiments is a phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s and therefore hardly new. However, at present, one can observe a significant increase in these countercultures to the pedagogy practiced at universities, especially in countries where the architectural education system works in a more linear fashion, with annual stages to be completed. EASA is an extreme in this sense, as it has never lost its roots in grassroots democracy and political commitment, and yet, despite the organization’s horizontal structure, continues to count 600 players each year from across Europe. Rosina Shatarova, a former participant and tutor at EASA 2014, listed initiatives including the Antiuniversity London and the Ghost Architectural Laboratory in New Scotland, Canada. (45)
Its loosely-changing structure is a trait that gives the EASA ( European Architecture Student Assembly ) the opportunity to evolve in ever-changing directions based on the thoughts of its members. At the same time it is also extremely vulnerable to failure and abuse of power. This manifests itself, among other things, in the existing friends economy and the (non-) publication of information. For example, whether or not you have the opportunity to participate in EASA depends, primarily on the ambition of the National Contacts to inform your country’s students of architecture about upcoming events, to enable them to compete fairly or even to get to know them. The National Contacts organize themselves with a variety of results, however, there are no official documentations or publications regarding this. In principle, it is only published by individuals on Facebook and other websites, or by scientific papers such as those by Rosina Shatarova. (46) Again and again, members criticise the lack of a central information point, but this is due to the loose and temporary structure, because usually after one year no one knows who is actually responsible.
An interesting aspect of the EASA ( European Architecture Student Assembly ) is the socio-cultural activation of the venue. A crowd of 600 motivated young people enter a place for two weeks and experiment with it. These experiments can deal intensively with the needs of the residents. It can also be an attempt to give an objective view of the resident, or even to not deal with residents. However, if they engage with residents and reach acceptance by the public, the sociocultural, cultural and architectural results can be extremely positive for both the participants and the city. Whether this relationship is a goal of EASA and whether these interventions are successful, depends in principle on all participants: the organizers, the participants, the tutors, the selection of the workshops and the venue.
Holding EASA in a city like Vienna, for example, would be less attention-grabbing than hosting it in Graz or Übelbach, but it might mean greater acceptance and open-mindedness from the city. Exact formulas for the success of such an endeavor do not exist, and the choice of where EASA should take place is not solely dependent on this factor, though it can influence decision-making. A well organized EASA can be a give and take between the place and the parasite, the architecture student. A poorly organized EASA can strengthen people’s belief that architects in ivory towers want to make decisions about their lives (Figure 48).
This text is part of my master thesis “Architecture Laboratories – Education and Research in a big scale”
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41 Unless otherwise stated, the information in this chapter is from my recollection of the conversations I had during my participation in the event.
42 O’Brien, Conor: Brian Anson – Activist/Architect/Artist (2008) [Accessed: 25.11.2015]. 43 Cf. Shatarova 2015, 733.
44 Cf. Ibid. 732.
45 Cf. Ibid. 734-736.
46 Cf. Ibid..