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(19-20) Surrender / Resistance

Teachers: Thierry Berlemont, Wim Van der Vurst
Academic year 2019-20, semester 1
Engagement: Mediating Tactics

In back of real(1)
Tutors: Thierry Berlemont, Wim Van der Vurst
Engagement: Mediating Tactics
Key Concepts: Surrender / Resistance – Exponentiality / Singularity – Real / Reality

“How do you have a civil society if you can’t agree on what factual reality is”.
–Neil Stephenson(2)



This design studio proposes a moment of re-orientation or re-set, a calm before the storm.
It aims at a reflection on critical points of personal interest, within a thematic context, set by the studio-environment.

This year, the theme that is both basis and starting point, is the title of a poem by Allen Ginsberg, “In back of Real”. It was triggered by a story that started long ago:

“In September of 1940, an 18-year-old mechanic, named Marcel Ravidat, was walking his dog Robot in the countryside of southwestern France, when the dog disappeared down a hole. Robot eventually returned, but the next day Ravidat went to the spot with three friends, to explore the hole. After quite a bit of digging, they discovered the cave of Lascaux and its walls covered with paintings. The paintings were astonishingly detailed and vivid. It would eventually be established that these artworks were at least 10 to 15.000 years old.”(3) The following onslaught of visitors to the cave, led to its permanent closure and sealing in 1963. The deterioration of the paintings had reached a critical point due to, amongst others, mold caused by the presence of the many visitors. Twenty years later, in 1983, an “exact” copy of the cave (Lascaux II) was installed in the vicinity of the original cave. Lascaux III, in turn, is an exhibition consisting of 5 replica pieces, travelling the world since 2012. Finally, in 2016 Lascaux IV opened for the public as a new, and the most “accurate”, reproduction of the original space with the help of digital technologies.

The story provokes puzzlement about the concept of the real, which is also at the centre of the question mentioned at the beginning: “how do you have a civil society if you can’t agree on what factual reality is?”
Can we see and frame the position of architecture herein, as an ethnic domain, as a seller of dreams, as an enforcer, a confronter, or …? The engagement with these issues, starts with the detection of critical points of acceleration, deceleration, evolution or transformation – just inside or just outside the perimeter of architecture – and strives to finalise with a public articulation, presentation (exhibition) of the outcome. The underlying red thread through this all, is the twin-concept Surrender/Resistance, and its inherent and inescapable ambivalence.


For the fourth time, the KU LEUVEN_Faculty of Architecture_MA-studio14 SURRENDER-RESISTANCE, will take up residency at l’ESCAUT (www.escaut.org). We invite you to join us in expanding the knowledge that is already embedded in the studio, and add to it with your personal expertise and experience. This by means of an architectural reflection performed through architectural design experiments in multiple modes of articulation.


The core of the studio-approach is the relation of the student with a chosen phenomenon, problem or experience, and its associated critical point or singularity. In such a point, known laws no longer apply, become extreme, or even contradictory. The twin-concept Surrender/Resistance is the underlying reference for the calibration and balancing of one’s own position. This positioning is dynamic, and needs to grow and mature during a process of questioning, speculation and experiment. The goal is not to formulate definite answers or solutions, but to creatively engage a critical issue with an architectural way of thinking.

How can we, from an architectural standpoint, give shape to something that we do not necessarily understand, but is nonetheless critical and highly space-time oriented? How does this affect our perception of existing relationships, and how does it lead to new ones? How can we, by means of this process, reveal something crucial, necessary, helpful or relevant about and for architecture, and architectural practice? Do we, as architects, have a responsibility regarding the issues under scrutiny, and if so, how can we contribute to them? Do we enthusiastically join a given movement or tendency, or do we interrupt it, build an opposition and join the resistance?

The student generates and implements architectural strategies by means of simulations and tangible material installations. Those will be used as means of conversation and assessment of the proposals, within a work in process. The studio, and all those who inhabit it (students, the hospitable hosts at l’escaut, the tutors, and whoever is invited or wants to), provide both a material and social structure – including cooking and sharing the table – for supporting a process-oriented development that is sequentially organised in chapters:

the excavation of the theme

the examination of the theme, and the mapping of the field.

the extraction of subthemes, existing or untouched, that show the potential to be developed more in depth (we call this “X”). The extraction-fase leads to a first public viewing @L’Escaut

the speculative process of defining and developing the X

This is the process of making public, i.e. delivery, disclosure and transmission of the newly projected and constructed architectural substance, in a spatial form still unknown and to be created.
The new content will then be added to the archive, containing the (his)tory of Surrender/Resistance.


The output takes shape in two distinct public deliveries at l’Escaut. The first one closes the extraction-fase, and the second is situated at the provisional end of the process. During those events, the studio opens up to an exterior world, and goes into conversation with it.


A participation in the studio requires skills in expression, media, mixed media, techniques/technology, construction and theory of architecture. It also demands curiosity, and a genuine dedication towards learning, and the expansion of both one’s expertise and understanding. It requires an explorative attitude and a capacity to use design and making as primary tools. An additional aim of the studio ‘Surrender/Resistance’, is to develop a capacity to question the position of architect and architecture, in relation to trends and tendencies in society and culture. It is also an opportunity for finding new sources, and re-orient personal fields of interest or commitment towards architecture and society more in general.

Surrender/Resistance is part of the Master-Engagement ‘Mediating Tactics’, in which the discipline and practice of architecture, and the role of the architect in contemporary society, is critically questioned. This studio was conceived in close collaboration with Marc Godts, and facilitated by l’Escaut (www.escaut.org). We are very grateful and indebted to both.

(1) Ginsberg 1956, p.44
(2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOHH4JI4_9U, accessed on 11 september 2019
(3) excerpt from https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/episode-6-lascaux-paintings-and-the-taco-bell-breakfast-menu, accessed on 11 september 2019

  • Read the the studio description as pdf here.

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