The World Around NYC

John Hill
29. January 2020
Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for The World Around

The inaugural The World Around summit took place on Saturday, January 25, at the TimesCenter in New York City. Curated by Beatrice Galilee, the day-long event brought together a strong lineup of architects, artists, designers, and other thinkers "to explore the projects, issues, and possibilities shaping the spatial environment." World-Architects was in the crowd taking notes.

Beatrice Galilee speaks on stage during the opening of The World Around's Inaugural Summit at The Times Center on January 25, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for The World Around)
From "A Year of Architecture in a Day" to "The World Around"

Although The World Around NYC was technically the first of potentially many The World Around "global forums," it was very familiar. The day-long conference was spawned from the three annual A Year of Architecture in a Day events that took place at The Metropolitan Museum of Art between 2016 and 2019. Beatrice Galilee, who joined The Met in 2014 as their first curator of architecture and design, spearheaded the earlier event and took the format with her when she left the museum last year. She has been joined by Diego Marroquin, a private equity executive who supported Galilee's events at The Met, and Alexandra Hodkowski, co-founder of the Head Hi community space in Brooklyn. Their first The World Around took place last week, but to this writer it felt like déjà vu, as it closely followed the format of the A Year of Architecture in a Day from exactly one year ago.

In Our Time: A Year of Architecture in a Day (the only one of the three Met events I attended) happened on January 19, 2019, at The Met's Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. Taking place over eight hours (10:30am to 6:30pm), the meat of the event was two blocks of presentations of "the most exciting and critical spatial projects of 2018," six in the morning and six in the afternoon. In between the morning and afternoon presentations was a conversation between Galilee and architect Elizabeth Diller and composer David Lang about The Mile-Long Opera that took place on the High Line in October 2018. At the end of the conference were a panel discussion with a technological bent ("In our Future — Design in a Post-Human Age") and a keynote lecture by architect Eyal Weizman of Forensic Architecture. Those wanting to know more about the event can read my recap of In Our Time, but the above description illustrates the basic structure of what transpired that day.

(L-R) Beatrice Galilee, Elizabeth Diller and Catherine Ince participate in a panel discussion on stage during The World Around's Inaugural Summit at The Times Center on January 25, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for The World Around)
A day of inspiration

Fast forward to 2020 and the inaugural The World Around, which took the ingredients from the year before but juggled them slightly. As in In Our Time, the morning consisted of a block of presentations — eight of them over two hours, therefore averaging 15 minutes per presentation. Bruce Mau gave the equivalent of the keynote, but it happened at 2pm, right after the ticket holders returned from lunch. That was followed by a panel discussion with a technological bent ("Translating Identity: Design in the Age of Big Data"), and after a short break Elizabeth Diller once again had a conversation with Galilee, this time with curator Catherine Ince about the in-progress V&A East in London. Which left the late-afternoon block of projects: six of them presented over 90 minutes, wrapping up around 6:45pm, just a little bit past schedule.

Beyond the basic structure of the day-long event (project presentations, tech panel, Diller discussion, and keynote talk), the types of projects presented in 2020 were closely aligned with the those presented in 2019. Generally, this means that works of art, design, and film accompanied architecture projects, be they completed buildings or in-progress projects. Galilee describes this melange of fields in the preface to the inaugural The World Around program as "Architecture-ish." She embraced the "diversity of formats and methodologies" that "plays across mutating online media and a proliferation of digital worlds and spaces" and then used the "heterogenous curatorial framework of this summit" to bring that diversity across to the sold-out crowd. 

So the projects in 2019 and 2020 ended up conveying to those in the audience (or the many more who watched online this year) her preferences, her likes, be they for Swiss concrete (Muzeum Susch in 2019, Tanzhaus Zürich in 2020), timely short films (Liam Young's Seoul City Machine, Josh Begley's Best of Luck with the Wall), or the overlooked architecture of Africa (Kunlé Adeyemi's Black Rhino Academy, Ibrahim Mahama's projects in Ghana) and South America (Freddy Mamani in Bolivia, Cecilia Puga in Chile). Diversity is key, meaning that anyone watching the presentations — outside of Galilee and her accomplices — would have seen something new and inspiring.

Bruce Mau presents "24 Principles of Design" project on stage during The World Around's Inaugural Summit at The Times Center on January 25, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for The World Around)
What will next year bring?

So what does it mean for The World Around to continue the format of A Year of Architecture in a Day? For starters, it's good news for people who like to devour architecture and the output of related fields but want to do it in the flesh rather than online. (The next The World Around global will also be held in NYC, though other events will be held around the world between now and then.) The repetition of the format means it must have worked well and therefore deserved a second life beyond The Met. But I'd argue that the curatorial format, though appropriate for The Met, needs to embrace interaction moving forward. As is, the projects, panel, discussion, and talk are curated elements presented to and for the audience but not involving them. The audience is passive, watching in the same room but just watching; there are no Q&As or other opportunities to expand upon what's presented (aside from rushing after the presenters after they shuffled off the stage through the side door, something I neither did nor saw happen).

To wit, I couldn't help think during the V&A East discussion about the potentially misguided decision of Diller and her fellow architects at DS+R to have glass floors in that project; the renderings show some areas that would be uncomfortable for individuals wearing skirts. The event was not set up for me to ask a question about this concern. And although it seemed like Galilee might probe the issue (I recall her saying "Are what we're seeing the final renderings?" or something similar), she did not explicitly ask and therefore the glass floors were not discussed.

But in our interconnected age of environmental crisis, fragmented politics, economic inequality, and other concerns of the literal world around us, it's hard to fathom live presentations that do not welcome outside voices or input. So many symposiums, conferences, lectures, and other events related to architecture solicit questions from the audience, be it at a microphone or even written on sheets of paper. This writer hopes the organizers of The World Around can find a way to open up their format to the voices in the crowd. In turn, they can continue what they started but turn the annual summits into events for engagement, not just inspiration.

The World Around was co-founded in 2019 by executive chairman Diego Marroquin, executive director Beatrice Galilee and managing director Alexandra Hodkowski. The inaugural The World Around global summit took place on January 25, 2020, at The TimesCenter, 242 West 41st Street, New York City. The event's founding partners are Area and East Rock Capital, with Facebook as global partner, and M&T Bank and arper as official partners. 

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