”Our Happy Life. Architecture and Well-Being in the Age of Emotional Capitalism” at Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal
In the last decade, well-being indicators, happiness indexes, and urban quality-of-life rankings, commissioned by governments and private institutions alike, have become a global obsession. Happiness began to be tracked at a higher frequency in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, as late-capitalist societies embarked on a search for new methods and criteria to measure progress.
In response to the steady rise of a global happiness agenda, the Canadian Centre for Architecture launches “Our Happy Life: Architecture and Well-being in the Age of Emotional Capitalism”.The exhibition, curated by CCA curator of contemporary architecture, Francesco Garutti, will be on view 8 May to 13 October 2019.
Focused on the decade following the 2008 financial crisis, “Our Happy Life” investigates the consequences of blind devotion to an ideology of happiness on our daily lives and questions the assumed importance of well-being in architecture. Rather than displaying architectural examples as evidence, the project asks: What is the role of the architect is today if the tools we use to analyze architecture have more to do with moods, material surfaces, personal status, and subjective ratings than with the actual construction of space? And how do we design our cities now, when our most intimate experiences are incessantly tracked and our feelings are increasingly made the basis for a new, immaterial mode of production?
With “Our Happy Life”, the CCA continues its four-decade-long work of exposing contradictions, preconceptions, and attitudes in our culture and in how we practice architecture. Previous projects that also exemplify the CCA’s investigation into how major societal shifts affect architecture include: “Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture” (2011), which challenged the excessive optimism of a therapeutic idea of architecture, and “What About Happiness on the Building Site?” (2017), which examined the ways in which architects have anticipated and contributed to contemporary discussions on the workplace, job satisfaction, and company ethics.
“Our Happy Life”, through the exhibition and other components of the project, examines the discourse on well-being currently being defined by city-makers, politicians, and opinion leaders. By questioning what values are perpetuated by the political formation of the rhetoric of happiness—an idea too comfortable to escape—“Our Happy Life” dissects some of the ways in which the happiness agenda directly and indirectly influences architecture, urban design, and planning and what role architects and architecture should, or can, play.
“Our Happy Life: Architecture and Well-being in the Age of Emotional Capitalism” is a narrative exhibition told in five parts, as well as a lecture series in three acts.
In the prologue, the political-economic context of the past decade is presented through news media, featuring interviews with and speeches by TED Talkers, academics, politicians, and others, as evidence of the emergence of a global “happiness agenda” in the past decade.
The first chapter opens with Questions, a large-scale installation by Fischli and Weiss that uses slide projectors to cast hundreds of introspective queries in undulating patterns on the walls of a darkened room. It then proceeds with a documentary film conceived and produced by the CCA and directed by Erin Weisgerber, Now, Think About Yesterday, on the design and construction of the Gallup World Poll and the Global Emotions Report, key documents for assessing happiness and its agenda worldwide. A global array of political happiness reports, along with fitness apps, personal trackers, and embedded electronics, then complete the narrative about how well-being data are collected and how subjective questions on well-being are revolutionizing the way of defining quality of life.
Next, an immersive environment features a series of bas-relief collages that depict possible ideals of happiness. The images, produced by Bovenbouw Architects, were commissioned by the CCA in order to interpret spatial parameters selected from various international happiness reports. These parameters are all grouped in the Our Happy Life Guide, a booklet that gives visitors the chance to reflect on their own indices for well-being.
The core of the exhibition showcases selected stories from our everyday reality, in an attempt to dissect the happiness agenda and examine its effects on our built environment. These specific case studies are tools to pose questions. They reveal the ambiguous and complex dynamics between our contemporary physical and emotional landscapes, within variable civic, political, and economic contexts.
The show closes with a look at the city quality of life rankings and at their influential role, exploring the selected cases of Tokyo (as a safety focused city)), Tampa (as the first city at the global scale with a certified green district) ), and Copenhagen (as bike and mobility paradise), considering how happiness rankings and the media companies who produce them simultaneously build and influence urban architecture and planning.
Within this narrative approach, architecture, the city, and landscape emerge as contested surfaces caught between the intangible guidelines of happiness indexes, the mechanics of the neo-liberal economy, the new marketplace of emotions, and the relentless ideology of positivity.
at Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal
until 13 October 2019