Environmental Ideas Coopted: ARARAT Exhibition, Stockholm, 1976

On 2 April 1976, the ARARAT exhibition opened at the main museum of contemporary art in Stockholm, the Moderna Museet. Its ambiguous biblical name was taken from the acronym for Alternative Research in Architecture, Resources, Art and Technology, an interdisciplinary research group formed by architects, planners, engineers, biologists and artists. Four years previously, the celebration of the UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm, and the alternative events performed in parallel, had revealed architecture as a central political technology within the global crisis of the natural environment and human habitat. The international event, as I argue here, later resonated in the articulation of Swedish green activism, installing the desire for an environmentally sustainable habitat among society and, eventually, informing the exhibition’s standpoint. Deploying full-scale housing models, inhabited sculptures, workshops and lectures, ARARAT positioned environment and natural resources as the material, intellectual and even spiritual driving forces for a possible shift in planning and architecture. It wielded a strong critique against consumerist societies and advocated for a new approach in planning. Following many of the ideas voiced at the UN counter-events, the exhibition proposed that in place of a top-down process, planning should be exercised by an empowered and participative community. Nonetheless, it should embrace a reformulated use of technology to shape alternative ways of living in balance with the elements of nature.


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