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a letter from the president
by Dietmar Steiner, president (2009)
This summer icam members met up with some of the founding pioneers at Suomenlinna Fortress, a meaningful venue, to commemorate the creation of the International Confederation of Architectural Museums (icam) on Monday 20 august 1979. There was a coincidence between the formation of icam and the global situation in this key year of 1979: With the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Army the fall of the Communist system began. Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev signed the SALT II treaty in Vienna. Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran, and Margaret Thatcher launched her neo-liberal project. In Geneva the first conference on climate change was held... These are among the political events that led to the dramatic changes in our global society which all began in the year 1979. But how has this effected or influenced the world of architecture and icam over the last thirty years?
1 Let’s first take a look at the former Eastern Bloc: Contemporary architecture in the post-Communist countries has, in the meantime, reached the standard of western European architecture. There is no difference in quality anymore. But unfortunately our contact with many of the architecture museums in the region has loosened, perhaps because of the lack of culture budgets in the now capitalist countries.
2 Undoubtedly neo-liberalism, globalization and the need for iconic buildings have opened up new possibilities for contemporary architecture: “Architecture has become an item of conspicuous consumption” (Mario Carpo). From1979 on, the star system of architects arose (the first Pritzker Prize went to Philip Johnson). Remember also the 1980 postmodern Biennial in Venice, with Paolo Portoghesi’s Strada Novissima. Is there a relationship between the historicity of architecture in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the founding of new architecture museums? To answer this question we need to consider the role of “Architecture between spectacle and use” (Anthony Vidler).
3 Along with a rising interest in architecture, the media has been calling for images in better and higher quality than in the 1970s. So architectural photography, and now computer renderings, have come to play a key role.
4 The next new phenomenon over the past 30 years has been a growing interest in architecture among the general public, which has created a demand for architectural guidance in a context of city tourism.
5 In the 15 years that I have been attending icamconferences the issue of how to deal with digital media archives in the World Wide Web has always been on the agenda. The Museum of Finnish Architecture kindly hosted the 30th anniversary of icam, providing us with the opportunity to remember and reflect on the circumstances of the Confederation’s founding, and to discuss the future challenges facing our institutions. icam and icamprint once more proved to be the perfect platform for all these pressing issues, and will continue to do so for many years to come.