In 2017, AAVS Brussels developed a 10-day research workshop on the architecture of the European Comission, particularly looking at its main headquarters: the Berlaymont building in Brussels. Using archival material and filming on site, the students produced a series of short films exploring the relation between the architecture of the Berlaymont, and the public image for the European Comission. The objective was to investigate how the spatial configuration of the headquarters, while shapes the political role of the Commission, conveys a political message to the citizens. The work looked specifically at how new media technologies play a role in the definition of EU commission headquarters.
Find here three of the films produced and more information on 2017 workshop:
CHAIRS, CLOCKS, FLAGS
This film addresses the symbolic orders within the spaces of the Berlaymont building. Looking closely to how new image distribution technologies unveil spaces formerly concealed, it questions which everyday objects, deliberately or not, acquire a representative status for the European Commission. Objects and their contextual setting are rpesented in a series of scenes which reveal a disturbing semiotic order in the Berlaymont.
This film looks at the spaces of audiovisual brodcasting within the Berlaymont building. It follows the traces of radio waves, ethernet cables and electricity wires, from the editing rooms to the scenography sets. By investigating the large invisible infrastructure behind the AV department of the European Commission, it highlights the relevance of the continuous retransmission of images, often disseminating an uncurated portrait of the EU institutions.
This film draws a historic outline on the evolution of welcome ceremonies in the European Commission over the last 50 years. It closely looks into the intersection of symbolic forms of hosting, circulation, security and media retransmission. The protocols for welcoming a head of state render evident the undefined official status of the EU Comission in the international political scene.
The Berlaymont is the most representative building of the European Commission, which has up to 40 other buildings in the city of Brussels. Initially, the building was promoted by the Belgian Government in order to facilitate the EU institutions to stay in Brussels. A group of Belgian architects inspired in the Parisian UNESCO building designed an office like massive structure, that eventually would be called the Berlaymonster by some.
The initial scheme, left the ground level rather open and flexible, facilitating circulation and access while top floors where occupied by cubicle offices for of workers. After the renovation in the early 2000s, the ground floor was closed up arguing security reason, while wider interior spaces were opened. Accessible space around the building has been to an extent cancelled, while interior piazzas pretend to create an interior controlled public space.
The films produced in 2017, mainly explored how the spaces of the Berlaymont are recorded and broadcasted. Central to the investigation was how everyday life spaces in the Berlaymont are shown on official media and social networks, and also how are they designed in relationship to these new forms of image distribution.
Most official media still uses images of the exterior façade or the press room to illustrate information relating with the Commission and the EU. Both the exterior view showing a repetitive office style façade and the neutral, standardized press room reinforce the cliché assumptions on over bureaucracy and opacity. Although, the façade is constantly recorded and photographed, officially, it is protected by the copyright law in favor of the architect.
On the other hand, new social networks like Instagram, promoting instant image distribution, tend to capture interior spaces of the building, until the moment, kept outside the reach of public gaze. Both workers and visitors share a high amount of personal shots. Banal office spaces, pieces of furniture, flags and logos, clocks and other commemorative materials populate these pictures, contributing to the public image of the Commission.
Furthermore, TV sets within the Berlaymont building, broadcast with regularity. Interviews, talks and all kind of information related with commission activities are delivered 24 hours a day. Behind the camera there is a secured electronic system to ensure the information flow will not be interrupted. In front of it, a series of naïve TV sets left rather undersigned.
Official protocols, are also related with the camera. Most of the official rituals include picture and video captures in front of a series of photocalls distributed through the building. Pristine blue surfaces with the logo of the Commission and a European flag are the back ground of institutional images. The architectural elements of the building as a representation of the institution have been displaced in favor of the screen like flatness of the photocall.
The films looked at these different manifestations of the relationship between image reproduction and institutional architecture. The aim was not only to understand how this happens in the Berlaymont, but to also question how the camera influences the functioning of the institution in all levels. In consequence, the project leaves an open question on how supranational political institutions have to relate with the camera. In a society were information exchange and visual consumption are already shaping public debate, will this instrument transform the functioning and architecture of European institutions?
Find HERE pictures of 2017 workshop.