RSVP#03: European Identities
March 20, 2004 — by Jeroen Beekmans
Brussels, Belgium – March 2004
Explore the location
Does Europe really exist? Does it correspond to the area that bears that name? Or is it a mental concept? Is there a European identity? Does a strong Europe automatically lead to diminishing diversity? Whatever the answers, a different outer limit can be drawn for every definition and it is this vagueness that gives rise to the never-ending uncertainty surrounding European integration. The difficulty of attempting to express Europe through its architecture is particularly obvious in Brussels and perhaps exemplifies the difficulty of determining European identities.
An event about an old continent and your renewal.
Visiting the capital of Europe, roaming the streets of Brussels, and talking about the continent’s and the city’s shared policies of avoiding anything that could be read as self-confident, coherent and powerful planning and design. Perhaps the metaphor of a sleeping giant is appropriate. Or better still, a very tired giant. And its Ersatz capital, with its architecture and urbanism that has reminiscences of inspiration from an imperial past, but also strong signs of contemporary confusion and lack of ambition, the perfect microcosm of Europe’s fatigue.
Or is it something else? Is Brussels the ultimate locus for a truly civilized order: sophisticated, bureaucratic, pacifist, heterogeneous, tolerant, multifaceted, and superbly historical? Is this the lively decadent Europe that is beyond an identity? What happened, on Sunday March 20, 2004? Archis/Amo guided four groups of people to places where most people don’t want to be seen: the Basilique of the Holy Heart; the non-descript terrain vague of European (though unknown) institutions; the World’s Action Day protest march against anything wrong in this world; Mini-Europe from above. Going through the virtual European dimensions of Christianity, Bureaucracy, Engagement and Cliché. And then to Roomade, where 85 of us shared the day’s impressions. And if anything really controversial came up during the debate, it was the question of the supposed necessity to fight back on the global geo-political stage. While some people sense a strong urgency to wake up and once again stand for a just cause, some others see the present historical situation as just the logical and preferable outcome of our intellectual sophistication: the paralytic self-consciousness of a continent that has seen it all.