DoCoMoMo International Conference 16

For those unfamiliar with the name DoCoMoMo, it’s a cute acronym for a serious mouthful: the International Committee for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and  Neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement

And depending on your taste in architecture, it is as nerdy or as fabulous as it sounds. DoCoMoMo International currently includes 69 chapters and more than 3,000 members, in Europe, America, Asia, Oceania and Africa. Australia has its own working party whose base alternates between its Melbourne and Sydney memberships.

Besides sharing the love of Modernist architecture in tours, talks, slide nights and other events, local members maintain a watchful eye on the health of their homegrown Modernist gems and contribute to a database that records and highlights their significance. Members range from PHD toting architectural history academics to hands on heritage architects, owners of Modernist properties and under-qualified but enthusiastic Modernism buffs like me.

Every 2 years, there is the blockbuster event, the DoCoMoMo International Conference. Local chapters compete to host the conference and it travels around the world accordingly. This conference, the host city was Lisbon and, to add to the Modernist delight, was based at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, a late 1960s treasure of raw concrete, extensive gardens and a world famous art collection. Delegates are drawn from local chapters all over the world and Australia is always well represented by attendees as well as contributors at and before the conference.

The conference continues to grow and is probably the largest and most important gathering of Modernism nerds anywhere in the world. I know! How good does that sound? It is total immersion in serious discussions of all aspects of Modernism from the esoteric to the pragmatic to the inspirational. Conference presentations range from academic papers on topics such as “Reviving and Reliving the Buildings of Brutalism” and “Disruption and Continuity: the Challenge of Conversive Modernism” to detailed studies of chemical changes in early concrete structures to lectures by hands-on architectural practitioners who design, demolish, restore and alter the significant buildings of Modernism themselves.

Keynote speakers at the conference included Rem Koolhaas (via video link due to a last minute hitch), Lacaton & Vassal, Winfried Brenne, Gonçalo Byrne and Caruso St John. We were very disappointed to learn of the cancellation of Álvaro Siza and Juhani Pallasmaa’s blockbuster opening night lecture but was somewhat appeased by a later, very fleeting (but still exciting) chance to meet Alvaro Siza and Eduardo Souta de Moura. Yes, I know, I can hear your squeals from here.

After the serious intellectual discourse and academic papers of the conference proper, there is always a fantastic tour of architecture – Modern and more recent – within the host country. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it’s worth traveling across the world just for this privilege – and I have the photos to prove it!

This was the 2nd DoCoMoMo conference I’ve attended – the first one was Helsinki in 2012 – and I’m already plotting to get to Bratislava for the next one in 2018.

Find out more about DoCoMoMo here.