Excellent work that very much needed to be experienced first-hand


Christopher Daniel reflection on Emergence Exhibition that was part of the Prague Quadrennial 2019


"What follows are my impressions of the Prague Quadrennial 2019."

First some context to my perspective:  I am an architect, architectural educator and theatre consultant. Having worked on performance-related projects for 10 years, 2019 was my first opportunity to attend Prague Quadrennial (PQ). Unlike many architects for whom the theatre is key to their practice, my work usually involves the creation of systems, spaces and facilities for performance, rather than involvement in the performances themselves. 

I visited PQ 2019 from Monday 10th to Thursday 13th July. During this time, my primary engagement was with elements of the Emergence and PQ Talks strands of the programme.

My impression of PQ as a whole was highly favourable. I am very glad to have been able to be part of this global gathering. It was important for me both practically and psychologically. It gave a shift in perspective from the often hyper-local (and Anglophone) London view to a greater awareness of global discussions and possibilities. Prior to arrival, it was not easy to decide what I might do with my time there. One challenge of having so much diverse work on show is that it can be difficult for first-time visitors to navigate all catalogues and listings. In the end, I often relied on “word of mouth” to decide what to see or do (and then used the catalogue to find them).

My first engagement with the Emergence programme was through the “Practice Exchange”. I signed up in advance, initially unsure as to whether to be a “participant” or “respondent”.
People arrived gradually and the formal participant/respondent divide was somewhat blurred. This led to some very interesting conversations developing between early, mid and later career practitioners. I met practitioners I otherwise would not have met and with whom I remain in contact. 

I also visited the Emergence exhibition (excellent work that very much needed to be experienced first-hand) and engaged with the Portfolio library, which was interesting but may be better suited to smaller individual submissions (maybe a wall display) as the display got rather untidy as the days passed.

Coming to PQ on my own, I was keen to fit in as much of the Talks programme as I could manage. Some of the speakers were people of whom I was already aware (e.g. Theatrum Mundi). The talks were well-curated, so by going to see what I knew, I also discovered new work and met likeminded people.

The layout of the room for the talks I attended was professional and impressive. However, some more niche conversations (e.g. those amongst us few architects in attendance) may have benefitted from a more intimate setting. It is surely preferable to allow for the possibility of larger audiences than excluding people, but hopefully, in 2023 a room layout can be found that better accommodates differing audience sizes (a theatre architect can help with this!).

A key part of my visit was the session involving the architecture award winners. In my view, the architecture exhibition suffered from the curatorial decision to insist upon submission by video (thereby excluding some potential entrants), but the presentations definitely benefitted by being based around those videos. This group of talks and the Emergence Practice Exchange) were where I met most people with whom I then spent time during my visit and have stayed in contact since. These few hours alone were well worth my trip to Prague. I believe that I could not make these connections anywhere but at PQ.

In conclusion, I am very glad to have attended PQ and specifically these events. In hindsight, I would have very much liked to have been able to base myself in Prague for the whole of the PQ programme, dipping in and out to attend events while also working remotely. 

I will definitely be attending PQ in 2023 and in the intervening years, I intend to work to bring more architects to the event.

Christopher Daniel 

Architect and Director of Polysemic Ltd., a design company, creating stories through the design of unique, adaptable and iterative spaces. Design Studio Tutor at the School of Architecture and Cities (College of Design, Creative & Digital Industries), and associate lecturer at the Canterbury School of Architecture (University for the Creative Arts).