21 architects vs. 21 banks

By Lecia Bushak

I came across an article in ArchDaily today about a University of Innsbruck professor who came up with a project that could possibly be the closest thing to an “illegal” assignment you may ever see. Armin Blascbichler’s 21 architecture students (known as the “Blasbichlers Twentyone”) were each required to research a chosen bank, examine its weaknesses, and then design and plan how to rob that bank by targeting those weaknesses.

Before you think, “Wait, that IS illegal!” — allow me to mention that none of the students actually broke into any bank or stole anything. What they did was blueprint remarkably feasible plans and lay them out in well-designed posters, taking into account every minuscule detail, then wait for the banks’ reactions when they discovered that the students’ hypothetical robberies were very thorough and, in fact, executable.

You’re also probably wondering, shouldn’t architecture students be learning how to build banks — not rob them?

In an interview, Blasbichler explained the jist of his assignment:

At first glance the attempt to plan a bank robbery might sound like a post-adolescent prank. But it’s not… Such a project claims most of the core competences of an architect … [to] research and [determine the] value [of] the site, find out weak/strong aspects, think, imagine, anticipate, sense and develop a concept, sketch, design, re-think, re-imagine, prepare action plan documentation, plan the time schedule, the costs. And in this case, also an escape plan.

One project particularly interested me. The student had drawn inspiration from a Bertolt Brecht quote: “What is robbing a bank compared to founding a bank?” His plan outlined how to earn or lose money through bank robberies without being directly involved — by founding a hedge fund, then investing in and “betting” on robberies. Blasbichler worded it as “robbing a bank with its own resources.” This is certainly a sophisticated way of carrying out a bank robbery — a plan one would expect a business mastermind to imagine, rather than an architect.

But what I noticed when reading Blasbichler’s assignment plan was that a lot of the research, brainpower and imagination involved in his project was synonymous to the work involved in design in general.

These 21 students weren’t just thinking as architects — they had to think like hackers, artists and businessmen–and from the point of view of a banker. A designer, similarly, must take into account several points of view–the client’s, the consumer’s, the audience, the prospective clients — in order to envision and master the blueprints. All the same research, re-designing, re-thinking, re-planning and revising goes into the work behind a brand or identity.

As Blasbichler says, “A 21-architect resides in anyone of us.”

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