Friday, October 03, 2008

A Missive Long Overdue

I've written many posts lately and then let them age unposted in my draft folder. This one has been something I've thought about for ages, talked about for around a year or two, and only recently thoroughly committed myself to. I DID post it last Friday, but then went out on the town with an old, old friend and ray-gunned my sobriety into a soft gooey puddle; came home and read it and felt it seemed a bit taut, or idyllic, or manic, or vague, or immodest, or overcooked, or something. But now that I've revisited, I think all that's ok if it helps me get going on it. It's definitely assisted in that it's helped my see what parameters there are (or aren't) in the region. After this, I'll be ready for phase 2:

A recent article about Watt, a Rotterdam night club that literally generates energy from the motions on the dancefloor - an innovation several friends and I had talked about for about half a decade (except our version would also map and project the tactility of the dancefloor to a mad visual display for the dancers to see their rhythmic steps and cross-floor movements) - lends me the fortitude to know that I'm on the right track. While I feel slightly indignant about concepts reaching reification without me, I know that's just the irrational itch of feeling removed from the process. Logically, a dancefloor like that isn't too much of a leap of imagination, whereas the strategies of implementation really and truly are. Bravo to you, dancefloor revolutionaries! And thank you.

For years now, I've been spiraling around a locus that I can only really call landscape architecture: a transitional zone where disparate, and perhaps even incompatible behaviours, ideas and attitudes overlap and conflict, but also irremediably and necessarily coexist. Nominally, I think of this zone as liminal space, perhaps an overexertion of liminal's true meaning, but, for my purposes, it works. This space is far stabler than say a TAZ, as it is found everywhere, both public and private, purposeful or inadvertent, new and old, organic and inorganic, authoritarian or anarchist. For example, go now to the sea or a river embankment, approach the lip of wave rubbing its gums against the rocks and dip your finger in where land meets water meets air meets sunlight. Now extend that analogy to that of the human experience as it breathes through the manifold complexities of itself: sitting on your stoop is a liminal act, as you interact with the street from the vantage of your homelife; taking cover from the rain in an alcove; waiting in line for a slice of pizza... the list is simply only exhausted by the imagination's conception of intermediacy. Places like dancefloors, pubs, traditional marketplaces are but ritualized variants of such spaces. In essence though, you could simply host a party or political rally or just invite a friend round and your private habitat would become such a transitional zone (though there are many such spaces and artifacts already in your home, even when alone: doorways, office, bathroom, bedroom, windows, computers, radios, TVs, and, I'd argue, books).

Since its advent, architecture has shown that it can determine behaviour. Not only that, but reinforce ethical values. Take Haussmann's oft-cited tribute to baroque power through his reinvention of Paris. Or read the first few lines of NGM's timely Persia: Ancient Soul of Iran. And then relegate all this environment-altering power to the codification of built forms around you. The function of these composite landscapes are to project ideas onto mind: ideology, politics, philosophy, consumption and breeding habits. Except, it is the point at which your mind starts interacting with, toward and across this landscape at which the liminal space is formed, and wherein new function is wrought by way of innovation. Our built environment IS dialect, a stored wealth of perceptibly privileged knowledge, edificial and so directly manifest that it has the power to influence your thinking without you even noticing. Take the banks and credit bureaus panoptical skyscrapers downtown. They can see you, they can see all, but you cannot see them. Take old colonial buildings in Mozambique, and their neo-classical facades hiding, or even brassing, their criminal history. Take the International Style pervading and subjugating traditional stores of culture and identity in Iraq, Vietnam, Lebanon etc. Take schools built as prisons, or malls, or sanitariums. Take condominiums erupting out of the ground near you, like beached cruise ships, choking vibrant street life and segregating the haves from the have-nots. Now while I'm not really a behaviourist, I do believe that the writing is not only on the wall, but also in it.

And that's about where I want to step in. Though I've researched and perused and sketched and thought so very much about this, often having a tough time articulating this obsession to those others more politically charged, I hereby deliver my utmost in resolve to find immersion in this landscape architecture. When delineated in the fashion above, this field opens onto an immeasurably broad and deep scope. I do not wish to define myself within this purview, mostly as I really have no idea how to. However, I can say this: I want to help build a world that engenders self-awareness, inspiration, free-thought, egalitarianism, psychological well-being and ecological immersion, wherein the processes are transparent, educational, playful and stimulating. It will acknowledge change as the constant, and find the emergent planes to speak of the opportunities found within it.
And I will accept no less.

For me, the word 'sustainable' is flawed, and actually points to a turpitude that appears to carve deep throughout the building industry (the world's single largest industry, as our recent financial market crises have brayed): 'sustainability' is an arrogant and dismissive interpretation of a systemic problem. To underline that point, I ask you, haven't we always considered ourselves to have built sustainably? What really determines a buildings sustainability? Embodied energy? Psychological impact? Ecological principles? Economics? While sustainability grazes these ideas, it acts more as an apologetic syllogism for core building practice than helping stimulate the radicalization of building, nay, living tenets. I believe that the word sounds static, boring, and dangerously self-righteous: buildings are declared sustainable by reaching set conditions, but then are free to disrupt the environment in other, discreet manners, ostensibly hidden behind the noble mantle of SUSTAINABILITY. Look at the site plans of Dockside Green, found here in Victoria. Looks lovely, a sweet little bioremediation brook babbling between passively heated condo buildings and waterfront townhouses. In life though, the building are cramped, policed by design, and have missed vital opportunities to fully integrate nature (eg. by gradating the shoreline gently down to the water instead of dumping a cache of large boulders, or allowing a meadow area for nesting birds etc.)
Sustainability is a banner though, I give it that, and as long as it supports the dynamic evolution of dialogue around its procedure, I guess it'll be ok in the long run. I am afterall going to see about getting my LEED qualification over the next year, so who knows, maybe I'll be its biggest advocate soon.

S'Mat out.
PS> One more thing, this was all a peripatetic preamble for my other designs of starting yet another blog, a bit like Of Murk and Sky, but more informed. As soon as I come up with a sweet enough name, it'll be on. Was gonna end this post with a HUGE list of remarkable sites I go to whenever I can, but that'll have to wait.

S'Mat really out.

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