When scientist entered an untouched cave in Norway they discovered microplastics in the composition of the ground. The romantic view of untouched nature ceased to exist. For the prix de rome we are asked to reflect on the history of mankind, to reflect on the designs we made, to rethink our position in our ecosystem and to state a way forward by creating a healing site. To answer these questions, we have to dive deep in our thinking. What can we learn from the past? Why are we neglecting the signals nature provides us? How can we still be optimistic if the prediction of the future is so dark?
Welcome to the antropocene
In 2007 the Economist covered with “Welcome to the Antropocene”. The world we are living in is dominated by humankind.
We extract resources to build our future. We became a global entity fueled by fossil energy to ship and trade everything we can extract from our planet. What we knew, but didn’t want to see is that this world we made comes with a price. Weather conditions become more extreme, sea-levels are rising, biodiversity loss at a tremendous speed and scarcity of the basic resources, food and water, we need so desperately to maintain life.
In this violence of mankind, we finally started to talk about polluting the earth and made the boundaries visible in the publication ‘The limits of growth’. 30 years later we created a framework to position ourselves in our greed. The United Nations set a future vision with a global framework, the sustainable development goals to restore the balance. Our global community started to discuss a path forward during the COP. More than 50 years we are aware, but we haven’t changed.
Growing up in the Anthopocene
My parents took the conclusions of the Club of Rome and rethought the way they lived. When I grew up we lived a modest life. I remember I was always envying the wealthy kids with abundant candies and toys, where they got gifts even if it was not their birthday. Evying cars that could go 1 to 100 in 5 seconds. I also remember I didn’t feel poor, I felt rich in a world where everything can be repaired, a household where the objects function was more important than the looks and the way you could make out of leftover materials new constructions. Since my parents are modest they had to defend themselves to many friends and family. Why are you not buying a dishwasher, it uses less water therefor more environmental friendly? My mother knew they were wrong but in her kindness she was not seeking a conflict. Studying on climate and architecture made me realize I grew up in exactly the right direction. Be happy with eachother, not with your possession. The day you die you remember not the fast car you were driving, but the person who was sitting next to you. Sadly the world continued in her own direction. The footprint of the Western world is too big and society does not want to give in, since it means doing less. 50 years later the warnings became reality, mankind is the most dangerous kind in our ecosystem.
Simplifying the framework
The global footprint network is calculating the amount of materials we use, we pollute and we should use to sustain. With our current rate we burn 170% of the regenerative power of our ecosystem per year (the regenarative power is all life our ecosystem can create). We need to reduce to maintain life. This information is becoming more dominant in the debate of our future. How can we go back to 100% ? The European Union set goals to become carbon neutral in 2050. But is 100% the right direction? Scientist currently start to believe that if we want to maintain 85% of our biodiversity, mankind can only use 50% of the regenerative power of the planet. The other 50% should be given to nature to maintain their ecosystem. This implies that the current effort to become 100% sustainable is a goal which we have to even reduce by half. How do we respond to sustainability?
Relation between human and nature
Serge Chermayeff and Christopher Alexander wrote in 1968 “Nature makes man. Man makes culture. Culture makes man. Man destroys nature.” It summarizes our current Zeitgeist. The root of the problem resides in culture. The philosopher Silvia Winter described it very effectively: “With our own constrains we are trapped in many ways within a mono humanist notion of the human. We need to move to a different horizon for the human, a multiplicity of the humans. A different sense of the human. A human that does not live in a position to nature and especially a human that has been a created by modernity based on the separation between humans and non-humans, between nature and culture, between humanity and nature. We need to move beyond that, because the modern human is causing the terracide.” In her view we need to restore our relation to nature. But is it not to optimistic? We are aware of our problems nevertless doing 50 years the opposite. How did we got there in the first place?
In an interview with Saskia Sassen she tries to grasp the way we have constructed society and culture. We tend to describe the world as a complex system. We measure data, we analyse it and make a conclusion. We perceive complexity as positive and admirable thought. But is complexity a positive development per se? To understand complexity we use ratio. We extract parameters thus ordering a complex problem into a simplified version. By cutting it in small parts we start to understand, but we also cut off many good things in this way. Saskia says: “Complexity does not inevitably leads to brutality, but it can and today it often does indeed. It often leads to a simple as opposed to a grand brutality of a sort.” This brutality is made by the systems that make order. In the financial crisis it became clear, our order making system took people’s mortage into a complex order making system. The houses where traded as a financial commodity. When the system failed people lost their houses and their life. The maker of this system didn’t feel the pain, since through this complexity he was able to detach emotions from commodities. This tendency to complexity is dangerous and should be reconsidered. It can be stated that the mono-human world is more complex than ever, the computer technology gives false hope we can understand its complexity and by doing so leaves many human and non-human life behind. Is tackling the complexity with a rational mind able to create a new future? Or should we acknowledge that ratio is unable to solve our problems?
The answers we create
With the boundaries in sight and the urge of survival we are approaching the equation in two different ways: the technofix and local movement. The technofix is the strongest movement. Technology will repair our wrongdoings. Solar panels will create energy, houses will reduce their demand and we will re-use all the materials we have. The main motive of the technofix is maintaining our current comfort by smartening out nature. It is the rational mind not accepting that we are the root problem. The technofix is popular, since we do not have to do less, technology will solve our footprint. As Saskia described this order-making system of complexity has blunt edges and creates brutalities. We see lithium mines in Bolivia demolishing complete natural areas, wood demands plummeting destroying complete forests and we see large groups who have no technology being completely left out. Should we continue this movement? Yes, we should reduce and remake our energy dependencies on nature in a sustainable way, but the rationality has blunt edges.
The second movement is the local movement. This movement is growing stronger. Produce local. Repair your possessions. Use local materials and design for re-use. Within the EU, legislations are making it harder for the linear economy to thrive. The local movement is growing stronger, but it has one problem. Our current economic system makes labour expensive. Repairing, searching for materials, designing for re-use, they all take time and become to costly. The second elephant in the room, the local movement is standing on a par with our global system. Assets have to be repriced and are traded between people, not via corporations, the monopoly positions fall apart. In a world where money decides it is extremely difficult to start up a society where not money but people and materials are the economy. In both answers resides still the same common denominator, they are mono-human, creating a world were the ‘we’ can thrive.
The non-human life
In our fight against the ecocide we leave out the biggest group of our ecosystem, the non-human. . How do we live together? Who is the we? A bird does not have a voice. A tree cannot move. The non human world has no right for life.
In the work of Berger a statement is made between the natural world and the human man world. In his project he encloses nature by a wall. The wall is perforated so the natural world can join the human world. The other way around is impossible. He deliberately makes visual an physicial human relation to the enclosed world impossible.
This project made me wonder the essence of a building. When we build we enclose ourself so natural life cannot come in. We claim a piece of the ecosystem to protect it from where it came from. What if we turn this way of thinking inside out?
Can we built a non-human environment to protect it from the human? The reason to protect it from mankind has multiple reasons. Firstly, our scientific rational world states we need to reserve 50% of the regenerative power of the world to the non-human live. Secondly proven by modern history the moment we share the natural world we tend to become the shepherd. Our order making systems start to domesticate the natural world in order to extract from it. It is deeply rooted in our culture that nature is something we utilise to our own benefit. Thirdly, cutting the world in half will be a safeguard for ourselves, the human world. Even if we won’t succeed in our part of the world, we can still hope the non-human world is thriving.
Healing sites
The model shows the healing site as an enclosed world of nature, completely protected from humanity. It shows the half of the mass to provide regenerative power to the natural ecosystem. Humans are not allowed in any way. The other half of the world is the human world, where we will have to find our way into the future.
The healing site provokes the idea that freedom is being not free at all. To become completely free we have to share our freedom with the non-human world. Are we humans able to construct such a radical approach? Are we able to accept that ‘we’ is a mono-human idea? Can we let go our rational mind? Can we have something we can’t possess?
The model is split in two, making it able to open the sphere of the natural world. We are the key of our future. Will you leave the sphere unopened and accept our fate?

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