Interview with Pablo Georgieff from Coloco @ Venice Biennale

We live in an epoque in which the end of the resources and the rise of global population force us to choose between war or conviviality.
As declared partisans of the latter option, we need to learn how to economize all that it is not renewable, and to recycle everything as much as we can.
Time will be an essential component of our work, as we have to deal with life. Today, we are called to think at the reversibility of our manufacts, without capturing resources and creating constrains which will narrow the future choices.

Coloco is a Paris-based collective of “explorers of urban diversity”. Rather than a conventional architects, people at Coloco think themselves more as

Active gardeners, we don’t recognize ourselves into the corporative borders of our discipline. On the contrary, we became a symbiotic structure aggregating knowledge and skills we need for every different project. A living structure evolving in response to the environment.

We had the chance to meet Pablo Georgieff at the Venice Biennale. Here’s a report of our talk.

Would you like to explain to us the theme of your installation here at the Biennale?

Our presentation here at the Biennale is just a mosaic of some projects that we have been working on in the last eight or nine years. It’s kind of a genealogic tree connecting projects with one another, sort of families of projects: our works on abandoned buildings, on spontaneous gardens in the cities, landscape works from very small individual gardens to the green belt we are now working on in Tripoli, Libia. It’s a cross-scale project with some topics that we are interested in, that we think important for our practice and that we call Urbanodiversity.

Can you explain the idea behind this term?

Urbanodiversity is the idea that the city’s richness depends on variety of activities, situations, living beings that can be hosted in it, and it is the opposite of the generic, monotonous, functionalist city.
We believe that very different interesting situations can occur in accidents, in small places, in what we call ‘turbulences’ of the flux of people, materials and information of the city, where creative behavior, new experiences, new solutions can be born.

You use the metaphor of fluid dynamics in the city…

We see urbanism as an ‘aerodynamic’ discipline, based on movement, fluxes and energy, and no more based on dead matter and materials, as it was in the past.
We think that it is necessary now to work seriously on the living, human material of the city. The city is not just a collection of bricks, or more or less sophisticated materials in more or less fancy shapes, but it’s also a set for relationships, for stories, for love and hate. This is something we would like to use as material for our projects. We don’t mean to quantify human parameters in the way social disciplines do, but to engage individuals into action.

You also present a different insight on nature, different from the idea we are used to

We always want to remind that there’s nothing ‘behind’ nature. Nature is not opposite to anything, because everything is part of nature. There are just different environments, different equilibriums. We have been consulted last year by the municipality of Paris asking us where the new nature spaces in Paris would be. We answered that there would be no new nature spaces, for nature is already everywhere. We proposed to call this project ‘Welcoming Diversity’. It’s about creating the living conditions for life forms and the relationships between them.

That’s not really a common task for architects. For example, in the Arsenale you can’t even touch objects that are supposed to be furniture. Weird situation. Our job is supposed to be about hosting life… Of course there are also positive examples: now this interview is taking place at the Biennale in a semi-underground space with lots of cushions on the floor, outside it is raining very heavy and this has become a very interesting place: everybody is talking with one another, meeting. In this Biennale places to exchange ideas are very rare, and this space is a real success just because we can use it and it is welcoming.

What are the tools you developed to achieve, or to deal with, this Urbanodiversity?

We are trying to work on tools that help us to integrate time in our projects. It is not a thing completely out of the blue, or completely new, or never seen, but we are trying to introduce chronograms as information-exchange and project-driving tools with the clients. We were thinking about how to improve participation, working together, operational sequences to give also the possibility to have spontaneous collaborations, to have optimizations, to have inventions. To do that, you always have to know what is going on, in what sequences, what is necessary to do first, what you have to prepare in order to make things happen, etc.
For example, next year we will have this project in Brazil for the French cultural season. After some proposals and negotiations we have been given a 20-storey building from the Sixties in the center of the city which is now empty. We have suggested activating it as a cultural laboratory during the eight months of the season. Also, it will serve as a negotiation platform to decide what to do with this building, to see if an entity emerges out of this experience that can make this building function with a mix of dwellings, cultural workshops, communication, etc.
In this experience we really don’t know what is going to happen: our aim is to set up the tools by which all people involved can share ideas, and finally act together. This is what we call ‘process architecture’, which is not about the final form, but how we can work with one another, how you can find places where you can discuss, making the project evolve and in the end to create the possibility to really invent something together.

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Environmental regulations are generally based on compensation principles: you’re allowed to pollute the air or the water, but not beyond a certain level set by the regulation. If you want to pollute more, you can always buy extra pollution quotas. Environmental protection came always after ‘human development’ priorities.

But in places like Ecuador, as in the rest of Latin America, human development has always shown its dark sides

The country, which contains every South American ecosystem within its borders, which include the Galapagos Islands, has had disastrous collisions with multi-national companies. Many, from banana companies to natural gas extractors, have exploited its natural resources and left little but pollution and poverty in their wake.

Now it is in the grip of a bitter lawsuit against US oil giant Chevron, formerly Texaco, over its alleged dumping of billions of gallons of crude oil and toxic waste waters into the Amazonian jungle over two decades.

It is described as the Amazonian Chernobyl, and 30,000 local people claim that up to 18m tonnes of oil was dumped into unlined pits over two decades, in defiance of international guidelines, and contaminating groundwater over an area of some 1,700 hectares (4,200 acres) and leading to a plethora of serious health problems for anyone living in the area. Chevron has denied the allegations. In April, a court-appointed expert announced in a report that, should Chevron lose, it would have to pay up to $16bn (£8.9bn) in damages.

The new constitution of Ecuador, ratified last week by a large popular majority, goes beyond the traditional ‘sustainable developmentalist’ paradigm, recognizing inalienable rights to nature (Title II, Chapter VII, Art. 1):

Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.

This can be seen as the first attempt to codify an ecocentric point of view in giuridical tools. The consequences of this shift are still to be observed. For sure, it will be more difficult in future for foreign multinational companies to exploit Ecuador’s national resources and human labor, as the consitution set strict principles against the commodification of water resources, on food sovreignity and for the protection of indigenous people.

[Via: Culture Monkey]

The Dutch Pavilion site has published tons of data on the results of the working sessions held during the Biennale’s opening days.

Check the videos of the Round Table Discussions and the Speed Date Marathon. Also pdf versions of The Book are available (alas, only printer friendly versions)

Join the Neolithic Revolution!

[Via: The Poetics of Cyberspace]

EDIT: Comic strip by David Steinlicht. Here’s an interesting comment on Next Nature

Fritz Haeg

Artist, writer, architect, educator, ecologist and radical gardener Fritz Haeg is a key figure to foresee and imagine developments in tune with the issues raised in this blog. From edible estates to animal planning…

The 18th of October 2008, in London, he will be talking in London at the Frieze Talks.

Animal estates

Animal estates

Nature doesn’t exist, and it’s a product of our thought. Or, our thought is shaped by nature, as we are embedded in it. In each case, ecology is not anymore an ecology of nature, but it is an ecology of everything: environment, mind, society.

Human activities can be described with ecological models, and human activities have ecological consequences.
If there is no “nature”, no original “equilibrium” to be restored then GMOs, nuclear power, Geo Engineering, etc, are not intrinsically wrong. Paradoxically, they’re also functional to lowering CO2 emissions.

The wrong fact is that GMOs, nuclear power, Geo Engineering, etc, are a product of a not ecological vision of the world. The laws of Market are inherently anti-ecological

  1. the only lasting connection between things is the cash nexus
  2. it doesn’t matter where something goes as long as it doesn’t enter the circuit of capital
  3. the self-regulating market knows best
  4. nature’s bounty is a free gift to the property owner

So, we should be able to design our actions – or inactions – coping with the laws of ecology

  1. Everything is connected to everything else
  2. Everything must go somewhere – no matter what you do, and no matter what you use, it has
    to go somewhere
  3. Nature knows best
  4. There is no such thing as a free lunch

There is lots of literature of the 60s and 70s on utopian design

Books like Progress As If Survival Mattered, Small Is Beautiful, Muddling Toward Frugality, The Integral Urban House, Design for the Real World, A Pattern Language, and so on. I had a whole shelf of those books. Their tech is now mostly obsolete, superceded by more sophisticated tech, but the ideas behind them, and the idea of appropriate technology and alternative design: that needs to come back big time. And I think it is

The term ‘permaculture‘ in a broad sense can describe well this approach. A practical, process-based design strategy on the use of proper technologies to engineer our ecologies.

Volume 16 was about Engineering Society. “Instead of reviving old school high modernist social engineering or claiming the need for an intellectual junta, we solicit new forms of social engineering”. Can we also imagine bottom-up, practice based activities of ecological engineering, going beyond frankenstein technologies and apocaliptic geo-engineering?

Expert meeting Nr. 2VOLUME i.c.w. VAN ABBEMUSEUM

Since a sustainable city is often understood as a society of zero emission or carbon neutrality, we decided to ask ourselves:

What happens AFTER ZERO, when this ideal stage is reached? What are the theoretical guidelines and interesting practices for designing a sustainable city?
We think that the experiences of those who work in shrinking cities or cities in ‘crisis’ are in the process of finding answers to these questions. As these places offer a radically different case study on what a normal urban condition is, namely a condition which is not only determined by capitalist development incentives, but rather a kind of post-capitalist condition with a different logic to produce and a different set of ethics.

One of the issues on the table, providing the topic for an internal seminar at the VAN ABBEMUSEUM, under the conceptual banner of their Heartland project, is therefore the relation between ethics and sustainability.  On 22 September 2008 VOLUME will discuss this and more together with Kerstin Niemann, Stephanie Smith, Clare Butcher, Marjetica Potrc, Andrew Herscher, Femke Lutgerink, Joost Janmaat, Gijs van Oenen, Chris Keulemans, Mireille Roddier, José Subero Diaz, Simon Dermout Cramer and Design 99.

The results of the meeting will be featured in this blog, and in VOLUME 18.

Did you know? Cities have always been shaped by food.

Different systems of food production, storage, distribution, and consumption patterns affected the form of cities in history, from the first cities of Mesopotamia, to the proto-hydroponic terraces of Machu Picchu, from the post-war Western cities to the Southern Megalopolis.

Our food system is the product of the so-called Green Revolution, begun in the Fourties. But today the Green Revolution shows its limits. Of course, it is criticized by ecologists and anti-globalization activists for the damages it causes to the environment and for its negative consequences for the poor in developing countries. But also, seems that the Green Revolution techniques are no longer profitable for the agriculture businness.

Therefore, a new, Greener Revolution is about to come.

Will it be based on new, hi-tech, top-down solutions, or through on the empowerment of local communities with low tech, convivial lifestyles? How will the post- Green Revolution cities look like? How to overcome the ongoing global food crisis? What about biofuels?

We will discuss these and other topics next Wednesday at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam, together with Debra Solomon, Peter Smeets, Steef Buijs, Jago van Bergen, Henk de Zeeuw, Henk van Latestijn and Rutger Groot Wassink.

The results of the meeting will be featured in this blog, and in Volume 18.

Yesterday, the Italian newspaper il manifesto published two very different opinions on the Venice Biennale.

The first is an enthusiastic article by Lucia Tozzi, pointing out the freshness of the young architects involved in the exhibition

… the architects selected by Emiliano Gandolfi [the curator of the Italian Pavilion exhibition] question security policies, land property, comunication systems, the established cycles of building industry, public space and energy resources management.

On the other side, the editorial by Maurizio Giufré shows a completely different mood. What does it mean to be ‘experimental’ nowadays, when as “Zygmunt Bauman pointed out, there can be no innovation, neither eresy, for there is no orthodoxy”?

Computer graphics is meant to represent an architecture which can resist consumption culture. On the contrary, architects are not aware that they are participating to it, and reproducing it at any time

Can architecture go beyond the ‘society of the spectacle’?

The debate on sustainability in architecture was in the past years dominated by energy saving and renewable energy production, transportation management, urban densification and other technical solutions.
While these solutions address important contemporary issues, they don’t provide a vision on what we mean with a ‘sustainable’ society and what is the future that we expect, or fear.

But some installations at the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale are opening the debate in other directions. Some architects are starting to propose different visions of nature, and of human relationships with the environment.

While the progressive hybridation of human activities with natural ecosystems has made outdated the traditional nature preservation instruments,  Ecologic Studio proposes ecoMachines, adaptable mechanisms meant to support a comprehensive urban ecological practice. An ecoMachine, is an adaptable mechanism to manage, transform and assess human actions in their ecosystems. As the Architects claim, this could be a very operative way of being ecologists.

French office Coloco sees the possibility to reuse each piece of neglected land, in order to bring life in them. They propose the term ‘Urbanodiversity’, to describe how urban life dynamics itself evolve, react to external stimuli, and produce unexpected consequences. As they suggest, “nature is not an ideal state, but a relentless force of renewal which operates at any scale”.

Avatar Architettura, through an attractive collage-style installation, envision the edible edifice, a total urban structure providing shelter, food and leisure made free from money and economic exchange.

Ecosistema Urbano doesn’t want to envision utopian futures. On the contrary, they start from practical and empirical facts. In their installation “10 things we learned from the city” they propose adaptive and democratic practices based on processes and participatory techniques, extending the scope of ecological thinking to social, financial, political and cultural domains.

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