The deepest analytical elaborations of potential crisis conditions in the society have been developed in the past, and this should make us reflect on on how we observe the world.
I would have prefered that the character of the reflection proposed here, which refers to the Venice Biennale 2020 subject “How will we live together?” were of a different nature, but unfortunately we are forced to deal with the greatest health, economic and social crisis after the Second World War.
Covid-19 has brought down numerous certainties and has exposed our most unconscious fears. Globalization, for example, is part of these multiple house of cards. On one hand, infact, the deep interconnection between countries, fostered by an unlimited transport network, has made that the world is now develpoing more rapidly, and also meant that the different and colorful cultures are now mixed and, finally, that the knowledge is transmitted. On the other hand, the growth of travels has paved the way for the spread of the virus, which in a few months, has gone from epidemic to pandemic.
Here, then the spasmodic rush to the vaccine, so that the problem has become global from national. Now, it’s a thing about everything and everyone. However, will the discovery of the vaccine make us forget definitively about the virus? History teaches us that, it very likely that this disease will be constantly present in the population with low prevalance (hypoendemia) or with high prevalance (hyperendemic). It is therefore evident that we will need to adopt a flexible and a dynamic attitude to deal with the virus.
© Fabio Bussalino, Curfew 2, Genoa, 2020.
Nükhet Varlik, History Professor and expert on the consequences of infectious diseases in history at the University of Carolina says that: “There are now many virologists and epidemiologists who argue that the coronavirus will probably become endemic, as it will circulate in the population and we will have to deal with it in every season of the year.”
They call it the disease of loneliness. It forces us to live without other people. Man was born to live and socialize with his own kind since the dawn of time, when, as a nomad, he was used to travel in packs. The greek pholosopher Aristotle wrote in his “Politcs” that man is “politikon zoon” (4th century BC). “Man is a social animal since he tends to aggregate with other individuals and to set up society. Although, is sociality a primary istinct or the result of other needs? It is a primordial urge that drives man to relate to people, almost a survival impulse. Currently, living together helps the spread of the infection and now physical distancing is the one of the most effective defensive mechanism to defeat the virus.
Community fundamentals are now coming less, in particular the co-housing concept, so much loved by nord european architects that they founded a school on its concepts. At this time isolation seems to be a possible solution to fight the virus progression (and perhaps in the future?). By isolation we do not mean confinement in an hotel or in a house room but the division of large communities into smaller ones. We are talking about an isolation of limited communities, from macro to micro. Apparently the best decision to make is simple, but is far from ordinary. The paradigm needs to be changed if we want to achieve that. The sudden subdivision of the larger community into smaller units generates logistical problems including the provision of food, essential for survival. To those who live outside the cities it is even more difficult to reach stores since the movements are limited. Therefore the need to create self-sufficient and self-sustainable communities arises. Here the hypothesis that has been recently developed where citizens will be able to reach in 15 minutes, by feet or by bicycle, the necessary services like eating, having fun and working. “15 minutes City” suggestioned by the Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo is one of the most followed proposal, and the city of Milan has adopted it for “Milano 2020” plan. But let’s take a step back.
© Fabio Bussalino, Curfew 3, Genoa, 2020.
Yona Friedman wrote “Architecture of survival”¹ in the distant 1978. Nowadays, this title appears almost prescient and current. The French architect starts the book reflecting on the future of society and questioning on its destiny. These doubts are generated by an impending fear and condition that the author thinks is certain for humanity: poverty. Friedman argues: “It was thought that the era of prosperity would come as people began to earn money thanks to the industrialization process. But in a very short time it was quickly realized that money was worthless and that it was increasingly difficult to get shelter and food”.² These words seems to assume a prophetic character of the period that we are experiencing today, when is paradoxally easier to receive an iPhone at home in a few moments rather than fresh fruit. We go back in time with Friedman, we re-evaluate the real basic necessities, which are currently in short supply. And so is born the proposal of the “urban agricolture”. By urban agriculture I refer to a system that would enable people to produce food within the city by their own hands, with the purpose of combining ceiling and food. This idea, adopted by small communities in Covid-19 era and maybe even in the future, could soon make them self-sufficient and prepared to face another spread of the virus, whether professor Nükhet Varlik, like many others, were to be right. “At one time, the food production within the walls allowed cities to be self-sufficient in long periods of constraint (sieges, epidemics, floods, etc”.³ This is an interesting, not utopistic, mechanism that would bring benefits. In fact, one of the major causes of desertification in the hole world is due to the adoption of industrial pharming practices. An increasing land occupation with consequent irrigation in addition to massive fertilization and intesive exploiation have made that the land was consumed, becoming no longer fertile. Friedman says: “At the moment urban agricolture (late 70s – note of the author) obviously does not interest the cities of rich countries, which could import first fruits by plane. Anyway a transport lockdown or other shortage factors could eventually force them to return to this source of supply”. He ends: “In a poor world (as we defined it), that is to say in a world with increasing problems and lack, it may be of fundamental importance that everyone produces their own food”.
© Fabio Bussalino, Curfew 4, Genoa, 2020.
One of the most countless factors that have helped the spread of the infection is certainly attributable to large agglomerated centers. These are evidence of an uncontrolled urbanization that occured especially during the Post II World War reconstruction period. That is not to blame past decision makers or istitutions on the diffusion of the pandemic. However, it is likely that large hyper-connected agglomerations and dense buzzing cities have favored the advance of the virus. While during the flourishing years of the architectural production total control design was priviliged, in 1934 Frank Lloyd Wright imagined a different city. The american architect is a precursor of the movement that developed in the United States in the 70s, which had the aim of subverting the system that oppressed individual freedom. Wright is the architect of the inside and against architecture, a strong supporter of the “rage against the american dream”. And it is precisely within the system (that of architecture) that he thinks and develops a project very distant from the conventional and capitalist process of skyscrapers. The idea, that has been left on paper, is that of a new infastructrured city that overcomes urban concentration in favor of a well-thought and completely designed structure: Brodoacre City⁴. More than a city, Brodoacre must be considered an example of urbanization, the city “everywhere and nowhere”. Decentralisation and urbanization are the crucial elements for an organic rearrangement of the American social and civil structure. In addition, according to Wright’s plan, each citizen must be granted one acre (approx. 4000 sqm) of land so that every family can isolate themselves in the green area, to procure food autonomously and then ultimately live in a self-sufficient way.
© Fabio Bussalino, Curfew 5, Genoa, 2020.
The ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright (30s) and of Yona Friedmann (80s) do not represent the solution to Covid19 pandemic, but they certainly provide points for discussion with the regard to the the new city of future, which will increasingly have to live with objective difficulties. We need to reflect because that these theories were developed many years before full awareness of environmental, social and health crisis. Rem Koolhaas, before establishing himself as an architect for his visionary projects, he spent his first years of career deciphering and analyzing contemporary society and guessed what the future society would have been today. In this regard, I do not believe that his project “Countryside, The future”⁵ is accidental. Infact, the architect sees a drift of re-conquest of the forgotten countryside in the future of the society, that man once abandoned in the middle of the industrial revolution to seek his fortune in the city. Thucydides, the Greek historian, while he was writing about he the plague that struck Athens in 430 B.C., he said that it was fear of the plague that destroyed Athens more than plague itself. Thus we should not have fear of rethinking the city as a new organism for people, with people and mostly effective or ready to adapt itself to everyone’s need.
Translated into English by Tommaso Longoni.
Cover: © Fabio Bussalino, Curfew 1, Genoa, 2020.
¹ Yona Friedman, Architecture of survival, Bollati Boringhieri, Turin, 2009.
² Yona Friedman, The discovery of poverty – The new poverty, in Architecture of Survival, Bollati Boringhieri, Turin, 2009, p. 60.
³ Yona Friedman, The discovery of poverty – Urban agricolture, in Architecture of Survival, Bollati Boringhieri, Turin, 2009, p. 68.
⁴ Broadacre City was a concept of urban or suburban development proposed by Frank Lloyd Wright for much of his life. He presented the idea in his own book The Disappearing City (William Farquhar Payson, 1932).
⁵ OMA – AMO, Countryside, The Future, exhibition at New York Guggenheim Museum, New York, February 2020.