Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The False Illusion of Safety: The Need For New Architecture 1

Possible directions for solutions in our struggle with Nature.


We wish that the solutions to the problem New York and other cities in the eastern seaboard faced last weekend were simple.  They are not.  This website was originally created to post articles about technology especially computing technology.  Since then, some articles have taken us in directions which we never expected.  But as our awareness of what technology really was evolved, we realized that issues like this could not be ignored.

We will deal with a philosophical view that must change.  It is often true that we act according to our perception of the world around us and our role in it.  The idea as found in the biblical book of Genesis that man is to subdue the Earth and all of life in it has been interpreted in the Western world as general disregard of the idea that man must live WITH nature.  As early as 1665, John Glavill, an English philosopher, stated in his book Scepsis Scientifica, that the job of science was to provide "...ways of captivating Nature, and making her subserve our purposes and designments..." which would lead to a restoration of  "...the Empire of Man over Nature."  Being a member of the Royal Society gave European and hence, later American science this frame of mind.  This attitude carried over into the into English natural science with the opinion of John Ray, who in 1691 in his book, The Wisdom of God Manifested In The Works Of Creation, stated,
I persuade myself, that the bountiful and gracious Author of Man's Being and Faculties, and all things else, delights in the Beauty of his Creation, and is well pleased with the Industry of Man, in adorning the Earth with beautiful Cities and Castles, with pleasant Villages and Country-Houses, with regular Gardens and Orchards, and Plantations of all sorts of Shrubs, and Herbs, and Fruits, For Meat, Medicine, or moderate Delight, with shady Woods and Groves, and Walks set in Rows of elegant Trees; with Pastures clothed with Flocks, and Valleys covered over with Corn, and Meadows burthened with Grass, and Whatever else dirrenceth a civil and well cultivated Region, from a barren and desolate Wilderness."
"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you." Frank Lloyd Wright, The Wright Style
Ray viewed the Native American way of life as "slothful" since they had, in his opinion, no "well-built houses, living in pitiful Huts and Cabbins, made of Poles set end-ways."  We could go on with many more quotes from the 19th century about Manifest Destiny or in the 20th century about "progress," but we think we have sufficiently established the point.  So in this view, nature was something to be freely shaped and changed to the exclusive benefit of man.   This view still seems fairly prevalent (though disguised) in the corporate mindset.  In regards to Christianity, to be fair, this is only one interpretation of the passage in Genesis, and t0day, there are many Christians who would see the passage as a support for a careful and thoughtful handling of the environment.  This view, however, seems to us to be a new one.

We also understand that the ruling establishments in this world are not the conglomeration of governments under any organization.  The ruling establishment in this world at the moment is money and power.  These two factors touch every facet of every discussion on the subject of the environment. But we shall state the major thesis of this article....
We must see ourselves and all our actions as being in harmony with nature and not at tension with it.
"Architecture is life, or at least it is life itself taking form and therefore it is the truest record of life as it was lived in the world yesterday, as it is lived today or ever will be lived." Frank Lloyd Wright, Organic Archictecture

This to us seems to be at the heart of the problems cities like New York face.  Right now New York City approach to water is in tension with nature.  It wishes to resist the natural cycles of nature.  It would seem to us, that the key would be for us to use technologies that mimic nature in our cities.  This again brings us to an architectural rethinking in the likes of Rachel Armstrong and others.  In other words we need in our cities to live in harmony with nature.  Indeed, the goal is not to eradicate hurricanes through some kind of weather control technology.  After all, hurricanes are mostly beneficial to the environment.  We post a video to support this.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here the link: http://youtu.be/L7kA6Vx9HYM.

There are many facets to imitating nature.  We cannot hope to cover them all, even if we knew all the ways to do it (which we don't).  So we will focus on the architecture of this new approach.  The first obvious principles is that the architecture in a location must be idiomatic to the kind of where it resides.  This may seem rather obvious at first hearing, but it is not.  Look at the homes that are built in America today.  Most of them look the same, no matter where they are - whether in the tropics or colder climates.  Does this make sense?  Not to us it doesn't.

In this we echo the thoughts of older architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright.  We cannot help but be impressed by him when he stated in a lecture fo the Chicago chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1904, titled, The Art And Craft Of The Machine,
If you would see how interwoven it is in the warp and woof of civilization ... Be gently lifted at nighfall to the top of a great down-toan office building, and you may see how in the image of material man, at once his glory and menace, is this thing we call a city.
There beneath, grown up in a nightfall, is the monster leviathan, stretching acre upon acre into the far distance.  High overhead hangs the stagnant pall of its fetid breath, reddened with the light from its myriad eyes endlessly everywhere blinking.  Ten thousand acres of cellular tissue, layer upon layer, the city's flesh, outspreads enmeshed by intricate network of being and arteries, radiating into the gloom, and there with muffled, persistant roar, pulses and circulates as the blood in your veins, the ceaseless beat of the activity to whose necessities it all conforms.
Like to the sanitation of the human body is the drawing off of poisonous waste from the system of this enormous creature; absorbed first by the indefinitely ramifying, thread-like ducts gathering at their sensitive terminals matter destructive to life, hurrying iit to millions of small intestines, to be collected in turn by larger, flowing to the great sewer, on to the drainage canals, and finally to the ocean.
Is to a certain extent a description of New York City and other cities in the world at the present time?  Wright further stated this idea when he wrote in his autobiography speaking of the home he wold build for himself,
...architecture was quite mine.  It had come to be by actual experience and meant something out of this ground we call America.  Architecture was something in league with the stones of the field, in sympathy with "the flower that fadeth and the grass that withereth."  It had something of the prayerful consideration for the lilies of the field that was my gentle grandmother's: something natural to the great change that was America herself.
It was unthinkable to me, at least unbearable, that any house should be put on that beloved hill.
I knew well that no house should ever be in a hill of on anything.  It should be of the hill.  Belonging to it.  Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.  That was the way everything found round about was naturally managed except when man did something.  When he added his mite he became imitative and ugly.  Why?  Was there no natural house?  I felt I had proved there was.  Now I wanted a natural house to live in myself.
We post some videos of two of the most important homes Lloyd built, one for himself Taliesin and the other for Edward Kauffman the famous Fallingwater.  If you cannot see the embedded videos, here is the link: http://bit.ly/pRcLA8.


It is interesting how Wright saw New York City.  In his 1958 book, The Living City, Wright said,
New York is the biggest mouth in the world. It appears to be prime example of the herd instinct, leading the universal urban conspiracy to beguile man from his birthright (the good ground), to hang him by his eyebrows from the skyhooks above hard pavement, to crucify him, sell him, or be sold by him.
Wright disapproved of the plan of most American cities.  "To look at the cross-section of any plan of a big city is to look at something like the section of a fibrous tumor."  In the 1950s when he was in New York he decried the form of skyscrapers that the International Style was building in the city.  TO Wright, these skyscrapers can best be stated by the words of Jane K. Hesson & Debra Pickrel's book Frank Lloyd Wright in New York: the Plaza years, 1954-1959:
While Wright did not object to the skyscraper in concept, he abhorred the proliferation of the International Style for several reasons: the propagation of its stark towers contributed to the city's ever-escalating congestion, and the buildings were standardized in form and showed complete disregard for their sites.
It is this last point that we mean to bring out in our next installment of this series.  Should the location, even in a place like Manhattan affect in any dramatic way the style of the building? 

1 comment:

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