Augustin Berque: Milieu and human identity: Notes towards a surpassing of modernity

In an ongoing  discussion on a Linkedin group LANDSCAPE URBANISM  on the most 10 most important texts for a  Landscape Architect /Urban Planner, the usual suspects came up, an interestingly a discussion ensued on the Western orientation of the suggestions and the name of 2009 Fukuoka Prize laureate Austin Berque was proposed as an entry into Japanese thought  – not having heard of him before, I could find nothing in English other than this brief review. The resonance of finding a holistic  worldview to counter the prevailing enlightenment view that seems to be responsible for our alienation from the environment we depend on. This resonates with me and  in my opinion  of the views of Konjian Yu in his The Conscientizacao of the Landscape: An Interview with Kongjian Yu and the recent Prizer Prize Laureate Wang Shu Wang Shu Discusses Urbanization in China, that seem to be providing a way to value the environment of the present and the past without creating a”museum ” or “zoo” and on how we might find embodiment in our understanding of the landscape as a complex of the temporal natural and anthropocentric world. from SPACE AND CULTURE posted by Anne Galloway:

Reviewed by Andrea Mubi BrighentiDepartment of SociologyUniversity of Trento (IT)

After the catastrophic events that hit Japan, and particularly in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, a large scale debate about the sustainability of our energetic, economic and even civilizational model is badly needed. Such a huge task which is before us, and which calls for a general rethinking of our ecological approaches and aspirations, could perhaps start from some spatial and environmental insights that Japanese thought itself has transmitted to us.

The collection of short essays reviewed here provides an excellent introduction to the work of the French geographer and orientalist Augustin Berque (born in 1942), who has devoted most of his life to an exploration of Japanese thought and culture, with particular reference to its peculiar spatial and environmental attitudes. Not much of Berque’s oeuvre is available to English readers, yet his major theoretical works (Berque 2000a, 2000b) can be said to engage a dialogue with Japanese philosophical tradition in order to develop reflections that are more widely applicable to the contemporary world, rather than a merely philological reconstruction of certain sources – an intellectual project that somehow recalls what François Jullien has done with Chinese thought.

Traditional houses in Ogimachi by Guillaume Brialon

[CC image credit: Traditional houses in Ogimachi by Guillaume Brialon]

In a larger work that appeared nearly at the same time as the collection on milieu and human identity, Berque (2010) has explored the notion of the ‘ideal habitat’ and has questioned the contemporary transformation and sustainability of that ideal. In these shorter essays, written during the last ten years, the focus is rather on the notions of landscape, milieu, common heritage and identity. Starting from the acknowledgement that western modernity has produced a grave disequilibrium in the relation between the human species and the world – as landscape devastation, waste of natural resources and the many aberrations in the design of the urban built environment testify – the author advances a distinction between a western conception of landscape, pivoted around the subject, and an eastern conception, which instead focuses on the predicate–the latter logic being best represented by Nishida Kitarô’s basho no ronri, or logic of place, a text from 1966. Continue reading

African Oasis:Babylonstoren

An “African Oasis” designed by a Frenchman in a “Cape Dutch” farmstead just outside Cape Town  filled with Western fruit trees, herbs and vegetables – true globalization… from Garden Designnow what is African About this one might ask?

PHOTO BY: Courtesy Babylonstoren

A map of the garden. Image courtesy of Babylonstoren.

Babylonstoren means “Tower of Babel” in Dutch, and the eight acres of gardens at this restored 18th-century Cape Dutch farmstead and hotel in South Africa’s Drakenstein Valley are, like their namesake, both monumental and tantalizingly unfinished. And yet, a walk through the grounds may help visitors do what that skyscraper of legend could not: touch heaven.

“Perhaps people find it peaceful because it’s not aggressive,” says Babylonstoren’s landscape designer, French architect Patrice Taravella. “Beauty is not an objective, it is the result.”

Babylonstoren garden

In the geometric gardens of Babylonstoren, a farmstead and hotel near Cape Town, South Africa, pathways paved with recycled peach pits crunch underfoot beside a gurgling, stone-lined stream that serves as the gardens’ gravity-aided irrigation system. Photo courtesy of Babylonstoren, photo by Cactus Branding

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I’ve never been there

Have you ever wondered how eerie it is that we all know exactly how everything everywhere looks – even if we’ve never been there? From Domus is the world more worn out now that we have digital than when someone said “the monuments of Europe are being worn away with Kodak cameras” Its ironic Kodak is no more but we are still capturing everything – its like we are obsessed with where we are not? A bit like the joke that an Internet cafe is where people go to talk to people who aren’t there while ignoring those who are.

Andrea Bosio explores territories of the new pixelated reality, compiling a true photographic record of different points of observation in the virtual space. A photo-essay by Andrea Bosio

Saint Exupéry airport, Lyon, France (Santiago Calatrava)

What could previously only be achieved by personal in situ experience, picturesque postcards or the numerous photo-reports is today within reach of hand and eye thanks to computers and new-generation smart phones. A large slice of the planet, mainly the urbanised areas, has literally been broken down into millions of frames, collected arbitrarily without choosing a specific subject, and recomposed with software into one continuous surfable vision. The picture of the surroundings is created via a photographic-mapping method that is methodical and mechanical. The adoption of specific technology and its equally precise application allows us to visualise the attained result on a monitor and “surf” the images. We are able to experience the reality in an objective and non-interpretative portrayal. This is a new way to enjoy a new image of reality

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, USA (Frank O. Gehry)

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Sunni Brown’s visual persuasion – Doodling & Creativity

Being a user of mind-maps, fast sketches and doodles  the translation to mainstream use and the removal of the frustration people experience with drawing you all know,  or are people who say “I can’t draw” this should open your mind to how you can use words and sketchessquiggles and lots of interesting colours to find and make your ideas communicable and fun. From DAILY MAVERICK

In the beginning there was the word and the word was good. Better than good in fact, it was aloof, if not arrogant and proud. Written language was deemed to be a sign of elitism and intellect, and so it became de rigueur that if you were a child you went to school, and learnt letters and words and sentences. And when you doodled in your work book, your teacher told you to stop making a mess and get back to the real business of learning.

Photo: Examples of doodles Sunni has done for corporate clients. 

Sunni Brown is a visual revolutionary who wants to change all that. Why do words inevitably get the upper hand, Brown asks. “There are a lot of different takes on why we have verbal dominance. Historically, literacy, verbal and spoken language has been associated with a certain level of status and economic class. If you are educated, have the capacity to communicate and interpret language, this somehow makes you more intelligent than other people. You become part of an elite group of people,” says Brown.

Human beings are moreover heavily visually orientated, but despite this, for the longest time text has dominated visuals. “People haven’t made the connection between doodling and thinking, or sketching and problem solving, or visual language and creativity. I don’t think we understand how to apply visual language, and this misunderstanding is a consequence of having a cultural aversion to visual language, which is perhaps related to the historical classism. But that’s just a theory – I haven’t done enough research to offer a definitive answer.”

Photo: Sunni Brown teaches us to make the connection between doodling and thinking, sketching and problem solving. Applying visual language to life.

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Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden

New photos of one of my favorite gardens , although I haven’t been there (yet) the ethno- botanical Garden in Oaxaca, Mexico has been an inspiration in both its contemporary form and its cultural/historical aspects to my work here in Cape Town, From Garden Design

Organ pipe cactus (Marginatocereus marginatus), planted here next to the mirror pool and around cochineal-covered nopal cactus, are traditionally used in Mexico as borders, corrals, and fences to keep out foraging livestock or strangers.

This inspiring  and influential garden was created by Mexican artists and activists in the 1990’s

The distinctive walkways parallel a canal flanked by Agave macroacantha on the left and fouquieria on the right.

The botanical garden  illustrates the relationship between plants and culture, with a wide mix of plants, textures, and colors.

Francisco Toledo’s water sculpture, La Sangre de Mitla, is made from slabs of Montezuma cypress.

 

To read more about the story behind the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca in Mexico, read Jeff Spurrier’s story, Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden.

See more inspiring pictures here

Invisible Fields

From Domus An interview from Barcelona by Ethel Baraona Pohl

I  see this exhibition, which I will only be able to see by means of its representation in images from cyberspace, as a tangible sign of the distorted relationship we have the technologies which both bind and isolate us. A the very time we see this massive increase in invisible wave and electromagnetic fields filling all the available space we are made aware by microbiologists that we were always surrounded by fields of the microbial clouds that make up our atmosphere and the rhizosphere below it and permeate our bodies and all the objects that make up the biosphere. Ironically both these large scale urban electromagnetic fields and our fossil fuel  activities,  themselves the results of ancient sunlight stored by living organisms,  have polluted and killed off incomprehensible numbers of the very microbes we depend on for our livelihood in the soils and atmosphere and in our bodies (seeInteractivos? Garage Astrobiology – Microbes and EMF. 

Maybe it is time we became aware of this relationship – is it in fact not more important of our survival than these transient communication waves – after all when we examine what is being transmitted how much of it has any real value. In the words of Frank Zappa talking about Television : “I may be vile and pernicious , but you can’t look away! Don’t touch that dial folks, I’m the slime oozing out of your TV set,”

I s this what these fields contain and imply – our serfdom to the consumption system – or our empowerment to resist and reform it?

Clara Boj and Diego Diaz, Observatorio, Interactive installation, 2008

We inhabit intangible territories. The networks of invisible infrastructures which surrounds our world are extensive and growing day by day. In this context, Invisible Fields explores how the understanding of our world and our cosmos has been transformed by the study of radio waves. For a better understanding of this concept, José Luis de Vicente and Honor Harger have curated the exhibition starting with the invention of telecommunication technology at the end of the 19th century, and explaining how the radio spectrum became a tool for rethinking the world we live in. A world within an enigmatic landscape where there’s no geographical distance and is based on technologies of information and communication.

On this context of enigmatic topologies which has been there for more than a century, the projects presented at this exhibition simply makes visible the territories created by invisible waves. As Lucy Bullivant pointed in 2005 [1]:

“Electromagnetic space—also called Hertzian space—is physical and nonvirtual. It consists of a ghostly poetic ecology that exists just beyond our familiar perceptual limits.”

http://vimeo.com/17459171

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Examining Rem Koolhaas’ prologue to Singapore Songlines

A recent post on [polis] led me to reread Rem Koolhaas’ seminal text and a critique of it in QRLS, which reminded me how when we first visited Singapore in 1986 I noticed how compliant and alienated the populace appeared , with the young people withdrawn in their headphones and sequestered in blank blocks of high rise apartments with washing hanging from ropes strung from the balconies and amazed at how, though the city ran smoothly and everything appeared absolutely perfect, there seemed to be an undercurrent of dis-ease, only once we ventured away from the main streets did we find  “real” people  of many nationalities as vendors of  foods and artifacts from the surrounding regions diverse ethnic groups. While buying some cloths and puppets from Indonesia and Sulawesi we chatted to the vendors who still lived in shophouses clustered together in streets by their nationality we discovered that they were soon to loose their homes to upgrading and “theming” – just like we saw had already been done in the Chinese and Indian quarters.

Orchard Road Xmas 2011

The critique of Singapore by Rem Koolhaas in S,ML,XL is directed at this loss, not of a historic district worth saving in itself, but the loss of the roots of the people who make the city what it is, this same erosion taking place in our cities casts a shadow on our modernity, how will we retain our roots yet make space for the ‘now’ and the ‘just now’?. 

From [polis] “Taking Singapore’s Orchard Road as a linear slice of urban fabric, it may be read as representative of both the city-state’s remarkable capacity for economic development and complete disregard for historical strata. In an awkward attempt to impose a blanket of elite market-driven exchange without the frayed edges and individual liberties of Western urban models, Singapore has stirred heated debate over its cultural authenticity. What is the genuine essence of a city that functions in a constant cultural grey zone, importing multinational corporations and citizens from abroad?” 

Singapore’s tabula rasa developmental logic has subtracted any perceivable contextual background, adding only glamorous foreground. The Potemkin Metropolis of Singapore — more harshly described by William Gibson as “Disneyland with the Death Penalty” — is a model for rapid urbanization in a part of the world where priorities diverge from those established in other global cities. Food poverty, defective infrastructure and destructive flash floods continue to shape the reality of countries in the region. Singapore developed by betting on qualities that rarely push cities to greatness in Europe and North America. It implemented a rigid, authoritarian ethos that appealed more to immediate conditions than to the cosmopolitan lifestyles of New Yorkers and Londoners. The city-state renowned for its prosperous economy, the banning of chewing gum and effective strategies against crime remains the odd man out within a broader geographical context accustomed to hardship and scarcity.

“It is shown with pride, not shame. They think there will be no crime. We think there can be no pleasure.” (Rem Koolhaas) Continue reading

Is the Internet making us stupid?

An op-ed from Milan by Stefania Garassini from Domus  seems a fitting question on the day Steve Jobs died…….

Al Gore at his desk. Some desks reflect the complexity of their owners’ lives although, for them, everything is where it should be and there is order

How positive is the computer’s impact on our knowledge and thinking patterns? The most recent books on the matter take a step back from the internet and invite rebellion

Professor Joseph Weizenbaum had his first suspicions when he saw his secretary crouch down waiting for him to leave his desk and then leap at the computer keyboard and embark on a frenetic dialogue with ELIZA – only ELIZA was not her best friend but a computer program invented by Weizenbaum in 1964 to test the machine’s ability to recognise natural language. The software conversed with users, asking questions and giving answers in the style of a Rogerian psychoanalyst. It even became a sort of confidant for many and to such a degree that some psychologists suggested adopting it to cover hospital-staff shortages. While the debate on artificial intelligence raged and computer experts were busy studying systems that would teach machines to think like humans, Weizenbaum dissociated himself from the distorted applications of his creature and wrote an essay (“Computer Power and Human reason”) predicting that computers would quickly spread to a wide range of contexts in our lives, which would be transformed – not always for the better – by its presence.

The story of ELIZA is told by American journalist Nicholas Carr, who in his recent Is the Internet making us stupid? confirms Weizenbaum’s worrying prophesies and confirms – backed up by neuroscience data – the irreversible changes that the use of computers and the Internet have already made to the way our minds work. If technological tools really are not neutral but alter our knowledge and thinking patterns deep down, as predicted by Marshall McLuhan, then the impact of the computer is far greater than that of all its predecessors – from the plough to the TV– because it does not simply extend the capacity of our senses, it simulates mental activity. Inevitably, it implicitly imposes its models on us via the use of certain programs that have an imperceptible influence on the way we develop our thoughts. The most obvious example is PowerPoint, the ubiquitous presentation software that has irritatingly come to standardise the style of reports. Creativity is no longer inventing something original, it choosing from a ‘menu’ of existing options, in exactly the same way as we have to reduce our complex personas to a scanty set of details to insert in the fields of a database when describing who we are on Facebook. We are reminded of this by Jaron Lanier, the inventor of virtual reality, a brilliant programmer and today a fierce critic of the excesses of Internet use, in hisYou are not a Gadget. (Alfred A. Knopf).

Read more of the article and how to fight back

Also by this author: Living with complexity

 

No Quick Fix – Cultural Districts

Contrary to many local authorities, urban designers and developers there is no quick fix in creating a cultural district or in revamping a potential cultural district in a city, but succesful ones are the result of many often small and incremental pieces by many players over often log periods of time, as can be attested in the more successful areas of Cape Town’s Long Street or more commercially V&A Waterfront development, Cape Quarter and often such active  larger scale interventions are less succesful than theri original small scale precursors or might fail outright. 

Long Street, Cape Town

This article from Urban Land by Nancy Egan :

Cultural and entertainment districts are not a quick fix, but the slow weaving together of smart, sometimes big, often small, urban solutions.

“American cities are always looking for quick fixes to revive their moribund downtowns,” Witold Rybczynski, professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in a May 15 New York Times op-ed article, a review of the High Line, New York City’s popular elevated park. “Sadly, the dismal record of failed urban design strategies is long: downtown shopping malls, pedestrianized streets, underground passages, skyways, monorails, festival marketplaces, downtown stadiums—and that most elusive fix of all: iconic cultural buildings. It appears likely that we will soon be adding elevated parks to the list.”

“Districts are where it is happening, especially as tourism becomes as important as goods and services to urban economies,” says Michael S. Rubin, head of Baltimore-based MRA International and one of the leading thinkers in the urban entertainment field. “Offering visitors choices about where to go and what to see allows people to create their own personal itineraries. This sense of possibility helps to bridge the gap between generations and cultures, even when the choices are embedded in well-planned and programmed entertainment districts.”

Part of the big crowd which nearly every afternoon and early evening packs the Cape Town Waterfront, a center for dining, shopping and entertainment.

“The best districts build on a classic formula—small blocks, pedestrian scale, active uses at the corners, business that spills out on the sidewalks, and outdoor gathering spaces,” says Nate Cherry, vice president/director of planning and urban design in the Los Angeles office of RTKL. “At L.A. Live, we didn’t have the benefit of an existing urban context. Instead we had the Staples Center arena and the convention center, so it was important that the design provide the scale, the pathways, and plazas to encourage people coming for a game or a concert to stay and explore the restaurants and shops or to make plans to come back.”

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Peter Zumthor’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011

Making the news this week is the opening of Peter Zumthors Serpentine gallery – isn’t it just too boring for words – all this Swiss minimalism – it has some sensual appeal but don’t you  think these statements are now passed their sell by date?

From the Serpentine Gallery Website:

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011

Peter Zumthor

July – October 2011


The Serpentine Gallery is delighted to reveal the plans for the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011 by world-renowned Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.

This year’s Pavilion is the 11th commission in the Gallery’s annual series, the world’s first and most ambitious architectural programme of its kind. It will be the architect’s first completed building in the UK and will include a specially created garden by the influential Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. Continue reading