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

Wang Shu Discusses Urbanization in China

Last year, in a lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), Wang Shu ofAmateur Architecture Studio confronted the effects of globalization, urbanization and rapid development on cities in China. Can design resolve tensions between global and local cultures? How should architects mediate the pressures of history and innovation? In Wang Shu, we find the value of the Amateur.

In the past twenty five years, [China] did an incredible thing … One country with three to five thousand years of history, with such rich cultural and traditional things … made a big decision to demolish it. Ninety percent, just in the past twenty-five years. They do this and then build some new things; they copy from all over the world … It is the professional urban planner and architect who did this disaster. They do this with the government together. And so I think maybe we need another kind of architect.”

Wang Shu, 2012 Pritzker Prize Laureate, from his lecture on “Geometry and Narrative of Natural Form” at Harvard GSD on November 4, 2011


Ceramic House in Jinhua, China. Source: Lv Hengzhong


Ningbo History Museum in Ningbo, China. Source: Lv Hengzhong
“Amateur Architecture Studio was founded in 1998 by Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu in Hangzhou, China. Their approach is based around a critique of the architectural profession which they view as complicit in the demolition of entire urban areas and the transformation of rural areas through excessive building. The practice first came to wider attention in Europe with their pavilion for the 10th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2006; a comment on the on-going demolitions, their installation ‘Tiled Garden’ was made from 66,000 recycled tiles salvaged from demolition sites.

“Rather than looking towards the West for inspiration, as many of their contemporaries do, the practice’s work is embedded in the history and traditions of Chinese culture. In particular they reference everyday building tactics of ordinary people and the strong vernacular tradition of building in China. The name of their practice signals this commitment to learning from the ‘amateur builder’, focusing on craft skills and applying this to contemporary architecture. Wang Shu spent a number of years working on building sites with traditional craftsmen in order to learn from them. Combining this traditional knowledge with experimental building techniques and intensive research Amateur Architecture Studio respond to the ongoing challenges of the rapidly urbanising context of China. They do so with a site-specific architecture that valorises crafts and skill over professional knowledge and expertise.” This text and more can be found here