Adapt Or Die

Adapt Or Die, Blessed Unrest @ Letterfrack?

(Originally posted on Indymedia Ireland on Friday May 30, 2008, Then on Its a Funny Old World)

As a species we are finally waking up to the Climatic crisis that we have stupidly gotten ourselves into. After many years of not listening, people now realise the problem we face: ADAPT OR DIE. Some see the human species as a cancer that should die off, a natural end for a silly species. But others have a vision of a sustainable world, a vision that drives them to think differently, act differently, design differently, live differently. For many its simple little lifestyle changes, for others its nothing short of the next chapter in this unfolding strange story of civilization: the ecological revolution.

Cities as forests : infrastructure and participation (click to enlarge)

From Dublin to Spain to the World

Next week in the Northern Spanish city of Santandar, a critical dialogue will happen about the somewhat radical idea of “Cities as Forests”. This conference will examine a topic whose outcome is to find out what is an eco city, how do we construct them and with that how do we live sustainably.

We will be talking about the ideas and lessons learned from Dublin and its proposal of the “Botanic Spine”, an 18km Greenway and CPUL (continuous productive urban landscape) for the city. We will talk about the creation of the 5 community organic gardens that were created along this green route and the how’s and why’s of why only one of these gardens still exist; Dolphins Barn Garden or South Circular Garden, as it is now referred to. We will talk about the bike rides along the canals, the ideas of a metro station in the phoenix park, the hundred plus native Irish trees that were freely given to schools, women’s centres, homeless shelters and Larry O`Tooles roof garden in Sheriff Street. We will talk about the process of having bold dreams and attempting to turn them into realities….

Waste = Food

The idea of “Cities as Forests” is part of a longer simple yet genius idea from revolutionary design architect and “Hero of the planet” William McDonough: “Buildings as trees, cities as forests”. He and his German materials engineer partner Michael Braungart, who also has been a Greenpeace direct action protester, have spent the last 10 years dreaming of how to remake the entire world, they imagine a sustainable world of creation, construction, life, deconstruction in a closed loop system. “Waste = Food”. There is no waste, all stuff goes back into the system, be it the nutrient or the material cycle, exactly the same way that a tree works. They call their design revolution “Cradle to Cradle” and its caught on, BIGTIME. From chairs, to shoes, to cars, to factories, to communities, to US states, to 12 Chinese eco cities… its growing and growing and its goal is: “A delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just World, with clean air, water, soil and power – economically, equitably, economically and elegantly enjoyed.” Or in simpler terms: “How do we love all of the children of all species for all time.”

William McDonough: Cradle to cradle design; “How do we love all of the children of all species for all time.”

Spaceship Earth

The idea of re-imagining, redesigning and remaking the world, from a design point of view, is nothing new, it’s the game civilisation has been playing for all of time. This time the critical difference is that we are aware of our limits, ie, the rules within which we have to play. We live in a finite world, a closed system, a little rock in a strange universe that has given us the miracle conditions we now live in that allow us experience life. We have to respect this and work with this. We have to be aware of, listen to and cherish our mother; Gaia, Pacha Mama, Mother Earth. US architect / genius Buckminster Fulller summed up what we have to sort out in his 1969 book “Operating manual for Spaceship Earth”, in an excellent interview with him in 1974 he states the need for a “design revolution”, he proposed many radical ideas and structures that were about doing more with less: biodomes, dymaxiom cars, dome for Manhattan and more… those ideas have influenced many top architects and collectives such as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Archigram……. and now to this list has been added the names Mc Donough and Michael Braungart,

In this time of Blesses Unrest: We are learning how to steer Spaceship Earth again
In this time of Blesses Unrest: We are learning how to steer Spaceship Earth again

The Paradigm Shift

For many people this age is the most profound, interesting, beautiful and challenging that we have ever experienced. Austrian Physicist, hippy, author, systems theorist, political commentator and creator of the “centre for ecoliteracy” In Berkley, California, Fritjof Capra, calls this time of change of worldview the Paradigm Shift. He states it has been underway since the 1920’s, when the quantum physicists delved into the atom and saw that their “Scientific” world view was simply wrong and that the new world view, which had just been proved by their tools, was nearly exactly as was described in the Eastern philosophies of Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. (Old view saw atoms as the smallest solid bits of matter, new view saw everything as ever flowing energy that gave the appearance of stability and solidity that we perceive daily) But from those strange days (/ daze) of Heisenburg staring at trees in disbelief our world view has been severely shaken in all its disciplines, a questioning has begun and, Capra argues, this is the direct reason for the breakdown of old ways and emergence of newer ways of thinking, being, living: the ending of old religious dogma and systems, the emergence of individual spirituality, emergence of womens movements, civil rights, sexual freedom, global justice. We saw the explosion of rock music in the 60´s, the hippy movement, we saw students and workers demanding an end to wars and the creation of an international system of people power in 1968 in Paris, Chicago, Mexico, Prague, Memhis, Pakistan, Derry…….and more recently the emergence of the “anti-globalisation” movement since the “day the political landscape was changed forever”, November 30th 1999, when the WTO talks were shut down in Seattle by Grannies, kids dressed as turtles, trade unionists, alternative media activists, Black African farmers and anarchists.

Blessed Unrest

Paul Hawken, an ecologist from the US, is also talking about these days as a profound time because we are finally seeing something that we have never seen before in the history of civilisation, he refers to this period as the immune system of humanity finally kicking in, the waking up that the Buddha referred to. He sees 3 distinct strands of life merging: indigenous culture, the environmental movement and the social justice movement. A few years back he started to wonder how many little groups are out there doing their thing: kids cleaning a beach every year, anti war groups in asia, eco builders in Denmark, peace clowns in Russia, writers in China…. Unsure of how many, he and his collective started building a directory of whose doing what and it grew and grew… he´s convinced there are millions and millions of all these little groups, as he states from his presentation at Bioneers:

It is my belief that we are part of a movement that is greater and deeper and broader than we ourselves know, or can know. It flies under the radar of the media, by and large. It is non violent, it is grassroots, it has no cluster bombs, no armies and no helicopters. It has no central ideology. A male vertebrae is not in charge. This unnamed movement is the most diverse movement the world has ever seen. The very word movement, I think, is too small to describe it. No one started this world view, No one is in charge of it, there is no orthodoxy. It is global, classless, unquenchable and tireless. The shared understanding is arising spontaneously from different economic sectors, cultures, regions and cohorts; it is growing and spreading worldwide with no exception. It has many roots, but primarily the origins are indigenous culture, the environment and social justice movements. Those 3 sectors and their sub sectors are intertwining, morphing, enlarging. This is no longer, or simply about resources or infractions on injustice, this is fundamentally a civil rights movement, a human rights movement, this is the democracy movement, it is the coming world.

Paul Hawken explains Blessed Unrest: The immune system of humanity kicking in

In his book he gives a title to this movement: “Blessed Unrest” and he outlines how this phenomenon has been coming to life and growing organically in a way similar to a network system. Its funny and its true, as the subtitle puts it: “How the largest movement in the world came into being, and why no one saw it coming.”

The craic at Letterfrack?

Since 1981 a group of European architectural students have been organizing themselves to meet somewhere in Europe to spend 2 weeks living, working, playing together, an autogestion architecture and life summer school of sorts. Originally it started in Liverpool, when concerned students put a call out for assistance to positively assist the cities docks area as industry wound up, workspaces shut down and surrounding workers housing saw increase in abondanment and crime. A bit similar to the Sheriff Street and East wall communities in Dublin. So these, what I can only imagine as, passionate social minded architects came and did things such as turn abondended dead space into playgrounds and had a profound time of learning. In short, it seems, architecture mattered.

EASA is the name of this collective, which stands for European Architecture Students Assembly, it is the largest student architecture group in Europe and normally a gathering consists of more than 400 of them from all corners of Europe and Beyond. It has always had a magical spirit about it.

in early 90’s EASA visited Dublin in the winter, perhaps you remember footsteps sprayed around the city’s streets? Then the following year it got stuck into what was perhaps its most “real” learning time, the streets, spaces and players of a then brutal, bloody and dangerous sectarian Belfast. EASA has always been “non-political”, in times of conflict and war the bringing together of peoples from different sides and having them live and work together sends out a powerful message of hope. But in these times when everything is politically weighted: “where does your water comes from, do you pay for it, are the charges affordable….” in the safe confines of “fortress Europe” we need not worry too much about these issues, as much as our Bolivian friends do, for example, but as we are a global community we must understand the other world, the world of LOS OTROS.

20 years after Liverpool, EASA was still going strong in terms of the meetings of peoples, which is always a hugely important and enjoyable thing. But, in terms of that getting stuck into full on situations, the “real world” lets call it, by 2002 it seemed there was less magic about. EASA’s world had drifted like so many other things of importance as the years went from DIY punk to corporate yuppie. It seemed that architecture had moved from the passionate days of squatting buildings to fight for housing rights, as in Dublin ’69, to the empty, but wealthier world of what’s fashionable at the Milan catwalk. What is the latest design fad, what cladding looks nicer: architecture had become nothing more important than nice little, and not so little, buildings looking nice in fashion and design mags. The architects forgot that people have to live in these sculptures.

From EASA’s early year experiments in “trouble spots”, the meetings tended to happen more now in “safe” spaces like greek islands with little time for investigation into complex urban conditions and more time for intimate inter cultural exchange, of the romantic sort. These encounters are great, always were, always will be, but there seemed to be a lack of something, a lack of spirit. Then in the Danish island of Bornholme after busy days of building a strawbale house for kindergarden kids a bold French man made a bold proposal: to go back to the city, and all her troubles. To venture to la Condition Publique and the troubled territory it existed in, in the French workers area of Roubaix in Lille. That year, 2004 Lille was the city of culture and EASA, along with their space collaborators EXYZT, were asked to participate in the “neighbourhood of small utopias”. They were invited to come to this zone that desperately needed help and to create a bit of magic, to excite the local, mostly north african, community, to attempt to give them hope, to give them tools to organise and take back ownership of their streets, now that drug wars had dictated no go areas… The organisers said “EASA 2005 will be a political act”, It was a big ask, perhaps too big?

Again was the chance for EASA to try to work in the “real” world of architecture and urbanism, to get stuck into a place with its share of problems, but with that, to try to create solutions. And somewhere in that process unleash the deep joy that goes along with participating in such important process’s that matter.

Unfortunately the experiment failed. Failed because most, not all, but most of EASA had got too accustomed to the easy stress free life, perhaps they had got too arrogant and forgotten how to say hello to strangers? For the most part they choose to work and play with only themselves within the safety confines of the security controlled la CP.

It does have to be said that a very small part of EASA did venture DEHORS, outside, and that connections were made with locals, and that those local kids were excited enough to venture into what was for them the “other world”, the exclusive world that belonged to cops, security and architects. These kids became the teachers for the architects, they thought their traditional stitching techniques they had learned from their Algerian grandmothers while colloborating on the roubaix tapestry.. For those few, some beautiful shared projects and experiences happened. The questions of who are the architects and architecture serving who were clear.

The experiment could have worked, If 400 + people were unafraid and willing to leave the land of safety with a desire for it to work, to really try to create something beautiful and meaningful, it could have been… But, it didn’t. the sad thing is that EASA’s failure further widened the divide between la CP and “her” people. The EASA failure put an end to those adventures for some, there were other groups and spaces to seek out and connect with. But for most, EASA carried on, back in the safe world. It is still a fine world, it just could have been something deeper.

So roll on 3 years, by which time the mainstream trends and governments had realized there was a global crisis, sustainability had become the new buzz word, architects talked again of important issues. 2008; This summer from August 9 till 24th, EASA is coming again to Ireland where they will be investigating / exploring / playing with the idea of ADAPTATION. They will be in Dublin for 2 nights and will then cross the island to live in and work out of the furniture college of Letterfrack. In terms of build up it seems to be the most impressive lead up ever, its seems the irish are buzzed up about this summer, they have already created a dialogue in the media and architecture mags. They have written a clear and thorough booklet outlining their objectives as well telling their islands story, so far. They seek to understand Ireland and the housing problems, they point out flawed planning examples, the point when its necessary to point. But from this event, what will arise?
it seems again there is that spirit to understand, the wish to work with the guts of things, to come up with solutions, we will have to see how it goes. Perhaps weve gone full circle, to a time when again architects seek to make a difference?

Who knows? The only sure thing is that without a doubt, there will be music playing, waves rolled in, hills walked on, pints supped, friendships forged and without a doubt there will be some amount of craic this summer in Letterfrack..

Cities as forests : Botanic Spine, Dublin greenway and CPUL (click image to enlarge)


2 thoughts on “Adapt Or Die

  1. Five pathways to post-capitalist ‘renaissance’ by a former oil man
    ‘Capitalism is torpedoing our prosperity, killing our economies, threatening our children. It must be re-engineered, root and branch.’ (Nafeez Ahmed in the guardian)

    The global Transition tipping point has arrived – vive la révolution

    The party’s over… welcome to the after-party

    Indeed, what we are facing is something far more complex than an ‘end-is-nigh’ scenario: not the end of the world, but the end of the old industrial paradigm of endless growth premised on practically endless oil, that is increasingly breaching its own biophysical limits; and the emergence of an emerging paradigm of civilisation based on a vision of a global commons for all.

    So arguably we must accept that the old paradigm of unlimited material acquisition is in its death throes – and that the new paradigm of community cooperation is far more in tune with both human nature, and the natural order.

    This new paradigm may well still be nascent, like small seeds, planted in disparate places. But as the Crisis of Civilization accelerates over the next decades, communities everywhere will become increasingly angry and disillusioned with what went before. And in that disillusionment with the old paradigm, the seeds we’re planting today will blossom and offer a vision of hope that will be irresistible tomorrow.

  2. good article from fionn: Development in the Ecological Age

    … The story of ascent, the story of separation, and all the institutions built upon them are in a state of crisis—of which the economic crisis is an important part. As the crisis intensifies, the core of the dominant culture will have an increasing need for new stories. These, we will discover, are not really new at all, but have been waiting for us in the corners of the world that have escaped, to some degree, the colonizing effects of development. Perhaps the most important thing people in those places can do is to preserve and develop their Stories of the World. We will need them for our future ‘development.’

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