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Nature not exist: architecture / bio-computation / cyber-Gardens / ecoMachinesMay 15, 2012


Cornell University - Nature Does Not Exist
Option Studio Spring 2012 with Claudia Pasquero, Marco Poletto, Kevin Pratt

As human impact on the world’s biosphere reaches critical levels, we should recognize and accept the fact that “nature no longer exists”; at least not as that untamed plane of reference where forces re-circulate in a balanced and harmonious way; in the words of Slavoj Zizek, nature is crazy, catastrophic and brutal. Such acceptance will help us avoiding the contemporary cultural pitfall promoted by what we should define “ecologic ideology”. At the same time it will liberate a much more radical attitude towards the development of new models of transformation of the environment, new design practices for the reconfiguration of the city and the role of architecture in this process.

//Agenda// The studio has embraced this radical attitude by adopting an experimental approach to what we call systemic architecture; we substituted the picturesque with the cybernetic, the mechanic with the bio-digital and the compositional with the algorithmic.

//Works// We started by scanning the recent history of architecture and urbanism in search of existing seeds of such design attitude; we were surprised by the palette of projects we found, some dating back to  the beginning of the English industrial revolution, a time where technology and science were still mixed with mysticism and curiosity; times when the first exotic greenhouses were developed, like Kew Gardens in London; spaces to study nature, to learn how to manipulate it to our advantage and to marvel at it as the same time. At the opposite end of the spectrum we engaged with the  radical utopias of the 60s, a time when systemic thinking and cybernetics were beginning to circulate among radical intellectuals and architect/engineers like Fuller and Otto where at their glorious best.

We started with intensive drawing sessions, intended to re-load our case studies and appropriate some of their cultural and technological components; this initial exercise provided a framed inspiration for the construction of a series of machinic models which became the core of our studio work.
Such prototypes operate as spaces of exploration, contact and conversation with a new form of abstract nature that we went on discovering and analyzing. As 1:1 prototypes they allow direct testing of novel material and informational organizations, while as representational models they promote architectural and urban speculations. This double sided reality is the core of systemic design, informational and material flows are always coupled with spatial behaviors and material effects.

This intense phase of individual exploration took us to the final stage of the semester with a group project, the cyber-Garden installation, converting our studio space into a 1:1 systemic environment.
As we became part of the experiment our role did bifurcate; the students became at the same time the designers of the system as well as part its functioning and its evolution.
Within the spatial and operational framework of the cyber-Garden we were able to experience design as a form of cultivation, as the harvesting of spatial, material and per-formative qualities as well as the evolution of novel ecologic narratives and design agendas.

//Outputs// Students presented their work competently through a live demonstration of the functioning of their prototype model as well as thought graphic documentation illustrating the components, the operations and the potential applicability of their systems; they also constructed a critical argument for their project in relationship to their initial case study and within the context of the contemporary ecologic crisis and related environmental design discourse

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