KERB 19 / Paradigms of Nature: Postnatural Futures

“So no, I don’t accept that the future is over-sold : it’s productised an as a result it’s over constrained by our current ways of thinking and immediate practices …”

- Rachel Armstrong, letter to ARUP

Have you ever wondered how a single cell can finally transform in a complex organism? And how the survival of this organism depends on the key relations set with its species and the environment. The same questions could be applied when talking about our cities. If we see humankind as the top of evolution, the obvious consequence is to see nature as a resource to achieve all of our goals. The adoption of “Sustainable Development” concept is just another way to name the same behaviour adding a green make-up.

But what if we perceive humankind and its manifestations as part of nature? In this case, natural and technological systems should coexist, and their survival depends on reaching an equilibrium in their exchanges of matter and energy. Some forward thinkers have been spreading this message. Now we can found compiled some of them in the new issue of KERB magazine: Paradigms of Nature. Post Natural Futures.

The traditional one-way dependency on technology and machines is presented here as a reciprocal, way to understand the new paradigm of landscape, architecture, and design. Aiming to moving beyond isolated interventions and focusing on “expanded” design, KERB 19 presents a series of projects, essays and interviews which reinforces this point of view. What Davis Gissen calls “The Architectural Reconstruction of Nature” is one of the start points of the projects selection. As he wrote:

Buildings approaching the forms of mountains and caverns; structures that appear as rivers and clouds: the contemporary architects producing these conditions advance an agenda that we can provisionally term the “architectural reconstruction of nature.”

So, how can we now synthesise technologies with living systems? Are we reaching the planetary person proposed by Alan Drengson?

Dr. Koert van Mensvoort wrote on his essay “Nature is dead, long live nature!” that this paradigm shift has some major implications. As he points, the understanding that people, with their cultural activity, are causing the emergence of a “next nature”, that we can see reflected in mostly all of the projects published.

Liam Young’s Near Future Bestiary shows how the emergent landscapes of robotics, bio technology and ubiquitous computing are evolving in a series of new specimens of biotech creatures, a new form of engineered nature… This artifacts represents a Darwinian evolution of the future population of Earth. Like in a future reprint of “The descent of man” by Charles Darwin, when he describes the origin of man as the development of rudimentary structures, muscles, sense organs, bones, reproductive organs, etc., now Young speculates on the future mutations when this natural origin interacts with the sophisticated machines that we’re creating.

This idea of a cyborg-nature is also present in Simone Ferracina’s project Super Natural Garden, an on-going project aimed at the digital extension of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City.

Based on the development of electronic species, Ferracina’s project is all about expanded electronic ecologies, but without loosing our current information. That’s why an important part of the project are the Archivers, which, like a new version of 1972s Silent Running, will record the life of a host plant— its sprouts and seedlings, buds, blossoms and withering—and play time-lapse movies of its strange mutations.

The philosophy behind this kind of projects is reinforced with Daan Roosegaarde words:

“I think the new league of artists or architects who are interested in these interactive environments are less concerned about technology. Rather, they are concerned about social behaivour and linking the analogue and digital worlds together.”

According to the research presented in KERB 19, we’re reaching a new terra incognita, created with landscapes of manufactured evolution. Following this idea of researching and exploration has driven Brenton Beggs to reach the globe’s last unexplored frontier: Lake Vostok, to study the biological specimens discovered among the preserved sediments on the ice core. As Paul Shepheard pointed, “everything is experimental around here.” As experimental as the research on Lake Vostok is, speculations abut the existence of microbial life in the lake will not be confirmed until NASA is able to develop a robot that can break into the lake without contaminating it.

So, at this point is interesting to ask: what happens beyond?

Pia Ednie Brown talks about the future of researchers as a new kind of practice, the emergentist. In this context, the work of R&Sie(n) is presented by Dr. Hélène Frichot as an example of what we can call “architecture of the future”. R&Sie(n) work is presented here as an “unimaginable post-human landscapes and ‘things’ that are hybrid mixtures of organic and inorganic material.” Following this path to the future of architecture, Lisa Iwamoto and Craig Scott talks about the possibilities of scripting and digital fabrication, pointing out the difference between the object and the process, which is based on the development of a set of relationships, complex and flexible at the same time.

Christian Groothuizen synthetizes it with this words:

“Artificial ecologies must be able to sense and respond to a variety of natural and artificial stimuli at a multitude of scales, and provide a platform for real ecologies to re-establish.”

While realising that the difference between natural and technological landscapes is nothing more than cultural imagery, we may be on our way to develop resilient cities that behave as organisms. Maybe it’s the time “to sudy the nature caused by people”.

From mycorrhizal extrastructures, passing through “remedial environmental interventions”, such as Dr. Rachel Armstrong’s project for Venice, the contents of KERB 19 remarks the relationship between architecture and biology and presents an optimistic vision about the role of landscape architecture in our association with nature.

CODA: As received through post mail…the KERB issue had a bent corner as you may noticed in the pictures. An insignificant detail or a reminder of our existence subjected to physical laws? … The answer is up to you!

You can buy and read KERB 19. Paradigms of Nature. Post Natural Futures here:

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Cite: Ethel Baraona Pohl. "KERB 19 / Paradigms of Nature: Postnatural Futures" 20 Oct 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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