For the São Paulo based architect, who was born in Montenegro and educated in Venice and Barcelona, nature is a crucial source of inspiration. From his forest house in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, Marko Brajovic explores different scenarios for life after the pandemic.
“Harshim Sarkis, curator of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition organized by La Biennale di Venezia, launched a striking visionary theme at the beginning of this year: “How will we live together?”. This fundamental question finally transcends all disciplines and opens an existential portal for humanity. It does not refer only to humans, it’s about all species, the non-human organisms as well. So, how will we live together with all other species?
LIVING APART TOGETHER?
Our “living” on this planet as “being” (on Heideggerian terms) here could be augmented to “living as inter-being”. Because obviously we cannot survive on this planet without evolving our ecological consciousness in a way that takes in consideration our interconnected multiplicity with all organisms.But is it really obvious? Well, not at all, if we observe human behavior in the last 15,000 years in relation to other species. In fact, our anthropocentric perception of the world, which operates on the basis of monetizing anything alive, brought us to this very critical point. And good we are here.
We came from a world of separation, a binary determinism of “us” and “them” and aestheticized by romantic existentialism of a binary “human (us)” and nature (them) dialectic. That is the narrative of the inter-subjective reality we have been living in for centuries. And finally, what we called reality, a reductionist relational prototype unveils and reveals an unsustainable model of existence for the human species on this planet.
Only from this specific point of view humans seem to understand the fundamental and existential need of solidarity, and eventually perceiving “solidarity with non-human people” (Timothy Morton). From this crack of the global financial system chimera, our collective hypnosis, we can finally envision a new world. As Charles Eisenstein pointed out: ”COVID-19 is like a rehab intervention that breaks the addictive hold of normality.” Normality of norms and productive behaviors in service of non-regenerative systems.
We are facing an existential threat in these days of COVID-19, not of humans, but yes for what we call humanity. Humanity, a concept we nourished for too long, distanced us from the organic reality of solidarity with non-humans. The end is coming for our commodity world, where nature is just a number, and that is not so bad. Do we need to save this world? I don’t think so.
The imminent collapse of our mechanistic civilization is opening a beginning of something that we need to be brave to imagine. And the future seems to have happened in the present, right here right now, as a spectrum of our genetic extinction, demanding our full presence. The future I see is not at all the Black Mirror scenario or a catastrophic dystopia, and yes more an illuminated opportunity to overcome the destructive relations we created with ourselves and all other species.
A future to be designed right now, from this position of freedom and solidarity, pananarchy from the running neoliberal agrilogistic system is a future for all species.
EARTH IS ALIVE
During these days of isolation in our forest house, new subtle connections opened and encouraging news comes out every day, news coming from the future. Online I have been able to read about stories of wildlife animals conquering back the urban area, once covered with forests. Sika deer walking downtown in Japan, goats in Spain, monkeys in several cities in Asia, bears, goats, wolves walking down the mountain, dramatic drop-down in pollution, clean rivers, drastically reduced consumption, unseen international solidarity, collaborative medical research… And honestly, this is a future I want to live in.
And what’s about humans in this scenario? Do we need to disappear from the planet in order to make coexistence possible? How can we coexist with animals that are coming downtown to live with us? I believe we just need to open our hearts and shift our perception from the world made just for us, to an interrelated web of life. A world that is good for all of us (all life on earth).
Today I can feel the traditional narrative of separation evolving in an organic inter-being with all species and earth as living organisms. And good news: Earth is alive.
Our planet is a living organism, made out of an infinite interdependent whole. In fact, that’s nothing new to ancestral knowledge. For a long time, this information was clearly expressed by North American Native Americans, Brazilian indigenous people, wisdom from ancient times, till contemporary Ailton Krenak, Davi Kopenawa and many other wise humans, freed from our Matrix. We are all made from billions of bacteria and trillions of cells. And if we scale it exponentially, we go from a gene to Gaya, a self-regulating and self-organizing biosphere. Your individuality is a multiplicity, a “dividuality” and inter-connectivity with all other species that create conditions for life. And feel free to move even further to Niels Bohr’s principle of complementarity in biology and applied to a final quantum evolutionary theory of life by Erwin Schrödinger.
HUMANITY VS. VIRUS
And here comes COVID-19, another organism, so small and so big. So big that in fact it can unbrace the whole planet in just a few months, proliferating through our social relations even as a meme, thanks to our global network as a computer virus. Fascinating, at least.
And how is humanity approaching that very “hyperobject”?
We can observe two paths; an amazing solidarity awareness between humans and from the other side, a government and media declaration of war to Coronavirus. The second one, an obsolete separation minded “business as usual” approach of solving relations.
We are watching a horror sci-fi apocalyptic movie, potentiated by voracious media expanding our fear and rage onto a new enemy. And again the separation story: “us (humans)” and “them (virus)”.
That military narrative can be seen right now everywhere; “fighting Coronavirus” or “war against Coronavirus”. In fact, you cannot fight a virus as linear causality, and less successful is that strategy, once you are dealing with a network virus deeply embedded in our global logistics. The same problem comes out of “fighting” climate crises by cutting only fossil fuels, “fighting” terrorism with war or “fighting” immigration by closing borders and so on with no effective results. Because all those problems are rooted in our relations, to how we live together with other species, as a whole. Coronavirus is, more than anything, an ecological crisis, intended as our capacity of understanding and feeling that everything is interconnected. Indiscriminate “war” against the microbial world with obsessive sterilizations of everything that is alive, cut off micro biodiversity and by so our bacterial cooperative resilience and resistance to pathogens as well. Deforestation, massive extinction, biodiversity depletion, air and water pollution, animal domestication, industrial agriculture, pesticides and all the violence we are proportioning to mother earth are the causes for this and other pandemics to come. Anthropogenic devastator war, against life.
We can not solve terrorism, famine, pandemic or global warming if we do not reassure our ecological interrelation. And life is all about relationships.
Yesterday I had a conference call with the architects from our office and I asked one word from each one, that could define their feelings. Solidarity, family, silence, anti-fragility, self-knowledge were expressed with specific regard to its simplicity and multiplicity of significance. A resonance of purpose and senses, substance and appearance, strong and vibrating life, celebrating everything that brings us to life. That feeling of solidarity that I imagine you all are perceiving in your remote relations and concrete actions.
Disconnected from the media, what I am feeling every day is love between humans and love of humans for our planet. And when you love, there is no price for that, as much there is no price for any life, cow, bird, human, tree. Life cannot be converted into value.
I would like to suggest a different narrative for our COVID-19 crises: “LOVE against Coronavirus”. I believe it would be more effective on all levels. First of all, love is about relationships, so consequently love is about life. Second, love is decentralized and distributed operating in networks, as a virus does, so more suitable in embracing the dynamic complexity. And furthermore, love is about unconditional, genuine solidarity transcending the imposed reality, ultimately creative. Everything is interconnected, and all problems humanity are facing now, naturally, are part of the same dissonance with our nature.
LAW OF THE JUNGLE
The recent images from Venice crystalline water and even no predatory tourism touched my heart, as I spent a good part of my life there, imagining different futuristic scenarios. And those images are even more surprising eventually not being real and in fact digital visualization. Reality is not important here, because the reality we thought was real, does not exist anymore. Wildlife blended in the urban environment is as an image coming from the future projected in the present, untangling from a distance, and almost disturbing.
Cities occupied by non humans at first view creates that strange sensation, as it’s not a place for them, once our romantic separation of nature and culture positions artifacts as artificial in an natural environment. That obsolete dialectic, remanescente from the Age of Enlightenment, is still mainly running our process of making architecture and designing our cities. In fact, the urban space is designed only for humans and eventual domesticated animals. So when wildlife comes downtown, we are scared, and as well deeply seduced with our ancestral perception of co-living with other species. Furthermore, as we utterly feel we are nature, we can easily imagine such futuristic scenarios, where we coexist and share our urban space with non-humans in a cooperative relationship. Cities are saved by mangroves from devastating hurricanes, microorganisms are cleaning our air, trees producing oxygen, fishing cleaning rivers and plenty of other species collaborating to make our cities better. This is happening all the time, we are alive thanks to other organisms, our invisible partners, not appreciated for their contribution, hardly trying to keep the web of life operating. The last great architecture movements from the XX century were driven to mechanical and separation mentality, where houses are “machines for living” and our cities should function as closed systems of feedback loops with controlled inputs and outputs. Eventually, megalopolis are collapsing or artificially sustained against entropy decay by colossal energy busts corroding the exterior borders and unbalancing the relation between development and growth.
And every little noise in that fragile and centralized system reinforces the immediate collapse. It was clear to me during a few days of truck transportation strikes in São Paulo and numerous other cases where the cities got paralyzed by inner or outer vectors as tsunamis drought, heatwaves etc.
Indeed unpredictable events would disrupt any structural system as any city as well, but how can we design cities and buildings that are better prepared to absorb such shocks to the system and afterwards be able to heal back. We are talking here about resilience, that sustains ecosystems, connections and operations after structural stresses. Where all living organisms in synchronic scales, as singular, symbiotic, colonial or other kinds of collaborative organizations.
Nature is a 3.8 billion-year-old designer, so let’s learn some lessons for better building our cities so that they’re attuned for co-existence with all species. Let’s take an example of a forest, highly complex, distributed and decentralized systems that operate among billions of components as a super-organism. A city could learn a great deal from the forest and the ultimate technology of cooperation, diversity, redundancy, self-organization, networking and high technology that produces energy through photosynthesis, water distribution, highly efficient communication, and recycling waste.
The “law of the jungle” is a partnership. So not “Forest cities” as a city in the forest, but “city as a forest”.
The intelligence of the forest is possible thanks to cooperation, different from the manipulated concepts of “survival of the strongest (fittest)”. In most cases the alliance between organisms guarantees survival and only in minor cases predatory strategy is present.
Last year we started an ambition project in São Paulo, testing how in one up-cycled building; energy production, food production and consumption, food forest, retail, co-working, school could work together as an organism studying the metabolic processes of waste, energy, water, information.
We called that process “Permarchitecture” (inspired by the integration of a permaculture system and architecture structure) where the metabolism of a building should merge with the environment in an integrated ecosystem of mutual benefits. The internal and external flow of energy, matter and information should define the operation and functional character of the architecture while feedback loops on different scales would guarantee the metabolism. Far from any final answer or exhaustive result, this project opens an inspiration path for our understanding of architecture. Building as trees and cities as forests propose an evolution of modernist architecture paradigms from mechanical to organic, and that changes everything. Where architecture is designed through regenerative processes that mimic ecological interrelationship adaptive to changing conditions.
We should at least envision such cooperative cities, imagine them as wildest dreams, where the urban environment operates “as” and “together” with other organisms. At this very moment, we urgently need architects to project themself in time and imagine the bright future, products, buildings and cities designed for all species.
Today we are living in a unique perception shift, a critical and privileged moment in human history, and eventual ecological consciousness evolutionary opportunity.
We don’t need to save our collapsing world and unsustainable model of inhabiting this planet, neither our globalized economy. Today we need to be brave and dream in lucidity, we need now to envision the ecological evolution of our species in coexistence with all species in a new inter-being.
As Nick Cave said recently in his online diary; “Perhaps, we will also see the world through different eyes, with an awakened reverence for the wondrous thing that it is.”
Illustrations by Edith Ault for What Design Can Do.