Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Student Exhibit - VEGETAL CITY: dreaming the Green Utopia

Luis Miguel Lus Arana and Aude-Line Duliere, responsible for this week's great student exhibition sent me the following text and work. The exhibit was organized independently by a few students but meant to coincide with this week of Ecological Urbanism festivities.

VEGETAL CITY: dreaming the Green Utopia
A vision of the future biocity by Luc Schuiten

“But I also start here…: we are now beyond utopia; beyond Le Corbusier's utopia, to be sure, but beyond the very idea of utopia itself. We can no longer share the fundamental assumption that lies behind this image: that it is both possible and desirable to completely rebuild our cities and our societies according to some new and better model… “If we are "beyond utopia”, we have also reached the end of cities. I do not mean here that all cities are now fated to decay. I mean that we have reached the end of a whole era in history where the dynamism of civilizations was tied up with their capacity to focus their energies in great cities.”
-Robert Fishman
“The cities should be built in the countryside. The air is purer there.”
-Alphonse Allais.

The beginning of the millennium has been characterized by a growing awareness of the crucial role of the climatic changes on our future. UNESCO, Giec, the international summits of Rio, Johannesburg and Bali speak of the increasing need for a radical change in the behavior of our society. Nature is no longer considered as an inexhaustible manna from heaven but rather as an inevitable ally with whom we need to cooperate in the edification of a long lasting society.

In this context, the purpose of the esxhibition "Vegetal City" is to suggest another way towards a long lasting and bright future for the planet that may be possible through non conventional processes. The life to come has to be considered an attempt of reconciliation with nature that enables us to live together in a balanced harmony. The selection of works featured here is conceived as a progression in time and space, through Luc Schuiten's eye, focusing on Nature's presence as a model for a new way of building. The work of the iconoclastic Belgian architect Luc Schuiten (Brussels, 1944) brings in a visionary glance that parallels a certain secularization of the “green” approach to the city. Educated as an architect in the 60s, Schuiten has developed, in the last 30 years, a work that ranges from the hyperrealistic approach to architecture given by autoconstruction and the pursue of energetic efficiency, to the utopian urbanism of megastructures, from the field of comics and science fiction to the construction of ecological buildings, and from a démodé revision of Art Nouveau to the most recent theories of “biomimicry”.

Schuiten understands architecture as an organism, a living system where the logics of the element (the cell) are translated, in a net of growing complexity, to the design of the house, and of the very city. Starting with his early concept of the habitarbre (“inhabitree”), he has explored for over thirty years new ways to reformulate the relationship between man and dwelling, building and environment, city and landscape. Through his concept of archiborescence, his early projects for maisons biosolaires (bio-solar houses) and habitarbres (inhabitrees) led him to the design of the “archiborescent cities”, utopian projects where the vegetalistic style of his houses evolved into a reflection on the possibilities of the fusion between city and natural ecosystems.

With Archiborescence, which brings together architecture and arborescence as an echo of Paolo Soleri’s Arcology (architecture + ecology), Luc Schuiten shows a glimpse of what a different understanding of the interaction between technology and nature could offer us. As a counterpart to our increasingly digital reality, Archiborescence suggests the use of biotechnology as a tool to actually rebuild the link between man and nature through construction systems that evolve directly from nature. Far from the dark images of the cities of the future Luc Schuiten envisions a harmonious future gestated on a new use of the ecosystems where cities become living entities. In a time when utopia seems to have been discarded as a tool to rethink our way of building the future, those visions offer other models for the organization, form, and the very materiality of the cities that introduce the utopian twist of the 1960s in the ecologically concerned panorama of the new millennium.

-Luis Miguel Lus Arana (exhibition curator)

Luc Schuiten (Brussels, 1944) graduated from l'Institut Supérieur d'Architecture Victor Horta in 1967. In the late seventies, after working with Willy Vandermeeren and Lucien Kroll (1968-69), and spending one year constructing villages in the desert of Morocco, he started researching on the possibilities of the integration of architecture/city and nature. In 1978 he started his series of Maisons Biosolaires with his own house and atelier Maison "Oréjona" (Overijse, Brussels), which was followed by the equally autoconstructed pavillon à 7 côtés (1982), the project for the Maison Biosolaire de Ville (1979), the « Maison Camerman » (Rosières, 1981) and the Maison Dassonville-Monette (1990). Throughot these projects he developed a personal research on the stylistic possibilities of an Art Nouveau that evolved from nature. Parallel to these bioclimatic projects, the concept of «habitarbre» (inhabitree), first developed in the non-built project for the «Maison Cristal» in 1977, has been key in his conceptualization of archiborescence, an approach to architecture that uses as its main elements of construction living organisms, especially vegetal. According to the principles of archiborescence, Luc Schuiten has developed a substantial amount of utopian projects for archiborescent cities, such as “la cite des habitarbres”, “les cites des toits jardins”, “la cité des vagues”, the lotus city and others, where he uses at an urban scale Janine Benyus’s concept of biomimétisme. Along with these prospective works, since 1995, the Atelier Luc Schuiten has developed a series of projects for “vertical gardens” that introduce vegetation in the residual spaces of Brussels, as well as other projects for “green” infrastructures such as the toll gate for the Autoroute A-29 (1996). He has published three books on this topic: Archiborescence (2006), Habitarbre (2007) and Vegetal City (2009). Luc Schuiten’s unorthodox approach to architecture also permeates his works in vindicative, ecology related, art. Along with Raphaël Opstaële, Pierre Gonay, Claire Lamy, Johan Opstaële and Barbara Haln, he founded the group Mass and Individual Moving that erected the polemical Radioactive Monuments in Brussels, Hasselt, Utrecht, Amsterdam and Middelburg in 1976. Along with his brother, comics artist François Shuiten, he created the series Les Terres Creuses in 1979, featuring a variant of the same utopian and environmentally conscious themes, and working as a showcase for some of his architectural designs. Among other prizes, Luc Schuiten has received the Prix Robert Maskens for the Maison "Orejona" (1978); the first prize in the competition "Pour un habitat de qualité" organised by the magazine Architecture Belgium with une maison bioclimatique de ville (1979). His project for the housing building "Oxygène", his Maison Camerman (Rosières, 1981) and the Maison Dassonville-Monette (1991) were also prized in competitions organized by the Ministère de la Région Wallonne. Recent samples of Luc Schuiten’s work have been featured in the exhibition “Archiborescence: Architectures Organiques et Visions Utopiques” (Yverdon-les-Bains (Switzerland, October 29, 2006 – March 11, 2007), “Utopia: De L'atlantide Aux Cites Du Futur” (Mons, April 20 – October 28, 2007), and in the Congress “Utopiales: Climats” (Nantes, October 31 – November 4, 2007)

VEGETAL CITY: dreaming the Green Utopia
A vision of the future biocity by Luc Schuiten
Harvard Graduate School of Design, March 30 – April 4, 2009
Coordination: Aude-Line Duliere / Luis Miguel Lus Arana
Design and additional texts: Luis Miguel Lus Arana
Original Vegetal City Exhibition Concept by Luc Schuiten

All images © 2009 Luc Schuiten. Special thanks to Atelier d’Architecture Schuiten, Éditions Mardaga, Ana Flor Ortiz, Emilio Ontiveros, Rodia Valladares and Juan Mínguez.

Harvard Latin GSD
Harvard European Club

Contact: Luis Miguel (Koldo) Lus Arana: lusarana@gsd.harvard.edu / koldolus@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful report! Thank you so much! Currently, I'm working on a project that intends to create architecture from nature. It is my deep intention to create architecture as close to the foundations of nature.