The history of mankind might as well be seen as the history of exploitation of the natural environment. Likely all the other living species, mankind has established a relationship of vital dependency with the resources offered by nature but unlike them, human beings have been able to gain an active control over a large part of those resources. Using its body, its brain and the production of extracorporeal tools man has been able to “change the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him.” At first by exploiting what was already available and lately by subjecting the natural productive system itself. Humankind has so learned to plow the land, to grow the fundamental nourishment for its reproduction, to catch water in basins, to produce energy for its mill and to irrigate his fields, to dig the surface of the earth, or/and to extract the fossil fuel needed by its replacing machines. He carried on “an economic and scientific revolution that made the participants active partners with nature instead of parasite nature.”
Not only the way men produced his means of life is being completely revolutionized overtime but also the surrounding environment changed its primordial configuration by the material productive forces in action. While he was learning how to control and take advantage of the natural forces around him, he was contributing at the same time to change the form of its environment. The outcome of both the anthropic and the natural evolutionary process is finally showing as a territory, i.e. “an immense stratified deposit of material and cognitive sediments, a work built by the domestication and fertilization of nature, objectified in landscape, cultures, and knowledge, which are configured as a collective heritage”. Territory here is not to be intended as a surface over which man inscribe its own labour, but it is itself the result of this process. The territory is the built work by human labour.
The intensive and extensive exploitative forces involved within man’s productive systems are speeding up the depletion of finite resources and the decline of many natural areas worldwide. The increase of environmental threats such as soil erosion, flooding, deforestation, water and soil pollution, are only a few examples of the impact of the contemporary economic system on our planet. They are the physical display of the productive forces in action over the natural environment, i.e. the “secondary evils” produced by our mode of production. Far to be the outcome of external forces to human action, they became a constant in the construction of our contemporary territory which permanently affects our life and the life of all the other species on earth. We are conscious that an answer to the above problems cannot avoid the broader questioning of our economic system, but could these new unproductive lands offer the space to rethink the way how we act on nature? Can we build a counter project to contemporary forms of land exploitation and what could be the role of architecture in responding to these issues?
In 1981, from the page of l’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, Vittorio Gregotti reclaimed the central role of architects within the construction of territory. “Architecture should investigate the possibilities of a formal anthropological and geographical analysis of landscape… shifting the problematic of architectural space by elevating it to the level of geographic space… defining formal methodologies and approaches adaptable to a different scale.” For Gregotti, the territory is not merely the surface or the background where architecture takes place, but it becomes itself an architecture subjects to the same methodological approach and to the same cognitive categories witch rule architectural discipline. Gregotti invites architecture to break up the disciplinary boundary where it has been confined by contemporary specialization of work and to challenge the way we are building our territory. A challenge that is becoming more and more urgent if we considered the recent impact of human activity on the natural environment and on our way of living.
For the first Biennial of Architecture and Landscape, we have decided to answer the call of Gregotti and propose four projects of territory as a deliberate act of resistance to contemporary forms of exploitation of the natural environment. By taking into account four threats acting on the territory, namely the landslide, the flooding, the earthquake, and the depopulation, we draft four projects which do not respond to any aprioristic use and abstracted program, but which are opened to a new relationship between man and nature. The opposition to these forces became then the moment to open up a new field of interventions for architecture which do not aim to take over contemporary forms of production but rather to free the territory for new possible uses.
Construire le Territoire
Augures, Biennale d’architecture et de paysage d’Île-de-France BAP
With Cyrus Ardalân, Lucien Dumas, Théo Tostivint and Arthur Crestani (photograph)