January 25th, 2004


Compost of the future

Less than a month before 9/11, I published an essay called Roomic Cube. Based on the motto from Takako Minekawa's album of the same name -- 'Does your way of life need a room?' -- the essay mused: 'I'd like to see cities covered soon with data clouds -- permanent free wireless internet access for all citizens... The nation is dead. Visas and customs and border guards are already anachronistic. I hope they wither away this century.'

Days later everything changed. The chances of that global, boundary-free, kindly accessible world disappeared with the World Trade Center. We entered a world of war, hostility, suspicion, paranoia, security, tight border checks, visa clampdowns. We went from the vision presented in exhibitions like My Home Is Yours / Your Home Is Mine and Cities on the Move (which toured from 1997 to 1999, and influenced me quite a bit) to the nightmare mapped out in Territories and Under Fire: the world as an extrapolated Israel, a militarised zone of borders, boundaries, fences.

In Fortress World, a lot of the things we hoped for in the late 90s have been shelved. Transparency, liberty of movement, freedom, environmentalism, all seem to be on hold during the 'war on terrorism'. A kind of martial law prevails, and such concerns as open wifi networks and recycling are neglected. But that doesn't mean these issues are utopian or unachievable. After 9/11 I wrote 'the renaissance must continue', and it does, somewhat triumphally in China, where Rem Koolhaas, the guiding spirit behind the Cities on the Move exhibition, continues to build big projects like the China Central TV building in Beijing, due for completion in 2008. The renaissance is somewhat more furtive and marginal in countries like the UK and the US, currently re-structuring the Arab world instead of getting their own societies in shape for the 21st century.

Down in the Dumps, an article about recycling in today's Observer, shows a Britain failing to face problems, literally, on its doorstep. While Germany recycles more than 50% of its waste, Britain is stuck at a pathetic 5%. 'We bury nearly 80 per cent of our household waste in landfill sites on our small, crowded island,' says the article. 'If we continue down today's track it won't be long before we are literally drowning in rubbish.'

But it may be precisely in rubbish that post-capitalist countries should be looking for a future. While China gets sharp and shiny with growth rates, projects and optimism on a scale not seen in the west since the 1960s, we Europeans -- together with the Japanese -- are rooting around in our post-industrial waste for a softer, more sustainable way of living: the compost of the future. Today I want to give you some Ecotechture links, to sketch out the mushy, furtive world we might be heading towards.

Gregoire & Petetin's Second time zone territories in Kobe looks at the way the homeless recycle architecture. It actually covers some of the same ground as my recent article in Vice magazine about the Osaka homeless.

Urban Drift are a Berlin-based architecture collective interested in:

urban survival strategies / time-based architecture , temporary and ephemeral / urban transformation and the reanimation of lost , forgotten, hidden city spaces / drift-inspired by random movement / trans-cultural collaboration / the city as a medium / scavenging, remapping, resampling the city in light , sound and text / urban nomadism /24 hours nightwalking /the reinvention of spaces /intervention.....urban curating / working with the city's second skin / fluid identities which are never fixed, communicating a mobile, fluid urbanity /reading the city as text / psychogeographies / the space of relationships / the creation of urban situations / stalking peripheral urban spaces / process-driven urban design / garage settlements / urban voids / urban animators / container cities / born in berlin - city in a state of flux / drift via text / smart materials, mobile telephone technologies and new hybrid cultures in urban design /soundscapes / reanimating the real / multiple identites

Spaces of Uncertainty is a show I saw recently at the Architectural Association in London. Kenny Cupers and Markus Miessen look at the recycling of the urban margin: the way city spaces organise themselves in somewhat unpredictable, organic and haphazard ways.

If Urban Drift are drawing on the venerable European tradition of psychogeography in their confrontation with disorder and decay, the Japanese-Scottish practice Ushida Findlay mixes Japanese respect for nature with Surrealism in projects like the Dali-inspired Soft and Hairy house.

For more ecotechture, take a tour of this Archilab exhibition in Lyons.

I leave you with some recycled chic; photos of the Tokyo street fashions of 1935.