What is a World ?
Any reflexive and reasonably informed person today, who takes time to ponder on the global dynamics of our world, is confronted with a highly perplexing situation. When looking back at the past, it seems as if the urbanization of our planet, which has been steadily increasing over the past two or three centuries, is inevitable and is integral to history. Indeed, scores of official statistics demonstrate that global population will keep growing, at least in the present century, and will most likely concentrate, as it does now, in larger and larger cities and metropolises. On the other hand, when one probes the future and the environmental issues that loom there, such as climate change, fresh water scarcity, soil erosion, peak oil and biodiversity collapse, this same urbanization looks impossible. Such a paradoxical situation (both inevitable and impossible) is extremely conducive to schizophrenia, and confronts reason with an unbearable challenge.
In this situation, Taking the Country’s Side extends to architects, as well as to all those concerned by the current evolution of our living environments, an invitation to leave their metropolitan niche, their zones of professional comfort and smartness, and literally “take a walk on the wild side”. For some decades now, it so happens that several individuals and communities, committed to enacting alternatives to the deleterious processes of industrial agriculture and market economy (under the name of permaculture, social ecology, agroforestry, bioregionalism or agroecology), have evolved a treasure trove of ideas and principles that significantly challenge the core concepts of architecture and urbanism today. As a poetics of reason for the Anthropocene, this practical wisdom is in our view much more relevant than what Academia generally has to offer on these issues, and way more pointed than most of what currently goes under the name of “architectural theory”.
“World=City”: such was the formula by which Rem Koolhaas, in 2000, summarized the idea of Mutations, an exhibition in which he documented the massive effects of globalisation and the accelerating urbanisation of our planet. Indeed, as the term clearly indicates, what globalization achieved is to turn the term “world” into an exclusive singular: The World. Fueled concomitantly by the expansion of the market economy and the massive use of dense fossil fuel (indispensable to the wide circulation of goods and people), globalisation is the autocatalytic process by which places and territories increasingly invested in their “comparative advantages” and specialised in specific skills, services, resources or amenities, thus becoming more and more dependent of all others for the rest, i.e. more and more worldless by themselves, if not frankly unworldly.
In this situation, one has a world or is a “citizen of the world” in the extent to which one has secured the means and power to navigate ‘à la carte’ between those specialized enclaves. While many Postmodern intellectuals complacently endorsed this process by singing the alleged virtues of mobility and nomadism, urbanists and planners treated cities and territories as a vast plumbing of smart grids and multimodal interconnection, an infrastructure of fluxes and disjunction. It is an insult to all those who, lacking the means or desire to use it, are actually trapped into the margins and leftovers of this expanding network. In the condition of environmental turmoil which is now ours, where everything indicates that the massive resources that fueled globalization might soon dwindle, questioning the current disassociation of agriculture and architecture, cityside and countryside, basically amounts to raising the following political question: What is a world?
As for us, the best response we have managed to come up with so far goes approximately like this: a world is an area, territory or region, a country, both physical and cultural, where one could reasonably imagine to spend and project the entirety of one’s own existence, because its disposition and configuration and the modes of coexistence that have evolved there have turned it into a living environment, sufficiently varied and complete in its genre.
Implied here is the idea that a world is a relatively autonomous region that could eventually self-sustain itself, i.e. a viable territory, able to satisfy a minimum, and hopefully even more, all the “basic functions” (living, working, recreating, but also feeding, exchanging, conversing, and even holidaying) that the industrial era progressively separated, and that modern planning ultimately segregated. Obviously, at least in our latitudes, very few areas would even faintly appear to satisfy that demanding definition. This, given the very likely imminence of both energy descent and biological erosion, should be a matter of great concerns and worries. But more than that, it should be an incredible incentive for young architects and designers to effectively take the country’s side, become natives, and learn from those who have taken upon themselves to actually engage, build up and manage viable islands of coexistence and resilience. This exhibition has no other goal than to back up their impatience with an illusory status-quo and to help them embrace this issue with their feet, hands, minds and friends.
Quite a programme!
 We are of course well aware that Koolhaas, having shifted his gaze on the countryside and on the tremendous evolutions which are currently happening in rural areas worldwide, is about to critically revisit this whole question. Indeed, Taking the Country’s Side may be seen, and has notably been conceived, as both a lateral contribution, an extensive footnote and a transatlantic contrapunctus to the exhibition (Countryside: The Future) he just opened at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Opening Lecture of the Exhibition
Agriculture and Architecture: Taking the Country’s Side at Archizoom