“Let no one enter here
who is ignorant of geometry”
Such was the warning writ large on the gate of Plato’s Academy, summoning logos (reason) in the discussion of major topics and public affairs. A qualified version of this sentence is also placed at the entrance of this exhibition: let no one enter here who is, and intends to remain, ignorant of the scales and proportions of our biosphere.
Taking the Country’s Side, initially shown at the Centro Cultural de Belem for the 2019 Lisbon Architecture Triennale, explores the nexus of Agriculture and Architecture, two complementary practices of domestication which started to emerge, some 10 000 years ago, as the twin fairies of the Neolithic Revolution, and thereafter of the Anthropocene. Given the present environmental predicament, our basic hypothesis is that no sound reasoning can develop on the future of those two fields of concerns unless they are reconnected and fundamentally rethought in conjunction to each other.
Our core argument is didactic and consists in 42 panels arranged in 6 thematic lines of thinking. They compose an ideology, i.e. a jurisprudence of ideas, moments and figures which one might bear in mind when considering the nexus of agriculture and architecture, and its evolution. Visitors are invited to wander among those cards as in a game of patience. As for the back of those cards, we have used them to call up, as if from the womb of architecture’s collective imagination, a constellation of famous projects or images that speak by themselves. No fixed rule dictated their placement, other than their counterpoint or resonance with the front panels located behind or across from them. Let visitors trip. The texts on our front panels should intimidate no one. Their function is to provide occasional help in better grasping the topics addressed by each panel. Dead reckoning and flitting navigation are fully encouraged. The book-catalog produced for the Lisbon Triennale is here for those eager to go through the whole argument.
Since history and theory are futile if not spurred by a call to understand where we stand, our whole jurisprudence leads up to a compass for envisioning the future. There, we tried to synthesise, in four wide landscape drawings, the competing directions that the dialectics of city and country, as well as agriculture and architecture, might take nowadays. Incorporation, Negotiation, Infiltration and Secession are framed as the cardinal points of a wind rose within which visitors are encouraged to reflect on what their position might be. Ours is not neutral. By providing this compass, our intention is to challenge the common idea, largely prevalent among architects, that cities and the metropolitan condition are the manifest destiny of humankind. In our view, what the present environmental predicament badly requires from designers is indeed a new poetics of reason: a “lean logic”.
On the left-hand side of the room a 30 meter long timeline is displayed, synthesising the parallel evolutions of agriculture and architecture (and subsequently urbanism) since their common inception in the Neolithic age. In this work-in-progress, major environmental, technical, or socio-political shifts are highlighted, which changed the ways human societies shaped and transformed their surroundings. It should help our visitors locate the vignettes of our jurisprudence in a common history, and draw their attention toward the dynamics of those parallel evolutions: an indispensable rear-view mirror if we are to dispel the cloud of false promises that surrounds us today, and seriously address the ultimate question: What are we reasonably entitled to hope?
Encounters and conversations
The last component of our exhibition is a series of film excerpts, documentaries and interviews, displayed in five thematic reels, featuring, besides agro-architectural projects, major figures in the fields of environmentalism, social ecology, permaculture, agroecology or bioregionalism. If collecting a sound historical jurisprudence is essential to understand our situation today, nothing is more invigorating than actually converse with those who have taken the country’s side and devoted their lives and skills to managing worlds. Indeed, such is the political question that we intend to raise here and now: what is a world?
Showing this dense exhibition at Archizoom is a way of bringing it back home since Taking the Country’s Side collects the fruits of two courses that were given at the Epfl in the past few years: an introduction to environmental history in 3rd year (synthesized in the Timeline) and an elective seminar on Agriculture, Architecture and Urbanism for master students. Our hope is that it may here be used as exactly what it is: an ideological garden or lounge where students and visitors may carefully pause and ponder on the shaking conditions and stakes of architecture today.