GB No. 1, autumn 1989
Below we publish the article of Janusz Andrzej Korbel from one of the most active environmental groups in Southern Poland (Bielsko- Biala)- the Workshop for All Beings. They carry on the action against the Beskiden Mountains' polluting, they also publish a very good environmental newsletter.
The Workshop for All Beings (the Studio for Living Architecture) refers to two issues: the trend in designing based on the acceptance of the principles of ecosophy in town-planning and architecture and the way of life and behavior which are the consequences of such acceptance on a deeper level. The list of participants of the Polish network of deep ecology involves this second aspect and joining it involves the adoption of certain general principles. These principles have nothing to do with any attempt to formalize or institutionalize the trend. They are not rules or regulations to be observed, but only indications formulated on the basis of shared feelings:
Several years of theoretical solutions and actual designs in the Studio for Living Architecture today make possible to attempt of describing the new paradigm in the aspect of architecture and town palnning. It is rather evident fact that problems of the modern world have also affected environmental design. Our comon plane of reference however is deep ecology, as expressed in five poinst presented above.
As we are talking about a new paradigm, it must ultimately imply cultural change, and thus find its expression in cultural space - the designer's sphere of work.
Architecture has accustomed us to instrumental treatment of the environment and of form. The limit of function-oriented thinking was the function of human psyche, leading in the best of cases to the so called humanistic attitude. This indeed, apart from average technical skills, is what is being taught at the academy (in Poland, unfortunatelly, the technical university). According to this model, which we call the classical one, the architect is someone serving other people, equipped with technical (technical university) and cultural knowledge and having artistic ambitions. Apart from the fact that this knowledge of all three above mentioned spheres is rather superficial, even in the most favorable situation, being a good technician, culture expert and real artist, he can only utilize these skills to create his own or his patron's monuments, thus making them instrumental in the erection and consolidation of the anthropocentric edifice. This is an attitude causing separation, resulting from an outdated, mechanistic worldview, whereas in modern science utterly different ideas are already emerging. David Bohm, professor of theoretical physics, writes in his work The Implicate Order: "... the interactions between different entires (...) constitute a single structure of invisible links, so that the entire universe has to be thought as an unbroken whole. In this whole, each element that we can abstract in thought shows basic properties (...) that depend on its overal environment, in a way that is much more reminiscent of how the organs constituing living beings are related, than it is of how parts of a machine interact."
In the mechanistic wordview houses and cities were regarded as more or less satisfactorily functioning mechanisms and nature was a scene, on which the architect appeared. On this scene he erected more or less successful monuments and solved technocratic and humanistic problems. Highly regarded was optimalization, intensification, size, speed, progress (conceived as growth), transformation and domination of all wild, non-human, uncultivated areas. The house, housing estate, city, landskape began to "belong" to the designer. And where did he belong? Lost and alienated, only in the grasp of modern trends and fashions. The world seen in such a way by the architect resembles in the best of cases the garden concepts proposed by Wendell Berry and Rene Dubos. It was the famous architect Buckmister Fuller, who called the Earth a spaceship (Spaceship Earth), controlled and operated by man. This very mechanistic image corresponds in fact with professional egocentrism and spiritual dilletantism. The conservative architect believes in his destiny, and tries to exercise power through controlling the processes of his own, sanctioned, anthropocentric model of the environment. This is still being taught in architectural schools, but it is also the cause of protest and of the guest for new consciousness and the role to be played by those taking environmental decisions.
The new vision of architectire can come into existance only when we acknowledge as indispensable the holistic worldview and recognize the interdependance of all phenomena and environmental elements. This must be accompanied by the recognition of the value of all life and the rejection of the so called professional ethics (as divisive and condescending) in favour of sympathy and solidarity of the whole organism.
The new architecture stresses process and harmony instead of functionality and form (expression). Archirecture must cease to serve the wealth, status, entartainment and power of man and start to make amends for the harm he had caused, as it was one of the instruments of Western culture, responsible not only for unprecedented development, but also for a deadly crisis. Process involves perceiving continuity and relationships. This means interfering in places where it leads to destruction of life and refraining from action in places of harmonious and wholesome life growth. Today this requires a radical prohibition of expansion into the Earth's still "healthy" natural areas. It also means that the principle of looking after old buildings and making them less energy- consuming becomes an ecological and ethical duty. Though we can repeat after one Zen teacher that -ism is good for nothing harmony -in one sense- means bioregionalism, respect for tradition and for indigenous culture. It also implies confidence in intuition and in the experience of place. Since is only an instrument and will never solve life's deepest problems. We have always finally dispensed with it anyway (otherwise Nazi medical experiments on the motally ill should be considered justified). Of course harmony is something more than its classical tradition, it is the entire natural order. The idea in new architecture could well be replaced by the idea of harmony.
New architecture involves designing in place, where improvements are necessary and in such a way as to enable the complex (and not complicated) environmental cultural organism to servive, and Gaia with it. Instead of asking what the city (village, settlement, house, factory) can gain from the environment, one has to ask what it can give. The bulk of work to be done today is in town planning as the main field of activity involving decisions, which can destroy or save the environment and dealing with the city, which in its present form is the most morbid, cancerous product of Western civilization.
If we agree that wild and predominantly natural regions should be definitely protected from the expansion of our species' chauvinism, the main area of designing activity seems to be the environmental cultural organism, in our circumstances most often the city. One fundamental cause of the destruction of Polish cities is that they have been divided into functional zones and viewed in mechanistic terms. "The whole system is always different from the mere sum of its elements" -the city is something much more than a place of living, work, leisure, learning, administration, commerce and communication. Late Polish professor of architecture Jerzy Chryniewiecki once said: "We have devided the city, thus killing an organism" and these words comply fully with the new approach to the environmental cultural organism. Communication, industry and new housing projects are not vital -what is vital is the organism as a whole, sustained by co-operation (interconnectedness), reverence, solidarity, responsibility, frugality and compassion (comp. Henryk Skolimowski "Ecological Values as the Foundation for Peace"). New architecture deals with the environmental cultural organism, with discovering and experiencing its processes, its "health and illness", and subsequently with such designing, which enhance harmony and ensure conditions for individual and collective development through self-realization. This has nothing to do with the growth of production and consumption, on the contrary -the aim should be a high quality of life of individuals and the whole environmental cultural organism, instead of a high standard of living of inividuals and groups, which can be realized only at the cost of the quality of the whole system.
Behaviour depends to a large extent on the frame of reference. Presently, for the first time in the history of culture, it adapts itself to technology and not vice versa (Arne Naess). Old towns served people, many modern cities serve efficient automobile transportation (30% -60% of a city's area acc. to Richard Register). Technology, one of the Western culture's idols, strongly influencing and wooing architects, is frequently wrongly judged by its products. Function-oriented and not process-oriented thinking is prevalent. Meanwhile the final products of technilogical lines are only a small part of the consequences of technology. We must remember that an average automobile emits more than 1 ton of fumes per year, and a litre of Polish fuel contains 0.4 g of lead. Furthermore, means of transport utilize mainly non- recyclable materials and fuels. The city has been dominated to a large extent by automobile communication. To make it more efficient, antique houses are being torn down and trees are being felled. This is one of the most tragic aspects of our alienation from the necessities of the living organism, which can even lead to its irreversible destruction, as it happened in many old towns. Though it would be naive today to expect the rejection of the automobile, designing cities for the automobile is a symptom of an expansive, chauvinistic approach. For the same reason a critical attitude must be adopted towards highways and freeways, frequently dominating and fragmenting the environment and designed without the least consideration for compleks local processes.
The automobile is only one of the techno- logy's children. Our aim here is not to accuse or demonize it. Things as such are neither good nor bad. We prefer some of them (we must bear in mind however that the so called end (final) product is not the only effect). Products cconsuming less materials are certainly more useful and desirable. Ultimately however it is human mind which creates the ideologies of struggle and growth, rivalry and competition, dominance and distribution. Unfortunately, though the achievements of technology have facilitated the present development of ecological consciousness (networking, efficient recording and transfer, information independent of any hierarchical systems), more often technology is utilized for further fragmentation, domination and power-play or open warfare, for creating substitute goals and needs (Disneyland effect), thus furthering the ongoing conquest and destruction of Mother Earth. New architecture should serve the processes of natural life and not substitute processes imposed by technologies.
Designing the environment we tend to assume that we are perpetuating a certain state. Similarly many people assume that tomorrow they will certainly be alive. Such an attitude forces thinking in terms of attainment and conflict: we will win, conquer, subdue, accomplish, overcome, organize. Architecture, especially since the Renaissance, is becoming a manifestation of self, a manifestation of this attainment-oriented thinking which urges us to keep building more, more robustly and expansively, devastating all encoutered barriers. Such strivings naturaly result in the emergence of ever new unforeseen barriers and negative developments (for example the toxic effects of new building materials). In certain cases this can lead to increasing dejection and the necessity for psychiatric treatment. Gradually the decline of ides and conceptions concerning ideal solutions and models of functioning of environmental organism is becoming apparent. This is a result of the already mentioned fact that the existing theory of environmental designing was derived from traditional science, where nature is governed by eternal proportions, principles and laws (from Plato and Pythagoras to Descartes and Newton) and also on a certain myth of laws of nature conceived in an invariably limited way as permanent, eternal, unchangeable and allembracing. We want to transfer this permanent state into the subject of our designing -the environmental organism. Such thinking originates probably from mystical thinking possibly derived from the image of God as an eternal principle, his mind identical with these ultimate laws (the theory proposed by biologist Rupert Sheldrake). Every spiritual path, however, leads to the realization that the Eternal Principle cannot be described in words or reduced to laws. The meaning of life consists in the actualization of the potential inherent in each sentient and non-sentient being and in their mutual relationships. This self-actualization is possible only through transcending models, patterns, laws and principles "governing" space, to make it a living space. Our self-realization is possible only when we ensure conditions for the selfrealization of "others" (Arne Naess); environment is alive only when we meet all its needs.
Andrzej Janusz Korbel
Magi 21/3, 43 300 Bielsko-Biała