Another generosity, a new hope

tempo di lettura:  5 minuti

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

This Greek proverb is the ending quote of the Freespace manifesto, released in June 2017 by Yvonne Farell and Shella Mcnamara, directors of the Architecture Department for the 2018 edition of the Venice biennale. The manifesto represented a guideline both for the directors and for all the architects participating in the 2018 Architecture Biennale to show to the public their idea of Freespace, the theme of the exhibition. In the manifesto itself space is represented as in constant dialogue with the new chances and opportunities that the man-built dimensiontherefore, architecture – can provide; in addition, the natural environment is shown as a fragile source of free but limited gifts, thus underlining how human action must be responsibly carried out. Through these premises, the concept of space becomes significant in describing the relationship between us – as human beings – and what surrounds us.  

A word often recurring in the Manifesto is “generosity”. This concept is deemed the main feature of architecture of the future, that will aim at mingling and re-framing the relationships between anthropic and natural space, as it can be read in this passage:

“It is examples of generosity and thoughtfulness in architecture throughout the world that will be celebrated in the 16th International Architecture Exhibition. We believe these qualities sustain the fundamental capacity of architecture to nurture and support meaningful contact between people and place. We focus our attention on these qualities because we consider that intrinsic to them are optimism and continuity. Architecture that embodies these qualities and does so with generosity and a desire for exchange is what we call Freespace.”

The pavilion which expresses with striking significance the exchange between man and environment is that of the Nordic Countries (Finland, Norway and Sweden), entitled Another generosity, curated by Eero Lundén and Juulia Kauste. The exhibition consists in a room filled with giant inflatable cell-shaped structures, each of which is made of a membrane containing two basic natural elements: air and water. All the structures are provided with sensors and electric tools aimed at monitoring external carbon-dioxide, humidity and temperature levels and at generating a response by contracting and expanding the balloons. Thanks to such a response to external stimuli, a dynamic space is thus created consistent with the relationship between the visitors and the exhibition, aiming at rising questions and a new awareness toward the complex relationship between natural environment and built environment (architecture itself).

The balloons, sensing and responding, perfectly resemble how human intervention has been, and still is, relevant in shaping the world: it brings the visitors’ attention to the varied and complex implications of living in the Anthropocene area.

“Though the Anthropocene may appear to mark the moment humans have come to overpower nature, it is also an opportunity to rethink the most basic relationship between our buildings and ecology.”

From this excerpt of the pavilion description, the main focus of the exhibition becomes clear: the chance we have to build a new and responsible interaction with the natural world. The ways in which humans have affected the planet (from pollution to climate change) is proof of the power over nature we have today; in the pavilion, this is represented by the artificial structures set in between a couple of high trees in the middle of the room. At first sight, the plastic cells may give the idea of the trans-human and even post-human, and thus recall the fear of the uncontrollable consequences that may rise when we meddle with the border between life and death, already perfectly depicted in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

No one seems to want a new Frankenstein, though, and topics such as post-humans and AI are suspiciously considered, since they might mean a shift of our role in the world – indeed, they directly affect what human nature is and will be. Nonetheless, we seem to feel the need to use the enormous and increasing power we gained through technological development. Whereas new branches of study and research such as de-extinction, conservation and eco-modernism perfectly describe our need for an intentional response to mend our previous and unconscious mistakes, Another Generosity tries to focus on the same issue by creating a silent – almost holy – atmosphere and by cleverly employing natural elements.

Human intervention on nature in today society cannot be denied, and an effort to go wild would be nothing but an unrealistic utopia: a paradoxically man-made wildness. But this does not mean that we cannot reshape the human role of “stewards of nature” at the top of natural hierarchies that the Western Weltanschauung has developed. Actually, we can do so by taking into account our responsibility towards a world that is not under our exclusive and total control. Indeed, although anthropic spaces (thus, human intervention on nature) are undoubtedly necessary for our survival, the rising awareness on the Anthropocene era and on our role in shaping the world we inhabit is just the first step towards an aware change of our complex relationship with nature. Another Generosity, in the end, underlines a major point in terms of our future chances and duties: a new generosity presents itself as a new hope.

This idea seems to be confirmed and enriched in the observation of the interaction between the visitors and the environment of the pavilion. Each balloon emits a regular, quiet sound because of the air inflation which resembles that of breathing, and thus provokes a harmonic “silence” in the visitors. Nevertheless, in the silent and respectful atmosphere some recorded voices can come out from the speakers on the ceiling. This is most puzzling, as it makes you wonder whether the balloons have something to say or some secrets to be quietly revealed. The cell shape, the water inside it pumping as blood and the inflating air recalling breath all lead to the perception of the balloons as living creatures to be careful with and give attention to. This makes people interact with the exhibition through delicate touches, in the expectation of something about to happen, of the artificial environment to respond. The space thus is created as a space of hesitation, caution and listening, which makes the visitors wander about their role in the exhibition as in the environment, raising questions and doubts. In this sense Another Generosity surely “seeks to create a spatial experience which heightens our awareness of our surroundings” as the description reads. However, this also becomes the basis for a further step, that of asking to others as to ourselves how we can interact with space with generosity.

di Federica Biscardi

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