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3 - Habitat's Psyche

Meanwhile, architects became hypnotized with digital images, often ignoring tectonic and structural concepts, taking no notice of architectural principles, proportions, deprecating local materials (imperative to avoid transport pollution) and disregarding passive energy (an issue solved in the mid sixties). Absurd discussions organised in the Internet and for the Internet produce the illusion of a green attitude: the use of greenish pixels in clean digital renderings gives the impression of ecological preoccupation. It is not enough to have a scientific knowledge of materials and production processes, what is needed first is a wider conceptualisation and understanding of our habitat in order to find a general path, wide enough to draw living spaces, energy, infrastructure and mobility into the same direction, and only then to use full resources and software to develop architecture. The main task is not whether we can become more efficient only, but to alert our commuity and governments that Habitat Change, which includes Climate Change, is leading our civilisation towards extinction. Individual solutions presented as innovative appeal the consumer's imagination and libido but end up useless, even pernicious. In the last twenty years many architects have been playing with inconsistent ideas, which is unacceptable if the intention is to transform images into real material spaces. The fascination with sparkling virtual representation reached a point where built forms try to impersonate digital images. When built, they are even awarded by critics that rarely visited the real thing. With a few exceptions, in general they are buildings based on fossil fuel processed materials and energy. This is like receiving a price for best performance as leading actor when the theatre is burning in flames. For centuries, hand-made drawings showed intentions and the spirit of an idea (not a final object), hence built architecture was richer: architects modified, improved and finished the work through builders' craftsmanship. Architecture and cities were part of Nature and the Universe, because they referred to it with respect, in a way, they were submissive. Spaces had traces of geometry, mathematics, history and poetry, which helped to understand our position in reality and life. Understanding that relation can help defining the Habitat's Psyche. Indeed, Habitat has spirit and mind; the former is represented in the sense of equilibrium and harmony, self-balanced, evolving in time in a smoth wa. This can be approach through learning the laws from hard sciences: geometry, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and Earth sciences: astronomy, biology, geology, oceanography and climatology, unveiled and perfected in the last hundred years. However, none of these two groups of science disciplines makes sense if we ignore how to reason. For that purpose we developed philosophy and logics, most notably formal logic. There is only one possible way to identify, analyse and understand the Earth's Psyche: by relating the available scientific knowledge through reasoning and, on top of that, to frame it with moral principles. I doubt that those who are in power, governments, organisations, corporations or the financial market are aware of this and if they are, the established collective mind conducted by secondary systems (rules, regulations, norms) does not help, but the contrary. To organise a new and clean post-industrial society should be taken as an international emergency task for architecture schools. One of the problems is the nature of industrialisation, which is essentially to intervene the soil and the surface of the planet, by extracting and processing in order to produce goods, objects, furniture, vehicles, machines, and buildings. That process, since its first day, de-balanced habitat. We consume Earth's resources to create our habitat, destroying it, replacing a non-processed scenario with Man's environment. For instance, we do not consider resources like minerals as a living part of our planet and nevertheless they are, not less than the salt and minerals in our body. We destroy forests, cover the soil with asphalt and cement, occupy almost all available land and kill one by one the other species at a rate of 150 to 200 species per day, most of them insects, but also reptiles, birds and mammals. In order to consider the Earth's Psyche we need a large debate, that sort of discussion that used to be guided by the Pope or Monarch's favourite architect-urbanist (Michelangelo, Wren, Haussmann, Mansard), but the last humanist architects died in the second half of the twentieth century. An excess of democratic practice in these emergency times, mixed with bad decisions has paralysed what used to be the best aspect of our architectural community: to integrate great and magnificent ideas into habitat.

Pouchulu's Sandangeles, 1998 (in between Sandbanks and Los Angeles), aerial view of the newly urban settlelment under extreme weather. At the top, the Highway Building, forests' strips (below it), random shelters (above it), the Endless House (continuous refuge), and different emerging areas of resilient trees. At the left, the water reservoir in a double-underground facilities. Black pencil on canson.

This fascinating but dramatic mechanised world that still amazes us reveals materials, technologies and manufacturing processes that work independently -producing an immense range of goods and services- but in relation with pollution and rubbish they are all harmful and operate detached from each other. These extensions have created a sort of Frankenstein monster type of Habitat, where the quality of life as a whole -and not only in big metropolis but everywhere- is constantly diminishing: mad juxtaposition of high-rise housing buildings, ridiculous large highways that destroy the urban space, dead-end spaces, dysfunctional public areas, endless sign posts pointing nowhere, dangerous hanging cables everywhere, infrastructure and policies that favour our aerodynamic polluting-machines (cars), frightening immense airports, stations that remind of prisons, out of control advertising and unimaginable amounts of rubbish. We have produced anti-spaces where nobody would like to live in; the perfect environment for anti-culture expressions, like ghettos, gangs and the so called "urban tribes", extending the practice of offensive body tattoos, masochism practiced promoted as a form or art, and graffiti, a form of pubic space masochism, promoting pain and humilliation. A self-pity reaction from society has accepted those as art: I think of Adolf Loos: indeed, the dead are always in the wrong. Pedestrian are violently pushed away, shops tend to disappear. In the US, more than in Europe, there are less and less public spaces where people can meet: there are exceptions indeed, but in general life is organised around cars. This is happening since the early fifties in the US, origin and core of automobile and supermarket industries, and basically in every factory-country, developed or undeveloped, like Mexico, Brazil, Russia, Germany, China, India, but also in smaller countries like the UK or France. Only a few old cities are successfully fighting against cars, like Amsterdam or Copenhagen. Between two and five million cars enter every day many world capitals, polluting and generating a mobility misery, noise, accidents and deaths. This can be solved with bikes and public transport, particularly trams and trains, but the final solution is to de-concentrate big cities, creating small urban centres that will require jobs in the suburbs, avoiding the daily commuting routine that pollutes and erodes workers' life, resting efficiency.

New expensive polluting materials and software-controlled devices are adopted in a wild market, where innovation by innovation does not allow a wider approach, disengaging our understanding of what architecture and urbanism should be, blocking a necessary perspective of things. In architecture, remote-activated fittings are anti-ecological, they are expensive to manufacture: in general, we just need levers. Le Corbusier was wrong: architecture is not a machine. 20th century technology has been extremely industrious and from an academic point of view, even funny and highly stimulating -I think of beautiful Archigram- but thanks to 21st century's digital visualisation it has entered a territory where hyperrealistic renderings and sophisticated software and hardware manufacturing extensions allow excessively complex mechanisms, facilitating the development of extreme complicated ideas. In the pre-digital era, when we had to draw by hand, we avoided unnecessary complications and naturally tried to make things logical, economical and simple. Highly technological materials are usually harmful, because their production process contaminates. Logically, part of what we are living and creating as a society has to do with our biological and psychological will to survive in the short term. That is what we all do, and what (particularly) our society does. The first necessary path is to focus explicitly on educating children and young people on this subject, but unfortunately a large group of outsider thinkers is needed, and everyone seems comfortable talking and learning about everything, politics, finances, technologies, weather, sports, irrelevant news and all time, favoured by the non-expensive digital communication. That is precisely one of the main problems: every now and then we must stop and think to correct and re-direct our perspective, and this has to happen before deciding how to do things. In the digital era we are becoming experts of solving irrelevant problems, technical problems created by wrong diagnosis. Someone says "we need faster cars" and people will buy faster cars, and it is immediately transported into the construction belt. We ignore that the core of our Time is not our capacity to solve obstacles -we handle atomic power, we went to the Moon, we are exploring the Solar System, we are unveiling genetic engineering- but to see in perspective the physical and psychological consequences of our modification of Earth's habitat, the impact in the inner logics of it; this goes beyond biology or the environment. We cannot prioritise anymore, because our collective mind is blind in relation with our consumerist habits. Our environment and surroundings are detached from the functioning of Earth life's systems, even if they are part of it, they are not more legitimate than those of insect communities. Modern Man is a new kind of poet, but is also a predator.

Pouchulu's Sandangeles, 1998 (in between Sandbanks and Los Angeles), idem, detail of The "Endless Building". Black pencil on canson.

It is ironical that at this stage, from an organisational aspect, all what society has, in relation with habitat and architecture, is the Law, which has to be modified. But in order to do that we must change our way of thinking. Regarding Habitat Change we cannot expect much from the state, banks or corporations. A government officer has neither training nor interest for understanding the nature of problems; in fact, they form a particular and defined way of collective thinking within the secondary systems and as such; they tend not to change, unless the 'revolution' comes from the top, which means some leader with a vision will persuade the whole pyramid below to change, which is rare and in general when someone has a vision lacks power, and the other way round, so it goes into the wrong direction. A change of path is worth trying not just to improve, but to survive. There have been some good initiatives. For instance, the plan developed and presented  in 2011 by the renown Rocky Mountain Institute, non profit organisation, proved that by 2050 the US could reach a zero carbon emission target. The research by Amory B. Lovins, who conducted the extraordinary book 'Reinventing Fire', was taken in consideration by the Barack Obama administration and persuaded companies and organisations to redirect efforts in order to reach that goal. I interchanged some emails with its CEO Jules Kortenhorst, who is doing a great job. The programme was partially stopped by the Trump government, who ignore that the problem is not only burning oil or coal and putting CO2 in the air, but the extreme consequences of the whole power industry in terms of pollution and environmental chaos, including transportation by ground, air and water. In the US, the programme is now at risk. Other organisations and many individuals in different latitudes are alerting society about this, yet they get organised by using the Internet, without realising this media is self-controlled by its own anonymous collective thinking -and what is known as "deep state"; a longer analysis exceeds this essay. In fact, Internet's governance looks anonymous but it has been designed by electronic engineers, marketeers and programme managers instructed by large financial groups, whose main goal is to offer a global service of world's population surveillance, for profit and security. The plan is working beautifully: everything we do with Internet is monitored and archived, associated with our name: they have filed us; which stands very far from any ideal purpose of educating people in the art of reasoning and thinking. Humans are the only species able to anticipate events. In that sense, we do better than any other animal or biological species. However, we are now loosing something very important: will. Like any superior primate, we tend to copy and to follow the other. What are we doing since we wake up till we go to bed? checking emails, instant messages and news in the Internet. So whatever is uploaded there changes the perception of our surroundings and understanding of reality, every day, hour and minute. The big debate was not yet installed: whether man-made Global Warming produced by our industrial civilisation would put an end to life on Earth. A lack of perspective is not allowing us to see that temperature rise is one of many factors of Habitat Change, probably the worst, together with over-population, over-exploitation, pollution, and more. Climate Change is more spectacular, because in hundred years global temperatures have risen 1.7 degrees, getting closer to 2 degrees, a non-return limit defined in the Kioto agreement by the political -rather than scientific- international agenda. A wider vision is absent. Internet (like newspapers) tend to present news and information in black and white, therefore we tend to take part in one side or the other. Very rarely we reason and notice that solutions are combinations of many points of view; sometimes changing our position regarding an issue will help to see problems from a new and hopefully better angle.

Earth's Habitat has a fragile Psyche. Information and statistics are crucial to anticipate scenarios, but we need more than that, we require verified knowledge; in that sense, the first step is to recognise that what we know about Habitat is neither definite nor final, but temporary. However, informing about facts is not necessarily dogmatic, it is often plain reality. Two thirds of the world's forests are gone; the seas are dying, half of its Phitoplankton has vanished. Facts. We also have to accept our species not just as the dominant one, but as a very particular that is precipitating extinction of all the others and managed to severely alter the whole Habitat chain: Earth's climate cycles, mostly by massive deforestation, that catalysed erosion by stronger rainfalls in (now) exposed soils, ruining farm fields, provoking changes in local rain parameters, and therefore creating positive feedbacks. We should consider our precious Earth as a biological organism, much more complex than any existing plant or animal. Earth has not only been sustaining us: it is alive, its core is made of melted iron: this is energy, gravity and complex cyclic movements, which are linked with the Sun and planets. Actually, our planet is the most complex organism we know, made of systems and subsystems in a sort of inverted Mandelbrot fractal structures, those the late Arthur C. Clarke was fascinated about. These structural systems start at the red hot core, magma, crest and surface, where basic organisms cohabit, vegetal and animal species and sub-species, within a complex biological environment, basically scattered within water, air and soil, protected by atmospheric layers (Troposphere, Stratosphere), and so on. Regarding Habitat, there is no mathematical model to predict what will happen in hundred years, ten, not even in one year from now. What we have produced are tentative projections, for instance, mean temperature average data with a series of algorithms in selected Earth's spots; changes have been deduced in specific climate patterns (El Niño, La Niña), ocean acidification, sea currents and level variations (deep currents warming and slow down), Arctic and Antarctic estimative ice loss, scattered data showing the seas dying (Phytoplankton and oxygen gone) and soil plus atmosphere disruption (excess of carbon dioxide CO2 plus other hundred toxic metals and gases); all this is happening not slowly, but fast. It is not be possible to assess Habitat Change without learning biological sciences principles, while revisiting history of architecture, land use, and applied technology. Habitat has clearly been changing because of us. Climate is also changing, it seems for the first time because of us, therefore it will never be possible to assess a final scientific conclusion (an experiment must be observed and analysed many times before reaching any conclusion). Although, scientists have enough data to assess this verdict. Moreover, we do not have any choice: in order to survive, we must understand the Earth's "Psyche". It is our generation's challenge, even if it seems to late. What has definitely change because of us is our Habitat, that includes Climate. Architecture schools should start teaching philosophy, biology and Habitat Change at once, reducing the time dedicated to pure theory speculation.

Kindred Spirits, by A. B. Durand , c1849. This wonderful painting shows how different was our approach to nature in the mid 19th century. We admired it, we took time to study, explore, think. Perhaps in each epoch there is no particular type of Man, perhaps there is no such things as collective mind, and what happened with our Habitat is that those less sensitive people only interested in trade, commerce and luxury prevailed over those moderate spirits like writers, painters or architects.

How should we analyse and understand Earth's Habitat? First, the sense of unity. Considering any living organism, the more complex is, the more sensitive to minor changes is. That is precisely the opposite to what common sense dictates: a paramecium (a single-celled freshwater animal) is not badly affected by temperature variations; a tiny insect, more complex, can resist 100 degrees; a tree, even more complex, about 50 degrees; but mammals and humans can only face an average range of 20 degrees in their particular environment (cannot live under 15 or over 35 degrees without extensions or clothing. The Earth, considered as an organism, is indeed much complex than a human body. Now we can imagine what means a temperature rising of 2 or 3 degrees. We are (2018) about to cross the 2 degrees above average, that has been steadily rising since the late 19th century, where the measurement started to be systematically recorded. Climate and atmosphere, like plants and animals, have left traces in fossils; there are enough scientific evidence about temperature variations in the past including data not only from thousands, but millions of years ago. For example, according to information recently collected, it seems we are in serious trouble in relation with the release of methane from the Permafrost layers in the Arctic; these used to be covered by very cold waters -frozen at the surface- but now that the ice cap is gone, methane started to be released and we are reaching a level of this deadly gas not present since the times of Dinosaurs, 65 million years ago: 500 ppm (parts per million); before the Industrial Revolution we used to have about 50 ppm. What can architects do? To study, to understand the Earth's cycles, to recognise our role as communicators, alerting that our days, from an Habitat point of view, are numbered. I am not sure what will survive in 50 or 100 years: most species' behaviours are interconnected; not just in food chains, but the role of mammals, fish, birds, insects, all in relation with plants and the soil is very complex and hard to acknowledge as a whole. Do you remember driving in your holidays to the countryside, and the whole front and the windshield of your car ended full of dead insects? Not anymore: according to a recent paper, compared with 1980 the world has lost 70% of insects. This is a bad sign. The wheel of life in our planet is slowing down; nevertheless, people still drive powerful cars, fuel or electric, they pollute the same (only in different places), get food from thousand of kilometres (ignoring that transportation pollutes badly), pack everything, products, toys, even food, in plastic wraps and bags. Time to stop and think; patience and shuffle the cards.

Go to the next chapter, here.

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Background photo: planet Mars, dust storm, PIA15959, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), courtesy of NASA

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