Thursday, 21 February 2008

City Must Be a Compost
Marco Casagrande

Anarchist Grandmothers will overtake Taipei. This is the final solution for the industrial city. The industrial city is dead - long live the compost!


1. Ruin

Ruin is when man made has become part of nature.

There are different rhythms of time in Taipei. Human time is the years and generations that have been spent with the location. Human time connects the city to memories and gives Taipei a subconscious. Natural time is how the city relates to the daily changes of sun, winds, tides, moon, opening of flowers, animals waking up, insects coming in etc., to monthly changes of moon and tides, to annual changes of temperature, rains, storms, migrating animals, vegetation growth etc. and to big natural circles of climate changes, earth quakes, human, plant and animal migrations and earth formations. Artificial time is the linear hacking rhythm of the industrial time controlled human effectiveness that regulates the modern urban life and the urban mechanism itself – the build human environment.

The first generation Taipei was living in organic time combining the natural and human times and the city had reached the level of a mediator between the human nature to the rest of nature. The city didn’t necessarily fight to keep the nature out of human space and time. On the contrary in many ways the human activities were rather dependent on nature and on natural time. Nature has played a key role in the human subconscious and so in urban growing as an expression of human mind. Natural time based urbanism is tuned to the rhythms of nature. This has required a strong presence of the builder to understand the site-specific values, the local knowledge of the natural time in the Taipei Basin.

The first generation Taipei was able to survive through understanding the mechanisms of the environment and cultivating to the nature as an organic machine.

Industrial time introduced a different relationship with nature culminating to the declaration of independence from the natural environmental conditions. Rivers, tides and winds have always helped people in moving with stars, sun and moon as the means of navigating in landscape, but on the conditions of nature. Industrialization starting with steam power however conquered the nature, as finally man was not dependent on it. Man himself was able to create mechanical power. We were liberated from the environment – from the environmental totalitarism. Soon the historical man was viewed as the slave of nature, the barbarian “native” - the very contrast to the modern man.

Modern city is the final expression of the build human environment where all the surroundings can be expressions of human mind. Taipei is a man made landscape with high level of control to keep the unthinkable, the nature, away or at least under control. With the industrialization natural elements were no longer needed as part of the urbanism of daily activities and so the nature became the other place, the opposite of the urban progress. The second-generation city needed to be supplied from the outside and so the outside became a servant, a lower being. Taipei was the modern, the outside was the backwards – the farming peasants almost like the natives in the bush. The industrial city turned the rivers to sewage, dried the wetlands and paved the farms. The new city walls were built to keep the nature out. Industrial urbanization was the key to success; it seemed to be the only way. Bicycle rickshaws were banned in Taipei in the 1960’s – manpower smelled like the first generation.

In the 1950’s man went out to space and started the race towards the moon. Moon was soon reached but nothing much was found - a couple of stones. What really was found was the shock when the man looked back from the moon and for the first time saw his own planet from outside. This questioned the industrial mind. Earth was clearly one big organism with white clouds and winds sailing on top of the blue waters, glaciers and landmasses. Everything seemed to be connected in this one life providing organic system. We started to talk about pollution and even the possible changes that our industrial activities might have with our “ecosystem”. Industrialization however could not be stopped. You can’t just kill the lights of a city, or take away the fridges. We are still pretty much in the same shock like the man on the moon, finding our words what to say, being afraid that our things might have to change a bit, even feeling a bit guilty. Industrialization has been questioned; the second generation city is not necessarily the peak of the human progress.

Taipei is where modern man lives and how he lives. The man on the moon saw that the industrial way of keeping nature out of the house or the city was not necessarily just glorious, but could actually harm our whole planet and change its life supporting systems. From satellite pictures we already saw some dead spots on our planet. Our cities are the actual concentrations of global pollution like anti-acupuncture points dotting the big Earth organism. Our comfortable modern city is the climax of our industrial mind. In order to let nature in the city or the city to be part of nature we must ruin the industrial city and we must ruin the modern man.

Ruin is when man made has become part of nature.

2. Anarchy

In urban form the ruin is the third generation city. The first generation settlement is when man lives in close contact with the environment and is purely dependent on it. Cities are shaped by nature and they grow dominated by the landscape. The first generation city is landscape urbanism. The second-generation city is the industrial city where the relationship with the nature is either hostile / defensive, virtual or solely abusive. The third generation city is a question that we are looking answers for right now. Anyhow the third generation city will grow on the ruins of the industrial city.

The industrial Taipei has grown fast and gives all the possibilities to discuss the growth of the third generation. Ruins are left everywhere inside the fast grown industrial body: illegal settlements, abandoned factories, polluted rivers, half done high way bridges, historical buildings, abandoned construction sites, ghost houses and urban farming relicts of the first generation.

The Treasure Hill –settlement by the Xindian River, one of Danshui River’s tributaries, missed the whole industrial development. The residents had originally moved to Treasure Hill from Mainland China as soldiers for an anti aircraft position waiting for the Mao planes, which never came. It must have been boring and so the soldiers started to move their families into the bunkers. Maybe the wives demanded for better living conditions and so the bunkers became small houses build by teams of soldiers. By time Treasure Hill lost its strategic value and the anti aircraft guns were removed away, but the soldiers refused to follow. The bunkers in Treasure Hill had become their homes. The soldiers and their families stayed and Treasure Hill became an illegal farming settlement enclave in the middle of Taipei.

The city got modern and grew around Treasure Hill, in which people continued with their old farming values from the Mainland China. The farming was illegal as the whole settlement and so the city decided to change the area to a public park - farms and vegetable gardens into lawns. Controlled grass instead of food. The bunker-homes of the illegal urban peasants had to go also. 400 old people lived in Treasure Hill when the bulldozing started. Then the city people unexpectedly protested. People came from the polluted city to defend the urban farming community. Media followed and soon the city government agreed to maintain the ruin like settlement of Treasure Hill as an example of ecologically sustainable urban living. If an attic is the memory of a house, Treasure Hill is the attic of Taipei. Treasure Hill is a total ruin with jungle, farms and people sharing the same spot with the balance and the territories constantly changing. Treasure Hill is the third generation Taipei, the functional urban ruin.

Similar kind of penetrations through the industrial urban body can be found in different scales all around Taipei and Taipei citizens are still connected to these spots of landscape urbanism. These spots are the true acupuncture needles for the third generation Taipei. Illegal gardens on street crossings. Ac hoc community gardens in abandoned building sites. Fishermen communities harvesting the last remaining symptoms of life in the polluted rivers. Illegal, anarchic, ad hoc, difficult, accidental, out of control - and powerful. From these spots, or seeds, the organic layer of the third generation city can grow on top of the existing urbanism without taking anything away or without adding anything heavy, but by growing a new layer on top of the existing urban context – the organic layer: urban nature including human nature. This is not stranger than a team of grandmothers farming in the ruins of a demolished military compound in Gongguan.

The official city is based on human control and the opposite of human control is nature, the accident. The farming grandmothers are on the side of nature, which makes them anarchists. This anarchy penetrates Taipei in all social classes. Grandmothers are farming in the Treasure Hill and they are farming in NTU. The recognition of this power will lead the city towards the third generation. This already happened in Treasure Hill.

3. Nature

It is hard to keep a city clean from nature. The hard surfaces are constantly penetrated to the top soil or so full of organic tissue on top of them that the plants seem to come back no matter how hard you clean. Nature is there to stay and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Instead of cleaning the nature away the third generation city will aim in finding a balance how to coexist with it. Existence minimum in the build human environment is a shelter to rest and possibly a fire. Existence maximum is how far can we grow with our cities still being able to call them part of nature.

Nature in general is a life self-sustaining organism and as such the ultimate expression of balance and circulation. Everything organic seems to find a way to become alive. In a city these patterns of circulation and life forms as animals and plants are in straight interaction with the human presence in the urban environment. Much of the nature will exist in the city without man contemplating on it. On the other hand man can invite nature to the city and even build nature. The expressions of man-controlled nature are plantations, gardens, parks, farms and other cultivated plants and landscapes. The volume of human control varies from the wild nature to totally controlled vegetation – from jungle to bonsai.

For the industrial man it is important to keep the urban nature in its place – in parks and pots. If there is a crack in the asphalt a creeper might root. It would grow along the wall to the air conditioning machine, grow in it and eventually break it. Same thing with other machines, nature breaks them. Man must constantly take care of his machines, so they won’t get ruined. Machine is the key word to industrial survival – without his machines man is just a common ape.

What if the nature will break the whole city? This is what happens with the hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, whole urban infrastructures get broken, electricity is missed for days and roads will collapse. A catastrophe: city is broken, a creeper got into the machine.

Why does the nature want to ruin a city? The process is the same like ruining a house - nature wants the city to be part of it. The broken road is where nature starts growing, like what ever crack in a hard surface. Nature wants to blow into the city; nature wants to break the box. The urban bio climate needs ruining. This does not necessarily mean a total destruction of the city though. What is a catastrophe for us is a rooting opportunity for nature. What we should ask is what does the nature mean with the crack and how can we live together with the nature in the city. How can the modern man dance the cave man style? How can the third generation city become after the nature is back in town.

Creating a mental bio climate is necessary for the industrial mind to be able to take the first steps back towards the jungle. The box must be broken, so the wind can blow in. In nature’s opinion the industrial city will be filled with the organic – the corners are already windy.

4. Compost

The corners are windy and in the corners are standing grandmothers. They have been preserving the connection between the modern man and nature all the way when the factories were growing up and when the rivers got walled out of the city. They are farming their small gardens in the shadow of the tallest building of the world and watching now the factories moving to the surrounding countries. They are the ones who will occupy these abandoned factories and negotiate the rules of the urban community farms to become - to talk the future.

The urban farming anarchist grandmothers are constantly breaking the hard surface of the industrial city in order to penetrate to the original rich grounds of the old rice fields. The grandmothers feel where the ancient irrigation channels run under the roads and they want that water for their farms.

The Taipei grandmothers are taking their grand children to their secret farms and gardens in order to pass on the local knowledge. The grandmothers and their grand children are like a preparing guerrilla force getting ready to take over the city.

In Gongguan within 50 meters there is two similar size abandoned constructions sites surrounded by a corrugated steel wall. One is occupied by a community force of grandmothers and turned into urban farming; the other has become an illegal garbage dump. It looks like it is a question of the community’s mind and common subconscious how the urban environment will go, how the city will be treated. The third generation city is not a design question. The third generation Taipei already exists. It only needs slowness for observation and independence from external influences to be openly analyzed and needs to be shown respect. The existing third generation Taipei is like a compost that is once regarded as possibly a bit smelly and awkward corner of the city, but if treated with respect and turned over it will become the source of the most rich top soil to give energy for the new growth.

City must be a compost. It must be able to be turned around to provide life instead of suffocating the natural growth. Nature wants to take the whole city, which is perfectly understandable. Only the man’s position is questionable: will he be part of the nature taking over the urbanism? The third generation Taipei will be a ruin that is designed to function in human use. It is a ruin that is shared with modern man and nature.


How to approach the compost city?

Architecture provides tools for the official urban planning like engineers provide tools and mechanisms for a factory. The factory produces uniformly controlled things and provides quality control. Urban planning produces uniformly controlled patterns of life and movement. Industrialism and industrial urban planning root from the same source that dates back to the European industrial revolution in the end of the 18th century.

Industrial capitalism changed the way how people lived and launched the development of the mega cities. Controlled and efficient urban planning provided industry the needed man power and the means of transportation. The industrial urban planning is based on the movement of masses – material and people. City is the backyard of the factories.

When masses of people were tied to the industrial production in dense urban conditions the balance of capitalist profit and human rights soon became the main sociological issue within the field of urban development. Bread and circus was provided to the citizens by the emperor of Rome. Bread and circus was to be provided to the ever increasing masses of the proletariat now by the industrialists who dictated the future urban development for the urban planners and the architects. The balance was found: the industrial city is simultaneously a backyard of the factories and an amusement park. With the post industrial city only the amusement park is left. The revolution of entertainment fulfilled the vacuum of the industrial reality after the factories had moved to cheaper countries.

Industrialism, entertainment, transportation, zoning, political power, religion and style are all light weight nonsense compared to the human real reality that has been surviving through all the urban development. Urban farming grandmothers are not being killed, as they should based on purely capitalistic speculations. The anarchist farming continues and is let to continue. The grandmothers are attached to something deeper than the present day skin of the build human environment. The grandmothers have access to the common subconscious of the city and there fore they can not be speculatated or given value – the grandmothers are total. The urban farming grandmothers are real and what is real is valuable. This is the compost of the industrial city – reality.

In a shamanistic point of view nature is real and human mind makes tricks. Nature will exist without our thinking. The salmon will run up to the river weather we think on it or not. Salmon really don’t need our mind to exist, it is real.

The industrial city is working against nature as it is working against reality. The grandmothers are breaking the hard industrial surface of the entertainment city and let the nature come in. In these corners of reality the modern man is offered a connection to nature – the real reality of human nature being part of nature.

The grandmothers are kindly constantly planting the seeds of the Third Generation City, when the whole city becomes part of nature, when the city becomes real. The Third Generation City will be a real city that supports real reality, values that can not be speculated, values that are total. At the moment urban design is replacing reality. The industry based urban planning is in the end of the road. It has taken a clearly defensive position against the people it tries to control. The people who understand that the city is going wrong, the human layer of the citizens who understand that the city is not real.

We need design shamans who are able to take the industrial mind into a real dialog with the nature. We need dictatorship of sensitivity. No artificial power, no artificial force, no artificial dominating. No stress. No style is needed, no design. Reality will break in as the new mega structure of the city in all the scales. Reality will be the official that all the citizens can relate to. City will let the nature to grow in and the city will find the ways how to grow naturally.

The organic growth of the urbanism will start from the compost. Taipei has enough seeds and enough of compost. Ruins are everywhere. Spontaneous illegal constructions show the will and ability of the people for organic structures. Grandmothers are active and their farms are fast and flourishing. People occupy the streets for ad hoc activities on daily bases. The fishermen are waiting for the fish to come back.

The Third Generation will not necessarily be a violent revolution. It can be a revolution of protecting the ways of growing life inside the artificial city until the organic layer is powerful enough to support itself. A lot of people need to change and a lot of ways of being. Modern architecture is based on linear production of objects and this reflects badly to the urban planning. Ownership, property and copyright are all against the open form of organic growth. When the compost is turned over the people will talk and the architects will be listening. No objects, but platform and patterns of life that support nature. Dictatorship of sensitivity. The story of the city must come from all the minds – no copyright. People must feel that they can take part in the urban narrative.

How to approach the compost city? In the case of Taipei the potential and values already exist, so only focusing is needed. 3 -5 case studies of the existing urban composts, deep analyses and then development of the open form design methodology to start growing from these seeds. Open form must apply for both the setting of the design task forces as a mean of cross disciplinary dialogue and to the design process. The building process must not be cut of from the design, but the design and building must be one. The designers must take part in the construction process to be able to react to the fine layers of reality that can only be understood by being present in reality.

During the 1:1 scale work different visions of the future possibilities might turn up. These visions will be based on understanding that is reached through physical work and mental presence and must be worked into a visionary plan of the Third Generation Taipei. The Visionary Plan and the 1:1 scale work based Case Study will provide depth to the 3G research and tie it to the existing conditions, urban reality.

3G Case Study process in brief:
1. Locating the existing composts of the city and analyzing them as the potential seeds towards the 3G City.
2. Design – build reaction on the analysis supporting the original quality and energies of the compost.
3. Process analysis and framing the qualities that can be utilized in the Visionary Plan of the 3G City.

The turning over of these 3 -5 urban composts will provide Taipei urban oasis’s that are leading the direction towards the Third Generation City. These composts will be sexy and focus the wider thinking of the future urbanism into a concrete but open platform. With proper funding and serious support these compost can act as 1:1 scale urban laboratories of researching the humanistic means of sustainable urban development. The process can be easily documented for a platform of wider scientific dialogue.

The capacity of Taipei what comes to the development of the 3G City is unique in the world.

All the grandmothers of the Taipei: Unite!