Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Nature as an attraction": Have we gone too far?

Blog Like You Give a Damn is the official blog of Architecture for Humanity in Minnesota, a local chapter of the volunteer non-profit organization that promotes architecture and design in social and global crisis intervention. The blog features interesting vignettes from other online publications exhibiting innovation, communication, and alternative interpretation of architecture and design through culture. Several posts provide a glimpse into the architecture and media community in the Twin Cities, but BLYGAD taps both design and alternative culture stimuli. As blogger Colin Kloecker states in the first of three posts on December 14th, while describing the supplemental use of tumblr, BLYGAD is about, “predicting the present to better design the future.”

The January 17th entry particularly caught my eye, which highlights the recent work of Finnish artist Ilkka Halso. His work "examines the tensions between our natural and built environments and ultimately, how we act to save and/or destroy both.” Included are several manipulated photographs that feature natural environments within scaffolding or enclosed altogether with structural elements. His work reminds me of how we treat priceless architectural works, which are now monetarily or environmentally cost prohibitive. The historic preservation movement and discipline arose when we began—especially in the United States—to treat our built environments as highly disposable and replaceable. Although we are no longer faced with the apathy we experienced with the height of 1960s urban renewal, multiple generations of sturdily built structures (with exceptional craftsmanship) continue to be sacrificed for supposed greater efficiency.

Just how efficient is it: to bulldoze a site every thirty years, to use cheaper materials that degrade or fall apart faster, or to shift so drastically to composite construction materials that cannot be reused or recycled (nor can many of them degrade under natural conditions, after they are disassembled from a building)?

Ilkka Halso shows our current brand of nature romanticism through a lens that exemplifies nature as a museum attraction. Today we sacrifice our natural environments in the name of growth, prosperity, and economic development. Globalization allows small communities to “have what she's having,” resulting in a homogenous built environment from one populace to the next. Much like past generations of architecture, nature often cannot be replaced once it has been degraded or eliminated. No matter how exhilarating it would be to visit a preserved section of the Kitka River (shown above) in a controlled environment, what would the surrounding areas of the museum look like?

Nature is an infinitely complex, non-linear network of systems. Urban theory has been formulated for centuries on subjects such as “central place theory,” grids systems, view sheds, and public space. The latter certainly applied to a much smaller time span, but both nature and architecture have become subjects of case-by-case fascination. We must think of our environments as highly contextual, or quality of life will go the way of the do-do.

(Both photos shown above were taken from BLYGAD's January 17th for context.)

No comments: