Das Urpflanze Haus [Homage to Goethe]

“…Seeing such a variety of new and renewed forms, my old fancy suddenly came back to mind: among this multitude might I not discover the Primal Plant [Urpflanze]? There certainly must be one. Otherwise, how could I recognize that this or that form was a plant if all were not built on the same basic model?.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Metamorphosis of Plants [1790]

Paul Laffoley and The Boston Visionary Cell has been working on their project Das Urpflanze Haus for several years. Laffoley began as a studio assistant to the visionary Frederick Kiesler, and his influence can be recognized in some of his work.

In his book Phenomenology of Revelation, Laffoley describes the emergence of the Bauharoque, a word that means “the blending of the Bauhaus Utopian impulse with Baroque theatricality. The Bauharoque is the last period in the Modern Cycle, beginning at the turn of the second millenium A.D. and lasting to the year 2099”. Whitin this context, Laffoley describes all the problems that we’re having since we have entered The Bauharoque, such as the growth of world’s population, worldwide un-winnable terrorist wars, and the degradation of the world’s natural environment. Under this basis, he want to propose a design strategy for mass housing, that would involve non-repressive personal environments [avoiding mechanical standardization], aiming to find a base that could be established to solve other social problems. As he wrote on The Physically Alive Structured Environment: The Bauharoque:

Finally, the quest for meaning in existence could gradually replace the goals of our almost complete secular world. To do this requires the total convergence of Science with Mysticism. While this task has already been started by a few individuals and groups [beginning in the 19th Century], it will not be until the entire world is involved, that a real change will be noticed. My proposal, therefore, for ending the world housing shortage is by growing houses from plant materials and developing genetically altered seeds which will induce habitable forms in single and multiple species, in other words Vegetable Chimeras. These forms will then begin to approximate the rich vocabulary of spaces the history of the Human Species has created from the individual home to cities with the mass and image of say New York City [which has now proliferated almost everywhere on the earth when the goal of urbanism is desired].

The Das Urpflanze Haus is based on the sciences of botany and bio-engineering discoveries on the five functions that plants can perform, which according to Laffoley, will aid in establishing plant-human relationships.

These five functions are:

1. Semyon Davidovich Kirlian through his electro-photography discovered that plants bridge the abyss between life – death and regeneration.
2. When tobacco plants are gene-spliced with luciferin from fireflies, the plants will light up with 5 watts of cold light. Soon bio-engineering will increase the light level to 100 watts, the normal light level for human eyes.
3. Spinach leaves exhibit the highest electrical potential of all the plant forms, making them examples of the photovoltaic effect produced directly by nature: 10 volts D.C.
4. Large groupings of carnivorous plants can control insect populations within confined areas;
5. On their own, many plant forms will graft themselves together for more efficient survival by means of rhizomes underground and aboveground limbs.

Goethe’s essay The Metamorphosis of Plants is the result of a thorough, laborious study of a topic that had intrigued him well before his famous Italian journey in 1786-1788. It was here, that he realized the effect of the climate on certain plant species and started to develop the concept of his archetypal plant, Die Urpflanze. Goethe wrote:

… The Primal Plant [Urpflanze] is going to be the strangest creature in the world, which Nature herself shall envy me. With this model and the key to it, it will be possible to go on forever inventing plants and know that their existence is logical; that is to say, if they do not actually exist, they could, for they are not the shadow phantoms of vain imagination, but possess an inner necessity and truth.

And Laffoley added:

If you connected all the plants together across the face of the earth, would not then THE URPFLANZE EXIST.

According to Laffoley ideas and research, the main subject of the project is basically to grow a house from seeds, aiming to find the delightful solution to live in a world-wide garden [sic]. On the current times, there are various projects with living walls and green roofs as means to integrate nature and shelter. But Laffoley’s house is completely different: is a home which would grow from seeds. He is looking for an organism that could bind all the other vegetation together, a kind of “Physically Alive Architecture“.

When Goethe pointed in 1790, “to follow as circumspectly as possible in the steps of Nature, accompanying the plant through all its outward transformations, from its development out of the seed to re-formation of the seed.”, surely he had no idea of how the “seed re-formation the seed” could become Laffoley‘s idea of growing houses from plant materials and developing genetically altered seeds in a proposal to induce habitable forms in single multiple species.

For a better understanding on the project itself, we want to reproduce Laffoley’s words:

“Also as Humanity begins to explore other planets and moons, I do not believe, people will like living in high-tech tin cans on barren wastelands. We would certainly prefer Bio-forming an environment that exists as an individual , and therefore, has a stake in staying alive, to the ill-fated Bio-Sphere Projects that were simply a complex form of the 19th Century Conservatory or greenhouse. The Conservatory has one basis drawback. It is a building type that requires Human intervention to protect the plant species inside. The purpose of Das Urpflanze Haus or physically alive architecture is to do what all architecture is supposed to do –protect us from an alien environment. We exist on the Earth because of the existence of Vegetation, not the other way around. Over the aeons we have been weakening the life force plant materials by protecting them by artificial cultivation techniques and Hot Houses. What we must do is help plant species regain their rightful place in the world as the Prime Species and avail ourselves of their protection and love by willing to fall in love with plant forms and feed ourselves by eating their delicious fruits and nutritious vegetables [which are seed pods which are produced in an abundance beyond what is necessary for sustainable reproduction].”

There has been so many architectural attempts of blurring the boundaries between the agricultural and the domestic, from Graham Caine’s Ecological House to HWKN’s METreePolis using different kind of technologies, such as Adaptive Nature, Added Eco-System or Material as Nutrient.

But what can be more interesting to choose your plot, plant a seed and let your house gets older? Maybe the Seed Cathedral became the Das Urpflanze Haus of the 21th Century.

The Boston Visionary Cell is an association of Neo-Platonic artists, primarily, and others from disciplines which act as supporters and consultants, for the purpose of fostering visionary art, considered as an eternal genre –otherwise known as cosmic, cosmological, magical, or occult art– in the Boston and New England area.

Recommended readings:
– Paul Laffoley BLOG
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Metamorphosis of Plants
On Utopia by Paul Laffoley

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