Resilient Systems and the ‘any-space-whatever’

Monument to Civilization: Vertical Landfill for Metropolises by Lin Yu-Ta

“Vision or imagination is a representation of what eternally exists, really and unchangeably.”
—William Blake

The idea of a visionary architecture has been present in the architectural scene for more than sixty years. The power of visual and philosophic ideas with a critical approach was the leitmotif of the exhibition Visionary Architecture at the MoMA in 1960, when its curator Arthur Drexler wrote:

When ideal projects are inspired by criticism of the existing structure of society, as well as by the architect’s longing for a private world of his own, they may bring forth ideas that make history.

There has been controversy about the critical and political engagement of young architects and students when reacting to the contemporary reality, but as we pointed in our last post, we can see how the political implications of some architects had led them to design what we can call “critical utopias”. That’s why we found deeply provocative Lin Yu-Ta‘s project Monument to Civilization: Vertical Landfill for Metropolises, where he reconsidered the power of trash and focuses on our consumption behaviors to design a proposal based on how we can reverse the accumulation of waste creating potential energy-recycle opportunities. We can read:

The Monument of Civilization proposal suggests locating trash vertically in a tower and using the energy generated from its decomposition to help power the surrounding city. By locating the tower in the heart of the city, energy is provided in immediate proximity, and money is also saved in transportation costs when garbage no longer needs to be shipped out of town.

The value of garbage has been the main topic of the research developed by KAM Workshops in 2011. The fact that a critical approach is present in some of these new projects and the search for ways to make them feasible, practically goes back to Robert T. Kennedy’s idea when he wrote “the technically fantastic becomes technically feasible merely by directing men’s minds to the examination of technical possibilities”.

Monument to Civilization: Vertical Landfill for Metropolises by Lin Yu-Ta

Monument to Civilization: Vertical Landfill for Metropolises by Lin Yu-Ta

“The possibilities toward a vision of architecture are infinite.
It is the role of theory to question and confront the infinity of the
imagination with the limits of the discipline of architecture.
Written architecture.
Drawn architecture.
Built architecture.
The illumination of enigmatic bodies.”

—Raimund Abraham

Recently, François Roche wrote, “Architecture today is shifting, or drifting, in the pure logic and strategy of shaping, where fabrication, expertise, efficiency, and computation have become substitutes for the logic of the raison d’être…”, but the Monument to Civilization is a good example of a project with a raison d’être, which intends to change our current capitalist thinking and give us alternative uses for the term “economy” to focus again in concepts like “resilience”, that can be understood as the urban capacity to adapt and respond to perturbation.

If we think on how a city may develop and adapt itself to changes as if it were a living organism, then we’re talking also about resilience. On the book Did Someone Say Participate?, John McSweeney wrote about the Himalayan water conflict and the Nepalese hydro-politics, pointing that the manipulation of water has always been a source of political and economic power. According to him “it was the arrival of the British that ushered in the era of truly massive water manipulations such as large damns, canals and hydroelectric plants on the Trans-Himalayas”, creating big controversies and resistance due to its environmental impact. As a reaction to this problem, Zhi Zheng, Hongchuan Zhao, and Dongbai Song had designed the Himalaya Water Tower, a project that responds to a local problem with a critical-utopian approach.

Himalaya Water Tower by Zhi Zheng, Hongchuan Zhao, and Dongbai Song.

The project has been described as:

The lower part of the Himalaya Water tower is comprised of six stem-like pipes that curve and wind together and collect and store water. Like the stem of a plant, these pipes grow strong as they absorb their maximum water capacity. In each of the six stems, a core tube is flanked by levels and levels of cells, which hold the water. The upper part of the building —the part that is visible above the snow line— is used for frozen storage. Four massive cores support steel cylindrical frames that, like the stems below, hold levels that radiate out, creating four steel tubes filled with ice. In between the two sections are mechanical systems that help freeze the water when the climatic conditions aren’t able to do so, purify the water and regulate the distribution of water and ice throughout the structure.

If resilience has been defined as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks”, it can be say that a project like this, which aims to transform the natural system that serves to regulate water dispersal, is a clear attempt to become a resilient response looking for the return to equilibrium.

Himalaya Water Tower by Zhi Zheng, Hongchuan Zhao, and Dongbai Song.

Himalaya Water Tower by Zhi Zheng, Hongchuan Zhao, and Dongbai Song.

If we go back to Roche’s text and the idea that resilience lies in the recognition of nonlinear systems in nature as a potential for emergence, we can recognize the same idea behind Philosopher Gilles Deleuze term “any-space-whatever”, used to describe spatial fragments that can be fitted together in an infinite number of ways because they are not oriented in relation to each other: this nonlinear approach takes us again to system’s resilient capacities.

Recently, Carl Douglas pointed about a book by Christopher Alexander:

Alexander believed that the built environment should be a natural production. Towns and buildings should emerge naturally, like birds make nests. The things we make should themselves “be” nature. But his concept of nature relies heavily on the idea that nature finds equilibrium, conceived as a basically static [or at least, very slowly changing] condition.

And in the same post Douglas also refers to the second episode of Adam Curtis’s All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace [2011], which points out that natural equilibrium was an unexamined hypothesis in the ecological and cybernetic thinking of the sixties and seventies. This relationship between technologies and natural equilibrium, resilience and matter is the main core of our project entropicIQ, a proposal to study exchange of information and matter in cities under a thermodynamic approach.

The Visible Human Project. Source 12:31

Resilience as the recognition of the posthuman, infiltrated by and porous to technologies and information, as both a transitory object and subject.
—François Roche

We are researching on the idea that natural systems have evolved from a powerful combination of information and matter activated by energy inputs. These systems have resilient capacities that allow them to coexist and evolve in conjunction with their environment. These relationships can be understood through a system of information exchange, energy and matter governed by the laws of thermodynamics. Similar to the complexity relations between organisms, our cities evolve according to some flows, developing tangible and intangible infrastructures. Currently, citizen access and control of Information Technologies [IT], coupled with the existing urban fabric, may allow our cities to evolve similarly to natural systems.

This project explores thermodynamic interactions between matter and information in our cities, and if this exchange can led us to manage them as living organisms governed by new forms of knowledge.

– Related links and more info: entropicIQ and dpr-barcelona web-site
– Entropic IQ on twitter: @entropicIQ
– The projects Monument to Civilization: Vertical Landfill for Metropolises and the Himalaya Water Tower has been recently awarded on the eVolo 2012 Skyscrapers Competition.
– More info about resilience in Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in Social–ecological Systems


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