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Global Architecture Platform

Nature: For or Against Civilization

by Mohamad Mohamadzadeh

From one point of view, the history of civilization is the story of an endless, controversial dialogue between humankind and nature. Early civilizations emerged when humans learned to coexist with nature on the basis of agriculture. The first caves and shelters were safe places, protecting humans from natural hazards, including wild animals. City and architecture alike originated by harnessing nature and protecting us from its difficulties. Skipping over a long period of civilization history to focus on our time, we could say that cities have been abstractly defined as the aggregation of spaces for living, working, recreation and transportation. Though this definition is perhaps not so valid from today’s point of view and renders a naive scheme of the highly complex phenomenon that is the city, it does offer a clear, succinct image, interpreting the main foundation or core layers of our cities today. After the COVID-19 pandemic, all four of the above aspects of cities have unexpectedly and radically been challenged over the past few months. This time, nature (in the form of a viral pandemic) came onto the scene to influence humankind, its lifestyles, activities and contemporary modern civilization seriously in the form of a more or less full-scale recession. None of us who faced the crisis will easily forget the abrupt stoppage or temporary breakdown of our civil activities at the beginning of the 21st century. Once again, nature has given us an opportunity to learn from it.

The pandemic is a major hint to rethink the way we have built our contemporary civilization, its tangible elements and intangible concepts. This might be the starting point for a vast change or—who knows?—we might forget everything and revert to our former habits as soon as the crisis recedes. It is up to us to create a vision out of this natural threat and hear its messages, or to ignore it. Now it seems so important, and we necessarily have to understand the impacts of this situation on our lives and major aspects of our future, as well as that of our cities, architecture and the discipline as a whole. Who could have imagined this global breakdown in our mechanical and physical activities for a three-month period, this stagnancy in our businesses, this stoppage of transport systems, these apocalyptic scenes in public spaces, recreation areas and touristic places on the one hand, and the revival of private home spaces on the other, and this brilliant response of virtual facilities e.g. in education and teleworking?

This undesired happening created a new balance between the basic functions of the city after the decline of public space and activities (working, recreation, transportation) and the rise of private space and activities (living). Houses recovered their primitive role as safe places, protecting us from new kinds of natural risk, and also acquired a new accessibility of domestic space to make up for the absence of public and social interactions. Houses that had gradually become dormitories between two work shifts regained their identity as homes. Interiors started to generate public qualities, and in-between spaces now present a range of new skills. Windows, living rooms, kitchens, balconies, roofs and other domestic elements and spaces activated an unknown potential during lockdown. At the same time, urban life began to lose its stressful speed as automobiles, buses, trains, aeroplanes stopped moving, and pedestrian mobility in neighbourhoods replaced mechanical mobility. Smart virtual interactions of all kinds stepped up their efficiency, and environmental pollution suddenly decreased, letting the earth breathe deeply, albeit briefly, during the crisis. Many existing structures were recycled to house new programmes as sports clubs, for example, were converted into temporary hospitals to extend limited healthcare facilities. Many examples come to mind that crystalize the sudden changes in former functions and concepts—some in keeping with current paradigms and others completely different—that could lead to changes in paradigms to plan for the new situation.

This undesired happening created a new balance between the basic functions of the city after the decline of public space and the rise of private space

With recent events, speculation emerged as to theories about plots to control societies or the impact of international economic and political debates for more dominance, and the new situation triggered anxiety, depression, insecurity and violence, sowing pessimism. Nonetheless, we have to remain positive and even optimistic, highlighting the benefits and learning the lessons of the pandemic as opportunities for our future. By way of conclusion, I would like to highlight some of the dualities in forms of exchange and balance that emerged during the health crisis, suggesting guidelines to follow or promote. The post-crisis world could be the scene of greater interrelation and collectivity as opposed to competitiveness and individuality. The world needs to be somehow more social than liberal. For the world, it is more vital than ever before to be more sustainable and less consumerist (of unreliable technologies and resources). Our cities should be much smarter and less physical, more digital and less mechanical. Our traffic concepts should encourage pedestrian mobility and be less machine-based. Proximity (districts and neighbourhoods) seems to be more efficient than distance, for the future of city planning, placing the human scale before a lifestyle governed by machines. Private spaces and interiors would become more important, and temporary qualities of publicness and exteriority should be affordable by means of natural ventilation, green in-between space, transparency, and so on. And, as a final consideration, the recyclability of structures, spaces and programmes is more important than ever.

The post-crisis world could be the scene of greater interrelation and collectivity as opposed to competitiveness and individuality. The world needs to be somehow more social than liberal

Now, our global civilization has to wake up and learn from both the threats and the benefits of nature, appearing this time in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic.

09.Jul.2020 1797 views
Mohammadzadeh Mohamad Mohamadzadeh

Mohamad Mohamadzadeh (Tehran, 1973) graduated in architecture and planning from Iran University of Science and Technology (IUST) in 1999. He practices architecture and planning since 1999 and founded MOM design studio in 2006. He has won several design awards and honours since 2006. He is member of the editorial board and editor of some issues of Memar Magazine since 2000. He has published over fifty articles in theory and criticism since 2000 and has been invited as lecturer by local and international universities and architectural associations since 2000.

The stopped present could be a good place from which to look at the near past and, most of all, the future.

TRANSFER NEXT aims to invite shared reflections on the new scene that coronavirus will probably usher in.

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