Doru O. Comșa THE FRUIT OF LIFE
are we saving the planet? a simple, important and, I believe, welcomed question, exactly in a professional entourage which is,
Doru O. Comşa
THE FRUIT OF LIFE
about the nature of cultures, the culture of dialogue, about science and buddhism and about a good, durable life
are we saving the planet? a simple, important and, I believe, welcomed question, exactly in a professional entourage which is, at first sight, less political: in architecture and urbanism. but the architecture, being less of an intersection point of economic, environmental and social, therefore, sustainable processes, is actually politics by its essence. if we perceive architecture as a process and not as an object, then we slowly come closer to the finest understanding of what we call sustainability. however, maybe before all these categories, the architecture is a culture lens, and that’s why it has the role of reflecting the time’s material and spiritual values and to action consciously and responsibly. it cannot stand in expectancy when forests are destroyed, when mineral, energetic, agricultural and industrial resources, the education and health resources, as well as the human ones are exploited as in a new colonialism. all those trying to actively contribute in the prosperity of the country, unfortunately do not see «anything well done». in switzerland, a small a beautiful country, but very poor in resources compared to romania, direct democracy practiced for hundreds of years is a safe key to welfare and an efficient corrective tool. why? because direct democracy means direct responsibility.
if we take a closer look to what is happening today worldwide, we can observe, almost everywhere, regardless of the size, a paradoxical trend – namely, of harvesting more and cultivating less, or even harvesting allot without cultivating anything! and this is happening at both individual levels, as well as at the level of corporations and states. how is this possible? a neo-liberal elite system blinded by «success» (1% of people owns more than the rest of 99%), which has seized the financial, economical and military forces and the mass-media, is not interested in a human society awake and full of consciousness. but in a society full of egoism, which believes that happiness can be bought: panem et circenses, version 2.0. in a previous number of this magazine we have seen, in relation to this context, that even from a forest we can learn a great deal of things – the essential thing is that there «what is good for everybody only happens». there is no egoism of trees or of a group of trees, because this would inevitably lead not only to the destruction of others, but also to their own. competition makes room for a careful, differentiated and sustainable cooperation.
years ago i had the chance of meeting, at the federal polytechnics and at the zürich university, dalai lama – the spiritual leader of tibetan buddhists – at a debate on «science and buddhism». from this meeting and several others has resulted a little book he wrote in 2005: «the universe in a single atom». the subtitle of the german translation – «my travel through science and buddhism», seems to me more inspired than the one of the original english edition. in switzerland there is the biggest tibetan diaspora in the world, a community extremely careful and well integrated in this cultural space (we can’t say that about other diasporas around). dalai lama is actually respected worldwide, and at the highest political level, but, due to narrow motivations, usually related to economical interests, the states he visits usually do not receive him officially, at government or parliament level, so as not to risk any inconveniences with china. even switzerland, a neutral country! that’s why everything happening here, has an unofficial, private or universitary, cultural or scientific setting, but very friendly. at this small gathering, various university teachers, specialists in neuroscience, bio-informatics, anthropology, quantum physics, biophysics or mathematics were present. i was the only architect, therefore a non-science man. buddhist teachings preach, first of all, about getting over greed, hatred and ignorance. dalai lama was telling us that buddhism is also very interested in learning everything good from the modern science and therefore, of extending the way of perceiving life and the universe. at the same time, he was encouraging everybody present in the beautiful conference hall, to try and reach and integrate the notion of conscience also in the day-to-day scientific research. the discussion, very interesting in itself, was seen as a dialogue in the search for common points. however, the effervescence of scientists speaking about their research themes, about theories formulated or not yet formulated, has proven to be overwhelming. when he managed, dalai lama, quiet and attentive, answered precisely to the questions he had been asked. as i was pretty close to him, he asked me if i would like to say anything. i said no. after a time, he again invited me to ask him a question. in contradiction with the academic discourse held until that time, i simply asked him what is the signification of the two colours on his tibetan robes, ochre and bordeaux. pleasantly surprised, his face lit up, and he said that, scientifically speaking, those two colours are actually two frequencies: one tries to reduce the ego, and the other one the pride. he looked around the room and smiled.
when two people meet, each is for the other – in terms of energy – a «disturbance», or a welcomed addition. this means that the physical, mental and spiritual fields of one interact with the equivalent ones of the other and influence them. when one says something, and the other one thinks he understands him, wants to understand him, or explicitly doesn’t want to understand him, not only sensory levels but also the level of consciousness play an important part. there are examples in this regard in our private, daily life, but also current examples in the global political, economic, environmental or military domain. if these people want to accede together a process of knowledge, getting over the strict sensory levels and going towards corporate learning, then an over-individual system is born: «us», instead of «i – i». we would call such a over-individual system, culture. culture means that we create a model of common values, which we share in such a manner, that they allow us to cooperate. in the mind and in the heart of one, but also in the mind and in the heart of the other, something similar arises, something that connects us. this type of co-evolution creates a world that is richer in values, to which all parties contribute. if such a culture of dialogue exists, each of us is capable to continue and deepen this knowledge process, with a result that is significantly better and more stable than anything that one party could every achieve separately.
i think it is essential that we learn to live a good life, all of us, a globally good one, but without making such a life possible by exploiting others and by destroying. we can’t truly live right, if we are permanently in war with nature, with the planet, or if we are tangled up in economic wars and we let bombers fly over countries whose resources we would want to steal or which we want as a foothold for military and geostrategic purposes. how is this even possible? first of all we need to stop this endless spiral of energy from non-renewable resources, which inevitably leads to great regional or global conflicts, and pass to an integrated recycling economy. the architecture needs to become a key element in this process. it is also necessary to implement practical instruments, such as: the radical taxation of energy consumption from fossil fuels and nuclear energy (according to the real destructive impact they produce in time), implementing decentralized systems of renewable energies (for eg. eco-hornet and other romanian inventions), taxation of speculations and capital transfers in the financial area, as well as a transparent and correct legislation for the rights and obligations of international corporations in the economic area. in switzerland, a country having a legislation allot stricter than ours, this fall, a new referendum has launched, targeting the massive reduction of tax evasion possibilities for the big international corporations active on its market.
architecture, like a living organism, reflects life in its complexity and it invites it to come and manifest in the receptacle it creates. regarding things like this, sustainability is, or should be, an intrinsic quality of architecture. many years before, when the notion of sustainability existed only marginally, two architects – completely different and still very close in mind and feelings, have dedicated to this relationship between architecture and life, nature and ecology. one of them – paolo soleri – a italian-american, the other one – victor papanek – an austrian-american. both of them worked with frank lloyd wright, but they didn’t become epigones, but have consciously chosen their own way.
paolo soleri published in 1969 at massachusetts institute of technology a book having a program-title: «arcology – the city in the image of man». those were the years of the vietnam war, years for massive demonstrations of peace in the united states and in europe, but also years of hope and trust. in this context did paolo soleri and his team of students develop an architecture and an urbanism based on a coherent and profound concept, a concept born from the inherent logic of interactions in nature, which was also integrating a new social order, for respect and cooperation. this book, having a big format (open, it had about one meter), with black covers, is a small treasury of painstakingly drawn ideas. only a part of this project – an urban laboratory – has been accomplished in arizona: the arcosanti. remaining until today a work in progress full of life, this place speaks to us, after so many decades, not only through its architectural language, but through the pervasive feeling of a thing well done for everyone.
i’ve met victor papanek at zürich in the nineties. a frail and fascinating man, with great kindness in his eyes. he spoke of ecology and ethics in architecture and design, of vernacular architecture, of great houses and churches carved out of wood in maramureș and at the yukaghir people in siberia, of simple log cabins and walter gropius, of africa and of dignity, of the small tin-can radio devices he made from waste, and of the twin shinto sanctuaries at ise in japan, where every twenty years, since year 686 and until now, the old sanctuary makes room for a new, identical sanctuary, and how the co-exist in parallel for a short period of time: another type of sustainability. another time, during an animated discussion, he said something that nailed me: it’s relatively easy to come up with new and new architectural projects (houses etc.) or industrial design projects (vehicles etc.), but there are some objects whose gestalt is impossible or very difficult to bring further. they have coagulated the experience of hundreds or thousands of years, are sustainable and seem unwavering – for example a simple needle. although we all immediately thought of interesting ideas, we needed a few years until, at some point, «staring to nowhere in particular», we saw clearly and we felt how this needle can be made better. this idea has become a swiss patent and was internationally award-winning.
however, the best architects in the world, says victor papanek, are the eskimos (innuit) : their snow house (igloo), built from year to year from the inside on a upward spiral, defines an omni-directional space. it is a metaphor of the world and of life. landscape, space, material: white, white, white. where does that white disappear, when the snow melts?