Since the time of our inception as informed and conscious species, we as ‘civilised’ human-beings have evolved through a series of critical coincidences guided with a motive of sustenance and curiosity. This motive could be precisely attributed for all the technological advancements we’ve seen so far, which are primarily based upon empirical knowledge and experimentation. This has led us to an epoch called the Anthropocene, which is, as we know and also mentioned by Bjarke Ingels, is happening for the first time throughout the known history of our planet that humans, as a species, are producing the most substantial global impacts, influencing uncountable natural processes, involving millions of other coexisting species. This includes everything from oil spills in the Persian Gulf to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
I always prefer to rely on pragmatic facts more than abstract theories and on implying the praxis of action-reaction law to a collective whole. Every second in the present tense, we’re reciprocating the actions of yesterday and vaguely constructing the tomorrow. Bjarke Ingels goes on further explaining the fundamental importance of architecture to society, now more than ever, and the immense responsibility the profession possesses in literally designing a better tomorrow.
This isn’t the first time that a person has realized the importance of the built environment to society. In the last couple of centuries, we’ve seen an emergence of great minds, which were then classified as unrealistic utopians and were mostly ignored. One of the first to intervene in the neo-technic era was Patrick Geddes, who proposed coherent theories juxtaposing human settlements with nature, acknowledging the human ecology. Geddes was a biologist, sociologist, geographer and a pioneer town planner, and his theories reflected holistic life forms, their emergence and development through the interaction between organisms and the environment, which is a fundamental paradigm in understanding the evolution and collective sustenance. He further gave the graphical notation of life, structuring the human ecology through the intersection of contemporary psychology, sociology, politics, and so on.
Geddes states that “Town-planning is not mere place-planning, nor even work-planning. If it is to be successful it must be folk-planning. This means that its task is . . . to find the right places for each sort of people; places where they will really flourish.” Contradictory to the theory, most of the cities in the 19th century were under an enormous influence of industrialization, with capitalistic intentions. Ruled by the elite, most of the population was working class, earning just enough to survive. “Victorian Britain was the first modern society to experience on a grand scale the process of industrialisation and the establishment of modern capitalism.”
In the industrialised urbanisation, the development of economic prosperity was given more emphasis than human life or any other life form. This approach spread like wildfire throughout the world including America, Canada and some parts of Europe and shaped today’s industrialized world. “But industrialization was measurable not only in terms of national economic indexes. It was a cause and a consequence of urbanization.” This inter-dependency has evolved since the industrial revolution, reflecting its repercussions through exponential growth in population, productivity, and consumerism resulting to unmanageable waste and pollution.
Apart from the extinction of billions of other species and various natural conditions, if there is anything that has helped the human race to come so far, it’s technology. Technology is merely a tool to help us sustain in the simplest terms. A stone axe was a technology of the prehistoric era just as much as computers and machines of today, but undoubtedly without the conscious insight of human knowledge. This conscious insight if implied ethically provides optimism of great prosperity and sustenance. History states otherwise, though. Technology has forged world wars, nuclear weapons, and industrial slavery, reflecting dystopia rather than the promises of a paradise.
Lewis Mumford was a great thinker and believer in technology, who took the ideologies of Geddes to the 20th century, unifying the objective of studying the mode of life within modern technological society. “Mumford was concerned to put the constituents of modern urban life on a sustainable basis in relation to new technologies and techniques.” He was a moralist and a critical utopian who acknowledged both sides of technology. “Mumford’s concern is not to reject technology but to ensure that technological advance proceeds in an organic manner, fostering a communal life in which the human personality could flourish.” He believed in the potential of technology to enhance the built environment and most of his earlier writings advocated it. In Technics and Civilisation, Mumford conveys technology and human progression through optimistic standpoint.
But soon after the Second World War followed by the Cold War, Mumford became sceptical about his prospects of technology and started to believe that human creativity, the very force which justifies a notion of progress and hope, had been perverted and put to destructive use. Mumford continued to hold on to his diminishing hope and demanded the machine civilisation to be replaced by an organic culture. He further advised decentralised regionalism with efficient use of technology to achieve organic communities in a natural region.
To our not so pleasant surprise, all the notions on technology projected by Mumford are shaping today’s world. Technology is evolving in full throttle producing systems, order and control. We are in an era of mega-machine domination which is silently influencing the society like never before. In The City in History, Mumford offers two alternative visions of the future. On one hand, the world is an artificial environment entirely constituting human-made forms. It is a precisely controlled inorganic environment. On the other hand, the world is an organic community founded on the symbiosis of nature, humanity and society.
In past centuries, we’ve implied industrial urbanization neglecting the irreversible environmental harm it has caused to the planet. Can urban spheres suppress the ecological decay, unify all life forms and anchor the change in a humane direction? Your thoughts.
Written by: Dhruv Kohli
Edited by: Aiysha Alsane
Advice to the Young. Perf. Bjarke Ingels, Youtube (8 Jan. 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yMzZwAtZRw
Critchley, Dr. Peter. “Lewis Mumford and the Search for the Harmonious City” (2004), Academia http://www.academia.edu/652983/LEWIS_MUMFORD_AND_THE_SEARCH_FOR_THE_HARMONIOUS_CITY
Glikson, Artur, and Lewis Mumford. The Ecological Basis of Planning. 1971
Goheen, Peter G. “Industrialization and the Growth of Cities in Nineteenth-century America.” American Studies Spring 14.1 (1973)
Welter, Volker. Biopolis: Patrick Geddes and the City of Life. 2002