Thursday, 25 February 2010

Book - Subnature the Other Side of the World

There are things and things in our material world, that are not the same. Some things, especially if they inherit the ability to change between different forms and states or even context, are contradictially received. This phenomenon is known in all areas, but it is particularly distinct in the context of the environment. More so because it is so consequently denied.
And I am probably taking it a little far here, but a great deal of the sustainability debate of the recent decade is related to this denial of context and integrativity of more than a century of constructing and theorizing environment. So in this context the debate about how and especially why we should build ecological or sustainable buildings and cities makes more sense. Because of the radical and to a large extend successful exclusion of anything unplanned, uncontrolled we now are doomed to sit out the debate around how to live a life on our planet and to learn to accept that everything is part of the plan even and particularly the planner. This is a tuff one, I know, but there is no return, we have to obey the culture we live in (@geno).
Beauty might lie in this. Louis Sullivan wrote a poem to one such banned commpanion of the environment:

"I made a little one to a weed the other day. I like weeds: they have so much 'style' to them and when I find them where they grow free they seem most interesting and suggestive to me. I think I'm something of a weed myself....And then there are so many of them, and they differ so much in shape, colour and arrangement; the form follows the function so beautifully as you would say. I wish I knew the names of the little rascals; then it seems to me, I could talk to them better." (David Gissen (2009), Subnature. p. 154)

In his book Subnature - Architecture's Other Environments, published by Princeton Architectural Press, the author David Gissen goes to a great length to shade light on different aspects of denial of context in the practical and theoretical construction of environment. It is a book that you probably wouldn't take first down from the shelve in the store, but not because it is not good written or pleasant looking (the opposite is true), but very likely because the topic puts oneself against so much practice and cultural conventions, that it might still be hard for people to take this step of acceptance.
It is worth it, moreover it is necessary and I believe this publication is only the start of the theorization of a movement that has developed tools and practices to allow numerous completely forgotten dimensions to feed into the man made environment.
Gissen has positioned the book very cleverly out of the main line of commercial sustainability debate and with this can avoid all the unnecessary discussion around the education of professionals and can concentrate on actually discuss concrete examples, approaches and theories on this subject.
The book is organised in three parts. Part one is on darkness, smoke, gas, exhaust; Part two is on dust, puddles, mud and debris; Part three is on weeds, insects, pigeons and crowds. A not on first blink self explaining structure, but as you dive into the content a skeleton that starts to make sense as Gissen continuously feeds the reader with examples. An this is really the strength of the book. The author has illustrations for most of his arguments and subjects. This is really brilliant and pulls the reader in immediately. It is not one of these "I tell you to to this!" books, but a real discussion of the subject matter. THe examples are not presented as right or wrong, but as a way of reading something, leaving it open for the reader to read more into it or read something completely different from it. This is something very few books mange to do, creating this platform for an debate between professionals.
For the conclusion, I realize that I have actually given away very little on the content of the book, but I guess this is a good thing in this context. There is little point in me repeating what David Gissen has put so beautifully and engaging in print. This is simply a must read, if you are prepared to take the plunge and be prepared to see the world, and definitely your work, with different eyes.
For further and detailed reviews visit Landsacpe+Urbanism or Archidose or see the authors blog for a 11 point list on Subnature.

Image taken from HTcExperiments / Alternative book cover, showing the work by Jorge Otero Pailos.

Gissen, D., 2009. Subnature: Architecture's Other Environments 1st ed., Princeton Architectural Press.

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