Climate concerns have dominated column inches and news coverage over the last few months. It highlights an awakening, a zeitgeist of conscience and rekindling of a desire to reunite with our planet. Talk is cheap though. Real change requires real action and on the frontline of this is Finnish architect and artist Marco Casagrande.
Understanding our environment, and the place we have in it, contains various elements that go beyond any single discipline. On one hand there are scientists, the other artists and then politicians and social theorists. No single one has the answer, although many of them have ideas.
Casagrande, during his studies leading up to his 2001 graduation in Helsinki, understood the necessity of collaboration if the goal is to make significant change. This is an attitude that has developed into a philosophy, making the Finn one of the foremost voices in the future of our built environment.
It's through his multidisciplinary approach that led Casagrande to his most profound theory - the Third Generation City. The first generation, when people lived symbiotically with the natural world, is held up as a benchmark. It's almost like a snake shedding its skin. We ensconced ourselves in artificial materials built with the purpose of warmth, safety and longevity. It came at the cost of forgetting what it meant to be alive though.
Our current generation (the second) is, in Casagrande's point of view, counterintuitive to our relationship with each other and the natural world. He views the city as one might view the body, as channels of energy flows that have ways of being optimised. It would be within our best interests individually to do so. Collectively though, it is largely beyond our control. It's here that Casagrande steps in, building theories and solutions around this vast societal issue.
Drawing on the principles of acupuncture, an alternative therapy where needles are inserted into the human body at specific points in order to 'unblock' or aid the flow of energy, he has developed thoughts around 'urban acupuncture', a socio-environmental theory that uses specific interventions to release stress from the whole city. Part of this theory depends on rejecting mass urban sprawl, instead focussing on more localised projects.
This idea was developed heavily in Taipei, as part of the research centre Ruin Academy, and has manifested as small plots of urban farming and community gardens, sporadically placed throughout the city to offer urban dwellers a respite from the vast glass, steel and concrete facades that dominate the skyline.
Casagrande has visualised it as such, "A weed will root into the smallest crack in the asphalt and eventually break the city. Urban acupuncture is the weed and the acupuncture point is the crack. The possibility of the impact is total, connecting human nature as part of nature."
Nature, and our previous societies, are inextricably linked to the idea of community. Through urban planning initiatives, citizens are encouraged to participate in shaping their own environment, rather than maintaining the current divide between city planners and the people they are planning for. Building a post-industrial city is a process of reclamation, as Casagrande mentioned in the quote. The 'cracks' in cities are the obvious spots where the built environment is failing and nature can move in. Eventually, when more of the built environment succumbs to the erosion of time, cities will return to their previous state.
Crucially, nature refers both to the natural world and human nature. Working together is more important than ever and this relationship is truly at the heart of what Casagrande is doing. Many of the site-specific architectural and artistic projects he has worked on serve a purpose. They're a place for people to gather and to reclaim a lost humanity. Asked in an interview what he was most proud of in his career, Casagrande answered simply, "I can feel nature".
Nature is something we all desire, even if it doesn't really cross our mind. But nature isn't something to look at, it is, as Casagrande stated, something to feel. The crux of our contemporary debate isn't just about saving the planet, hugging trees and admiring birds, it's about reclaiming our own lives and our place within nature. That way, we can save both ourselves and our home.
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