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And the world goes green

The precursors of Eden and the return to nature

Benedetto Camerana (Camerana&Partners)

I shall take up THE PLAN’s invitation by first going back over the illustrious path, which started with green architecture and has led to the green economy. Lasting at least 40 years, it marks a crucial development for our culture and civilization here on Earth. It is also my personal story. “Green architecture, philosophy of architecture that advocates sustainable energy sources, the conservation of energy, the reuse and safety of building materials, and then siting of a building with consideration of its impact on the environment”1. This is how the founder of SITE James Wines interprets the term “green”. Although it is not the authentic starting point of the parabola I want to trace, it is, however, a crucial moment in this cultural development, crystallizing the very idea of sustainable architecture, and heralding a philosophy of architecture focused on reducing the impact building has on the environment. That pioneers of ecologist green architecture The contemporary precursors of this philosophy were people who in the second half of the 20th century concerned themselves with how human civilization interacted with nature. They included Lewis Mumford, a philosopher of technology and urban culture2, Ian McHarg, founder of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Penn University, and from 1957 instigator of the course entitled Man and Environment3, James Lovelock, environmental scientist and futurist who coined the concept of Gaia, signifying the planet seen as a single organism4. Their critique was taken up by architects concerned especially with minimizing the environmental impact of buildings, men such as William McDonough, who developed the Cradle to Cradle philosophy and was concerned with carbon reduction. The return to Eden. Nature as an aesthetic component of architecture Within this framework, I see green architecture’s profound cultural meaning as steeped in late Romantic naturalism, an authentic desire to making architecture an aesthetic experience. This is the angle my investigation will take: seeing nature as an aesthetic and intellectual value for architecture, and therefore a necessary component of any building project. A green architecture project is posited on the idea of nature as vibrant beauty, emotion, and an essential aesthetic component. This goes back to the myth of Eden, the dream of the return to the welcoming bosom of nature in which human beings can lay their full trust. In anthropological terms, the vision is accompanied by the yearning for freedom from social and technological constraints, as illustrated by the FKK - Freikörperkultur philosophy. As a critical movement, green architecture is an essential moment of rupture, a call to develop a-stylistic architecture, and a means of adopting a new method freed from the shackles of disquisitions about whether architecture should be modern or post-modern. As a result, a new language took shape for architecture that included nature as a component part of any project and so explored the visual and technical codes of a new lexicon. This aesthetic-artistic aspect of green architecture was headed by forerunners like Kevin Roche with his Oakland Museum (completed in 1968), Gabetti and Isola with their residential building for Olivetti in Ivrea, the so-called “talponia” of 1971, and later with the fifth SNAM office building in San Donato Milanese in 1991, as well as SITE architects of the already mentioned James Wines and their legendary BEST Store and Forest Building in Richmond in 1980. Emilio Ambasz would be the architect to take up this legacy. The acknowledged spiritual father of natural architecture, Ambasz sums up his philosophy with the pithy phrase “green over grey”. After an initial period as a very young curator at MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design, he became a practicing architect. In 1982, he produced his first work: the Lucille Halsell Conservatory for the San Antonio Botanical Center in Texas. The transparent glasshouse prisms emerging from green lawns covering a sunken garden burst onto the architecture scene as a new naturalist but also technological language. The architect’s lexicon reached its peak in 1990 with his marvelous terraced garden of the Prefectural International Hall in Fukuoka, a gigantic green-tech staircase whose influence would spread from Japan throughout the East. Green tech or second nature As a result of these projects, the relationship between nature and architecture converged towards the crucial theme of artificial nature. In an age of artificial intelligence, biotechnology, prosthetic implants to replace human parts, the question of a modified nature was examined by philosophers of technology, scientists, artists and anthropologists. The aim was to develop a second nature that would go beyond the concept of nature as dominated by technology to find a new balance - or peaceful integration - between primary elements and their transformation. Lewis Mumford wrote about biotechnics; James Lovelock advocated the theory and practice of cryonics, the conservation of human beings in a cold atmosphere; Michelangelo Pistoletto coined the term “Third Paradise”, the third phase of humanity marked by the perfect balance between the artificial and the natural. In Solutions for a Post Technological Society, 1972 MoMA, Ambasz himself - who has proceeded me in this editorial series of THE PLAN - proposed a University that would examine the effect of the consolidated creation of a new artificial


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