пресса о нас: l`ARCA #183
l`Arca — BioCity  
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Mikhail Kudryashov,
Simon Rasorguev

Natalia Stepanova,
Irina Melnikova

Architectural Faculty of Yaroslavl State Technical University

The Modern Art Centre



l`ARCA #183 | july-august 2003 | ISSN 0394-2147

Dreams and Visions

The concept of a “network” spontaneously identifies with the idea of a “city”, if for no other reason because of the way they evoke a smoothly knit system of relations and functions underpinning both these notions. Needless to say this identification goes way back into the past, starting with the old city-state, the isolated, walled-in and self-sufficient polis capable of radiating out a network of subordinated power relations or, at least, powers of dissuasion, and reaching the modern city, openly integrated in an endless array of connections feeding its intricate circulation of information and decisions. In the postmodern era this situation evolved even further, at least to the extent to which mobility and increasingly refined means of communication have not just wiped out distances, they have also eliminated the old network of locations and hierarchical scale between small and large towns and cities. In the end, the cityscape has turned into a mental place or cultural reference: no longer a clearly defined spot on landscape but a momentary being-here-and-now marking an order which is more temporal than spatial.
In a simulation like this, first defined back in the late 20th century, the new and ever-spreading reality of computer technology and telematics has emerged, altering the profundity or the urban design of modern-day cities, not to the extent of undermining their historical premises but certainly enough to mark a radical turning-point in how they are conceived. The “web” is the urban reality of the age in which we live: a bodiless reality finally wiping out space and time and giving rise to a different line of thought based on simultaneity and immediacy. “The web is the urban site now facing us”, so William J. Mitchell wrote in his La citta dei bits (City of bits – Milan, 1998). But this is a brand new site that needs totally rethinking. “This kind of city will be totally uprooted from any definite point on earth”, so Mitchell goes on to say, “shaped by constraints on connectivity and band width rather than accessibility and the positions of properties, largely out-of-synch in how it operates, inhabited by bodiless, fragmented subjects existing as collections of aliases and electronic agents. Its places will be constructed virtually by software programmes and not physically out of stone and wood; these places will be connected by logical bonds instead of doors, corridors and roads. “But this forces us to ask a crucial question that the future of architectural design will have to focus its resources on: how will this kind of city be organized and what will its socio-cultural fate actually be? Or, to quote Mitchell again: “What kind of forum will we give the city of bits? Who will be our Hippodamus?”
A possible answer to this question comes from Russia in the form of the “Bio-City” project designed by Michail Kudryashov and his assistants. Kudryashov has not just come up with a technological city, whose concept of a web is merely a means to an implicit end, he has actually aimed at designing a city that beats to the same rhythms as living organism capable of adapting to various situations by altering its own structures, growing or shrinking according to the community’s needs. The “network” here takes on organic form. The comparison with a living body is more than just a similarity: it is a model closely embodying the old utopian dream of a city shaped around the functional/hierarchical structure of the human body. Electronic devices, computer logic and the potential of telematics here act like simple devices, whose worth does not depend on their efficiency but rather the role they play in the entire system. The technological optimism that is now so widespread, seeing technology as providing a solution to all our problems and ignoring the constitutive absence of meaning this explicitly denounces, is replaced by utopian optimism, still basically unresolved, setting a simple scenario solely guaranteed by that deeper meaning from the ethical component intrinsic to utopian planning. Talking about his Bio-City, Kudryashov tells us that “the city turns into a pulsating heart a slow beat.” Bio-City adjusts to the flow of presences in different place and at different times of day, actually changing colour to represent different functional states of affairs. “The various areas of the city differ in terms of function, and the behavior of the bio-dome looming above them changes with changes in situation. Even the appearance of the bio-layer covering it depends on the population’s behaviour: e.g. it turns red in case of danger… This means we are faced with a Chameleon-city or Organism-city that safeguards and protects its population. In a word: A Reasoning City.”
As we can see, Kudryashov`s Bio-City seems to appeal more to feelings and emotions than to reason. Nobody expects utopia to analyse its own feasibility and consistency, and it is obvious that the important thing about this project is its ethical ends, its social drive expressed in terms of deep psychology. A city that turns into the body and life blood of its inhabitants and lives their states of mind contains within it a certain mystical element in relation to which not just technological instrumentalism but also planning and programming become sterile exercises in conceptualism.
Technological utopia and organic utopia lie at both ends of a scale on which they are the most far-fetched projections. What we can do already is to re-think the city, a fertile melting-port of technology and feelings, starting with its architecture, so as to insist on rediscovering its authentic humanization.
This is a difficult but not impossible task. A master of the 20th century – and also the 21st to tell the truth – like John Johansen – has worked hard on prospects like this, even envisaging architecture designed and built according to principles governing the growth of human DNA. He has even designed (l`Arca 179, March 2003) a “Growing House” based on the idea of molecular engineering. Artificial DNA provides the basic material, kept in a liquid state as the “seed” for instructing molecules that will self-replicate in large quantities. “So-called “morphability” or the transforming of a substance or elements into a certain form, position or quality, “so Johansen writes, “will be one of the features of all MNT (Molecular Nano Technology) products in the future. (…) Substances can be programmed to be soft, flexible, rigid or hard, in order to let furniture meet the occupant’s needs to change position.”
In this case the technology is constructive and not computerized, but provides the essential reference point for a carefully designed utopia, which, most significantly, is based on real possibilities, although at the moment still only possible in the laboratory. This is what we might call a utopia of meditation in which anthropologic inspiration feeds on technical feasibility and scientific tests, which are reasonably reliable for research capable of counterbalancing the visionary dream of setting created for human happiness.
What really counts about this vision of the future is actually the key role the city and architecture still play in relation to socio-cultural progress of the society in which we live. Despite the diversity of the sometimes rather radical ideas put forward, they all share the common denominator of a “network” as a hub of relations and exchanges on a par, which ever since ancient times, have always been at the heart of urban agglomerates. It is no coincidence that history teaches us that all renewal, desire for progress and, if you like, every revolution have always taken cities as places of information, confrontation and mass communication, the driving force behind them. But the space of a city is the space in which its architecture is located, shaping both individual and communal behavior, tracing its developments and adapting to them through constant change. This means urban design concludes, as was the case with the masters of modern architecture, with social planning; and, in this light, the biosphere and bitsphere can come together to create a truly living, human and creative environment.

Maurizio Vitta


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