When I was teaching a strange subject at the Turin Polytechnic – it was called Design Ontology – over the years I had come to explain design essentially in two ways: the representation of the future, anticipated in drawing of a here and now, and then, even if it is less clear, the translation into cultural creativity of the evolutionary algorithm that generated us biologically.
Everything is natural, even the most cultural: the rift between nature and culture has long since blown up, and I dare say it is a nineteenth-century issue.
There is perhaps, at most, a primary nature, which is the most obvious and immediate, and then a secondary one made up of our material artifacts, animal-like, and certainly also vegetable.
But it is still a partial distinction, because there is real and that's it, and then there is what real means to us. Design is one of these ways.
We used to call this set of conceptual knots 'Gaia hypothesis' with which the Earth itself thinks and modifies itself: therefore it is not that there are more or less evolutionary or biological projects, each project is by definition as an expression of a form of life.
There is a speculative planning, certainly different from the operative one, but on which it is worth reflecting precisely today that the Gaia hypothesis
he turned almost forty-four.
All those organisms that grow and reproduce by exploiting every possibility that the environment grants are part of Gaia, therefore they are endowed with fully natural behaviors; who are subject to the laws of Darwinian natural selection; they constantly modify their chemical-physical environment – which happens incessantly as a simple effect of all those fundamental processes for life such as respiration and/or photosynthesis; which establish upper and lower limits of the conditions for life: temperatures can be excessively high or low for life to establish itself in a given environment, and the same goes for the concentrations of mineral salts or chemical compounds.
In this sense - and here is the still revolutionary result of this theory - even the most polluting factor possible is part of the whole system, therefore obviously also the activities and the environment built by man, seen which interact strongly with the biosphere by modifying the limiting factors.
This theory, although much criticized, has established a non-new age convention whereby we have an idea of the Earth itself as an integrated whole or a living being: like us, we have viruses, which they can kill us but they are part of us, the Earth has humans who may not kill it but strengthen it.
The implication of all this is clear: a 'green' project is no less Darwinian oriented than the most polluting factor of all: everything in Gaia is functional to the evolutionary purpose of the meta-organism we are talking about.
In 1985, during the first research conference on the Gaia hypothesis (Is the Earth a Living Organism?) at the University of Massachusetts, and then in 1988, with the now historic conference of the American Geophysical Union on Gaia in San Diego in California, the Gaia hypothesis has begun to be distinguished in two different models: 'weak Gaia' – the life tends to make the environment stable to 'favour' the development of life itself – and 'Gaia forte' – life tends to make the environment stable to 'allow' the development of life itself.
Explicitly or implicitly, all contemporary design theory has accepted the 'weak' hypothesis, rejecting I would say quite decisively the 'strong' one: one designs in the awareness of having to favor what posthuman theorists call the 'alliance between humans and terrestrials', in the non-deposition of ecological niches where our species will be able to continue to live.
Evidently, if we absolutely had to allow the development of life, given the conditions of the total imbalance of the environmental sealing system that we know well today, we would simply have to stop planning.
Systems of green architecture (think of Stefano Boeri), systems of post-rural architecture (think of Francis Kéré), systems of architecture and organic design (think of Neri Oxman) are all ways of consciously considering weak hypotheses of Gaia trying to reason from intelligent viruses or bacteria: why lead Gaia to get rid of us (since the general system will abundantly survive us) if we can try to ally ourselves with the system at least so that it also favors the survival of its own viruses?
The metaphor of the immune system in architecture is important, or at least it is in architecture and speculative design: a system can survive or collapse, and it is evident that sooner or later everything tends to an end…
But why speed it up if the survival of a part of the system, which is what we ourselves represent, is at stake, even selfishly?
The Gaia hypothesis and design officially crossed paths for the first time in Valencia, Spain, on June 23, 20001 in a conference that focused on the specific mechanisms by which this homeostasis must be characterized.
By homeostasis we mean the aptitude of all living things to keep the value of some internal parameters around a pre-set level, continuously disturbed by various external and internal factors.
The design that we are discussing today must essentially serve a vision that in the short term will contribute to maintaining within a framework a not too significant long-term evolutionary structural change.
Considerato tutto ciò, credo che sarebbe molto utile provare a organizzare un grande tavolo di lavoro su Gaia nel design e nell’architettura oggi: che sia una biennale, un congresso, una grande mostra, è necessario ri-orientare un quasi manifesto per una progettazione omeostatica, che è molto diversa da una retorica green o ecologista anche speculativa.
Perché? Perché alla tenuta generale del sistema possono contribuire oggetti apparentemente paradossali, anche poco ammantati da ‘aure verdi’, e perché non è detto che tutto ciò che ci sembri sostenibile poi, alla prova dei fatti di un sistema temporalmente più esteso, lo sia.
Ricostruire una foresta primaria potrebbe essere, dalla prospettiva umana, meno Gaia-oriented di quanto non lo sia una struttura di cemento partorita da Oscar Niemeyer.
Riflettere su una progettazione Gaia-dipendente può significare cambiare completamente punto di vista su quello che oggi si chiama geo-design. Ragioniamoci insieme… è urgente.