On the occasion of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale, Therme Art has conceived of a workshop with the goal of translating the methodologies of re-generative architectures into policy-based, practical application. In collaboration with design research studio Space Caviar, within the context of the project Non-Extractive Architecture, the workshop will bring together experts and practitioners from the fields of climate science, architecture, indigenous activism, art and design, forest agriculture, and more to begin to develop an actionable plan towards a realisable Wellbeing City.
The Non-Extractive Architecture Book, Space Caviar 2021 ©️ Dezeen
The workshop will set the basis for Therme Group’s presentation at the seminal COP26 Climate Summit later this year, in an effort to highlight the importance integrating symbiosis, afforestation projects, bacterial culture and micro-scales of daily life into architecture, infrastructural frameworks, and culture at large.
Collectively devised, we strive to develop an architecture that creates supply chains that are able to sustain a city as an organisational form. The urban development presentation at the COP26 Climate Summit will be an opportunity to directly raise our concerns and propositions to the parties that play a pivotal role in the determination of urban life. Below is an expanded, preliminary outline of some of the themes we wish to explore during the workshop:
Questions of Scale
The scale of life is all about perspective; like the first astronauts to witness the seminal Earthrise from outer space, it is only when we step out of a human-centric focus and zoom out that we see the planet in its sublime fragility. Additionally, it is only when we zoom in to the microbial scale of life that we can begin to grasp the vast complexity of communication being exchanged between organisms. Humans’ metabolistic functions are all micro-dimensional. In the effort to build cities that truly cultivate wellbeing, architectural intervention and reform must be considered on all scales, in ways that are both legible and invisible.
Life on Mars
In thinking about space exploration and sustaining life forms on the interplanetary scale, what could we learn from the planet of Mars, and specifically, from the necessities that would be required in order to live there? In particular, what kind of terraforming would be necessary to create a thriving and self-sustaining ecosystem on the planet? Mars is an interesting case because it is a tabula rasa, a blank slate. Thus, to make it livable everything needs to be painstakingly planned at every scale, from the molecular to the atmospheric. Mars also mirrors the worst-case scenario: having to escape an uninhabitable Earth. However, this is not yet the case. As we ponder on the future of Mars, our primary concern is how to answer these questions in relation to our shared home on planet Earth, which already overflows with an abundance life-sustaining resources and ecosystems. In an effort to experience this abundance, we must develop architectural codes that encourage a symbiosis and re-generation with the natural environment, rather than extraction and depletion.
The Wellbeing Climate
Another concern that we hope to explore in this workshop is the idea of the Wellbeing Climate and how the constructions of our cities can catalyse climate healing. It is no question that the rate of ecosystem degradation has sky rocketed since the Industrial Revolution. We have moved away from a nature-dominating planet to a human-dominating planet and this is just the beginning of our impact, which already proves to be quite detrimental. As we develop practical strategies towards mitigating some of these adverse effects, what impact can a deeper attention to micro-climates at the molecular level have on macro-environments? Additionally, how can we encourage and maintain homeostasis by sustainably utilising the natural resources and solutions that are already available?
Culture of Reparations
The term “non-extractive” stands not only for the support of an ecosystem but of a socially just ecosystem. Re-creating and supporting sustainable communities, especially Indigenous and vulnerable communities who have experienced the greatest collateral damage and violence caused by environmental and cultural extraction, lies at the heart of our motivations. As we move toward a sustainable for future for all, how can we instigate a culture of reparation, both socially and environmentally, that is embedded in the very framework of the Wellbeing city? In creating working groups that are in close conversation with IKEM during the workshop, our goal is to locate and develop policies that are in alignment with our mission of the Wellbeing City.
New Perspectives in Renewable Energy
Now is the time to re-imagine the definition, purpose, and function of renewable energy. How can we further explore transformational energies, that simultaneously create resources as we use them? How can we imagine a shift from renewable to re-generative energy?
A City of Forests
We also plan to explore in Forest Agriculture, a type of agriculture that encourages the intentional integration of trees or shrubs with crop and animal production, resulting in more biodiversity, boosted profits, and conservation gains. It is proven to be more productive than mono-agriculture, the dominant agriculture of our times, which depletes ecosystems and displaces communities. Thus, afforestation efforts could enact environmental shifts that lead to positive, long-term changes within our culture.
De-Centralised Food Production
Taking inspiration from Carolyn Steel, author of Sitopia and the Hungry City, we understand that with food at the centre of our civilisation, we have a medium to practically design a sustainable future. Shifting away from food monocultures exiled to the outskirts of our cities, food production could become a decentralised, community and cultural reconnector. It could also revitalise the economy, creating new, more accessible jobs. New layouts for the food-ecosystems of our cities could put an end to the culture of scarcity and quantity over quality which has influenced the industry for too long.
Global Public Health Post Covid-19
Covid-19 has reminded us of our shared, innate vulnerabilities. In a way, it has showed us ourselves from a wider scale; from the perspective of the planet, we are like bacteria, in constant communication with our internal and external worlds. In the conception of the Wellbeing City, we want to emphasise the role of the city as a connector to the environment and the human body. The global health crisis and the environmental crisis have the same causes and the same solutions. Remedying the current health situation involves a holistic approach that investigates the effects on the body and the planet. Employing the expertise of our health network, we can begin to locate the exact data we need to analyse these effects and develop solutions.
Alternative Economies, Alternative Futures
In thinking about the financial landscape that these solutions are inevitably tied to, we also plan to develop economic calculations of alternative scenarios during the workshop. Therme’s Wellbeing City model is projected to reduce healthcare costs and environmental costs by trillions. The Contraction and Convergence GCI – Energy consumption model affects all the other models. The base of their calculations follows the business-as-usual scenario, which is not healing the planet quickly enough. If we compare both economic models, the Wellbeing City alludes to a market worth trillions of dollars, that could more directly address issues of climate catastrophe.
Merlin Sheldrake, biologist and author of Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures, explains that when looking at a mushroom, you can only see the part you can eat, but the fruit/reproductive organ is the smallest part, holding an invisible system that supports the organism. In a similar vein, architecture is both its external façade and the inner amalgamation of various supply chains that we cannot easily see. How can ecosystems be created that sustain these less visible, architectural functions? And what reproductive systems and natural ecosystems could we implement to encourage more growth and biodiversity in urban life?
While this text is meant to provide a rough outline of our motivations and goals for our contribution to the COP26 Climate Summit and help guide the workshop, we are most looking forward to the new revelations and synergies that a physical meeting of minds will inevitably produce. At the end of the workshop, we hope to leave with the origins of an actionable plan towards a Wellbeing City that acknowledges all levels of life, no matter how small or vast.
1. What are reproductive systems and ecosystems do we need to implement to have produce a culture of abundance?
2. What next steps would be needed to motivate relevant stakeholders at the Climate Summit to step into this next dimension of architectural reform?
3. What can we learn from Mars?
4. What terraforming would be necessary to make life possible on Mars?
5. How can we instigate a culture of social and environmental reparations?
6. What could de-centralised food production networks look like in our cities?
7. How can we grow biodiversity through the implantation of Urban Jungles?
8. How can we imagine a shift from renewable to re-generative energy?
Stefano Mancuso (Co-founder of Pnat, Author & Professor of Botany at University of Florence)
Alexander Voigt (Physicist, Co-founder of Solon)
Simon Schäfer-Stradowsky (Managing Director IKEM)
Robert C. Hanea (Founder and CEO Therme Group)
Nina Gualinga (Indigenous Rights Defender)
Jeanne de Kroon (Social Entrepreneur)
Camilla Pandolfi (Chief Executive Officer and IPR Manager Pnat)
Sarah Wilson (Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History, Courtauld Institute of Art)
Stefanie Albrecht (Forest Gardening Scientist)
Stefano Boeri (Architect and President Triennale Milano)
Noah Raford (Futurist-in-Chief and Chief of Global Affairs, Dubai Future Foundation)
Space Caviar Residency (Participants and Team)
Joseph Grima (Curator and Founder of Space Caviar)
Mikolaj Sekutowicz (Curator, Co-founder Therme Art)
In partnership with