Friday, 16 April 2010

Bik van der Pol + Mies van der Rohe

Are you really sure that a floor can’t also be a ceiling? 1


In this time of increasing globalization, not only economies, financial markets, nations and people become more and more dynamically intertwined with each other. Also the global ecological system, the biosphere, integrating all living beings and their relationships and interactions on our planet, is influenced by the continuous increase of human activities. Slowly, the world population is starting to become aware of their impact on their environment. The climate summits in Kyoto and recently in Copenhagen, where all the world leaders gather to negotiate possible solutions, are proof of that, though outcomes of these tops are still uncertain. Is it enough, is it early enough, or is it already too late?

Climate changes are clearly happening, and result - so far - in rising sea levels, melting gletchers and poles, extreme rainfalls, hurricanes and flooding, and in some areas radical changes in the seasonal patterns. This all is increasingly creating awareness among the people that something might really be changing on a global scale.

Meanwhile, modest measures are being taken on a domestic small level, on the level of national governments, and on the level of industrial production: low energy light bulbs, insulation, hybrid cars, green energy... it is not easy to negotiate financial repercussions, to force a new approach towards the production of energy and to maybe even take some steps back, while economic growth is still the magic word. If the people want to survive as a species, they will have to take some huge and radical steps to be able to bridge the concept of growth with sustainability and neutral effects. The unimaginable has to become real. A completely different way of thinking is necessary.

Butterflies are a special species: they are important economically and environmentally as agents of ‘pollination’: like bees, and some other insects and birds, they move the pollen from one plant to another. They are indispensable agents in the food chain: without them, no fertilization, and without fertilization - in the end - no life.

In recent years, a significant loss of pollinators has been noticed. In the case of bees, for example, whole colonies of bees leave their hives; they go on the run, collapse and die, and these observed losses have already significant economic impacts. Explanations for this decline include increasing urbanization (causing a lack food and longer travel times), use of pesticides, and climate change. Butterflies are considered by scientists to be ‘indicator species’ because they are particularly sensitive to environmental degradation; their decline there for serves as an ‘early warning’ on environmental conditions.

With The Farnsworth house (1951), architect Mies van der Rohe emphasized on the tight relationship between man and nature: "We should attempt to bring nature, houses, and the human being to a higher unity". It is considered one of the most radically minimalist houses ever designed. Glass walls and open interior space are the features that create an intense connection with the outdoor environment, while the exposed structure provides a framework that reduces opaque exterior walls to a minimum. Mies van der Rohe conceived the building as an indoor-outdoor architectural shelter simultaneously independent of and intertwined with the domain of nature. The Farnsworth House is located in the landscape, parallel to a river, and has been carefully maintained and restored throughout the years. In 1972, the house was restored to its original state. The house was purposely built on poles: the architect calculated the expected rise of the river, and made the elevation such that the house would able to resist flooding. Still, the past decennia, several floods heavily damaged the interior of the house, since waters have risen above the raised level six times in 60 years, caused by increased building in the surrounding area.

The concept of the butterfly effect is a term from chaos theory, to describe the sensitive (inter) dependence of different tendencies on initial conditions: how tiny variations can affect giant and complex systems. The butterfly effect suggests that the flapping wings of a butterfly represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, causing a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events. These small gestures eventually potentially would lead to significant repercussions on wind and movements throughout the weather systems of the world, and theoretically, could cause tornadoes around the world. True or not, had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different. Small actions can certainly affect change in complex systems in unexpected and unpredictable ways.

The proposal

Our project brings the above-mentioned elements together in an architectural model loosely based on the design of the icon of modernism, the Farnsworth house. Instead of functioning as a dwelling, this (circa 75%) downscaled, demountable model will function as a temporary home for butterflies, as the ultimate agents for idealist ideas of transformation, change and recycling. With radical change incorporated in their life-cycle, capable of transforming from one state to another, they never are what they appear to be. The different stages of these animals of total metamorphosis can be observed and experienced in the model. Nature becomes spectacle, a spectacle inside the confinements of the museum wall.

Visitors are invited to enter the house. The glass walls of the model function both ways: giving a full view on the man-made greenhouse and its visitors wandering inside, as well as creating a link between the interior space and the museum space.

The butterflies can be purchased from special butterfly farms in Thailand and Costa Rica, thus contributing to the protection of natural habitat in these parts of the world: areas of tropical land that might otherwise be deforested produce a new value through breeding and trade of tropical butterflies without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage. These butterfly farms generate new sources of income and employment for the often-poor local population, and since it is, by nature, environmentally friendly, it is a sustainable alternative to agriculture.

The environment inside the model will be made in collaboration with local specialists and through a leasing program of tropical plants, which can be returned after the end of the installation. A preferably local keeper will take care of the butterflies and the environment. The energy used for this project obviously should be ‘green’; this has to be represented by a contract by Enel.

The title of the work, Are you really sure that a floor can’t also be a ceiling?, is made as a neon piece on the wall, thus functioning as a footnote or reference to the installation

Via Enel Contemporanea Award

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