Natura Urbans, Natura Urbanata: ecological urbanism, circulation and the immunization of nature

First published in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 32 (eds. Bruce Braun and Stephanie Wakefield)

In February of 2011, fig0102OMA’s research studio, AMO, along with WWF and Ecofys published The Energy Report, a comprehensive ‘roadmap’ which would see the world transition to a coordinated network of renewable energy by 2050. As a point of departure, the report makes its first claim in appropriating Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion World of 1946 to depict the earth today. Flattened to its two-dimensional projection and oriented vertically, the Dymaxion Map provides the perfect neutrality through its technical ‘correctness’ while cleverly centering the world around perhaps the most contested political and geographical void in the world: the North Pole. Throughout the report, the Dymaxion Map serves as the template for displaying various forms of information. However, it is in the two most conclusive images of this publication where the map begins to speak beyond the gravitas of fact-deluge. The first is an attempt to reimagine statehood in terms of regional energy and resource specificity. The second proposes a new global energy grid, linking all of the world’s energy ‘region-states’ into a singular network.

While such imagery may appear somewhat facile in its content, it reveals far more than the simple narrative carried on its surface. In fact, it is precisely the simplicity of these images that is significant. For they mark an endpoint in a certain collective imagination where it is now possible to envision the entire globe parceled into functional, apolitical blocs joined together as a single, interconnected union of network confluence. Lines that once politically divided the world into territories will now unite it in universal circulation—the techno-neutrality of urban planning made global. What is implied is twofold: on the one hand, we can now fully imagine the world reduced to a single, unified, human population—a global society in Hannah Arendt’s terms, whose homogeneous needs are to be organized and satisfied through the administration of services (Arendt, 1958). On the other hand (and because of this), we can only imagine the space of the world to be determined by patterns of movement. Today, everything that matters circulates. Circulation is the central activity through which value is made visible. It is the concrete register of progress. For this reason, infrastructure now appears as the default apparatus by which such a global society mediates its needs. It is the source of our problems as well as the diagram for their solutions. And because of this, infrastructure also defines the ultimate limit of society’s material and political imagination. Buckminster Fuller’s clever interpretation of the world as a single continent has found its fulfillment in a technologically unified machina mundi.

In spite of the creative tropes of Koolhaas’ AMO, the content of this imageryTGU_Frontispiece_bw noticeably lacks the usual daring bravado because it articulates sentiments that are already part of the general psyche: to speak of a globally interconnected society today no longer has the charm it had in the nineteenth century. In fact, in comparison to the work of Spanish engineer Ildefonso Cerdá, one can only read AMO’s proposal as a kind of contemporary reformulation of a far broader one put forward in Cerdá’s seminal work, Teoría general de la urbanización (1867). In this text, just as in AMO’s proposal, Cerdá presented a world whose compounded crises were to be solved through modern infrastructure and joined together in a new kind of universal network of peace: circulation to conspire against the political stasis of the state. He would accomplish this through the power of what he called urbanización—a term he coined 150 years ago, giving life to a concept and laying out the framework for a new, concrete order of modern life.

Full text here

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