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Nature as Construction Material

Contingency in Architecture: Temporal and Technical Ecology

Revista de la Universidad de Navarra

Invited editor: Jesus Vassallo

Considering structural systems, relational events, and temporal cycles as observed in living organisms has always been a source for human inspiration. Nature, seen as an open-ended system, offers the opportunity to learn from both its results and its processes. The construction of new paradigms inspired on nature is the common thread that weaves together the article’s main argument: nature as construction material for new models of thought and organization within the fields of architecture and the city.

The emergence of agriculture 9000 years ago as well as the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century has marked very significant ruptures in mankind’s relationship with nature. Until the Homo Sapiens could master agricultural techniques, he thrived by conforming to the natural environment. From the so-called Neolithic Revolution onwards, man began to adapt the surroundings according to his needs. In other words, thanks to our cognitive capacities, our species today has evolved from being essentially biological to cultural. Humans since the Industrial Revolution have heavily resorted to the use of substances found in the lithosphere, in lieu of those produced by the biosphere. Such resources like carbon, gas, oil, and sediments are products of ecosystems that disappeared hundreds of millions of years ago. Man’s capacity to adapt nature to conform to his will has allowed him to break free from any ties of dependence. As a result, man has detached from any corresponding temporal cycles. The accelerated race of consumption of limited raw materials has led us to a state of hypertrophy in the present. When identifying our origins, selective amnesia prevents us from collec-tively projecting a long-term future, not just for a few coming years.1 Without having to submit to notions of a mystified nature, one has to recognize the urgency to reinvent the basis of
a new “natural contract”, a subject already introduced by French philosopher Michel Serres in 1990.2 Nature, conceived as an open system in which we belong to, is and has always been a source of inspiration. Knowledge of living organisms constructed from observation allows the under-

standing, with ever more precision, of the complexity of the systems that house them. Their permanent dynamics of evolution, adapta-tion, and emergency, as well as their tendency for varied multiplici-ties and wide range of redundant and infinite solutions, gives us the opportunity to learn from both the results and their processes. In the field of biology, the concept of autopoiesis3 helps us to rethink our systems of development. The acceptance of contingency, cooperative relationships, alliances, and symbiosis are presented as innovative factors for dealing with states of emer-gency within the world of living organisms. The natural environment displays energy and material flows, which are optimized through dynamic collaborative relations between participatory agents that exchange information. Biomimicry, as developed by Janine Benyus in 1998, proposes to go beyond what is already known by “imitating Nature”. She defends the observation and investigation of natural forms and structures (solutions of living organisms in situations of mutation) with the ambition to propel the preparation of forthcoming and necessary transformations in the realm of economy as tied to global changes that affect the ecosystems. The regard for structural systems, relational events, and temporal cycles as observed in living organisms is part of the thematic thread of this article, which in response to the title of the magazine’s call for participation, adds: nature as construction material for new models of thought within the realm of architecture and the city. To defend this argument, on one hand we have resorted to the concept of exaptation4 developed in Paleobiology, which refers to how living organisms in determined contexts use preexisting or-gans in a different way from their original state. Mutation and adapta-tion are two terms that reveal the underlying concept of contingency. Contingency illustrates the possibilities of a new paradigmatic shift that is clearly expressed in the work of Gilles Clément and that could promote an instituting role for contingency in architecture. On the other hand, to achieve such an idea of con-tingency, the article exposes the need to reconsider technique as employed by man when acting on nature. In considering them together, a higher esteem for the technical knowledge of nature is proposed to reconsider ecol-
ogy from a technological conception5 that can restore the bonds between humanity and the rest of the living beings.

more at https://www.unav.edu/publicaciones/revistas/index.php/revista-de-arquitectura/article/view/34632

by Ophelia Mantz / Rafael Beneytez

translation by Armando Rigau