Interview: Gianluca Bocchi

Gianluca Bocchi is a professor at the University of Bergamo, department of Human and Social Sciences.

Students: During your lecture you underlined the presence of a paradox involved in the theory of complexity: we need to connect logic of nature, which is completely non anthropocentric, with the fact that even human beings are a production of nature and deeply involved in it. One can consider that human and nature are like two mathematical sets, one involves the other. As a philosopher, how do you think we can make our anthropocentric society aware of this paradox?

Gianluca Bocchi: Definitely yes, we should spread the idea of co-evolution. Until now, throughout the history, the visions of the world have oscillated between two polarities. On the one hand, the idea of the man dominating nature, since external to the nature itself, developed with the agri- cultural revolution in the Middle East. The nature finds a theological background in some expression of monotheistic religions, and then flows up into technological utopias of the modern age. On the other hand, consubstantial to several archaic civilities of hunter-harvester or even of agriculture (for example the American natives), there is the – very modern in this case – idea that nature is a systemic whole and that human population should unsettle a pre existent balance in a minor way. However, nowadays we are experiencing a situation where each planetarium balance has been disturbed by human species whose demography has reached a peak of 7 billion of people, a remarkable threshold. To maintain this quantity of people, a huge part of natural ecosystems have been modified. So, this is about the preservation of what has to be preserved (Antarctic or Amazon Forest), but it also concerns the further evolution of what has been modi ed in such a way that the interaction between human species and natural ecosystems become more positive than what it has been in the last centuries. This means that humanities and ecosystems become part of a wider net. They de ne together a super system quite heterogeneous, which is composed by different parts and whose goals are different but can not be divergent. Thus, the main idea and the planning imperative is to pursue one’s survival objective (or rather of wellbeing), but COMPATIBLY with the well-being of the natural ecosystems. The key idea is exactly in the compatibility. We cannot speak about static equilibriums but we have to speak about compatible transformations, and we have to be CONSTANTLY careful of signals that come from each part of the environment and that makes constantly clear our counter moves. Of course, the choice of renewable energies is an example case: on this case our goals (economical and social) become more compatible with a perspective of valorization of ecosystems, while during the fossil age, there was a remarkable divergence between these two aspects.

SConcerning this complexity, contemporary architecture has often dealt with concepts derived from nature, such as fractals, human genome and so on, that are translated into modular parametric forms. Do you believe that architecture, that is built by men for the sake of men, can actually contribute to put an end to the dominance of humans over nature?

GBEvidently, the awareness can not be direct. It is indirect, so it requires politics that is cultural and reflective in order to have a consciousness. In this sense, architecture as realized in our days can be a splendid introduction to the systemic thinking. Effectively, both the system “building” toward subsystems that compose that, and the group of buildings that de ne an urban context, at least if we want (and we want) that they are liveable and usable, are composed by heterogeneous subsystems and related to each other. Thus, we have to emphasize, in a very equilibrated way, BOTH on the peculiarities of a single building (a building or part of a building) and on its capacity to have adequate harmonic relationships (even when a certain tension is present, well accepted under a certain threshold) with other systems that remain distinct and not smoothed over. Well, this is nature, a huge proliferation of diversities but these diversities connect and evolve together. However, even we, human beings, are made in this way. Inside us, both at psychic level and at neural level, there is a great variety of subsystems that are still able of interconnect between each other. If this hadn’t have occurred, there would be no awareness, intelligence or creativity. In this sense, human beings are a microcosm that reflects in its organizational forms the bio-spherical microcosm. Architecture and urban studies are ALSO (of course) a great reflective operation on the rules of life: a lot but not too much diversity. Clearly, the distance of our times towards an excessive standardization and homologation of urban contexts must be related with the distance from excessive standardization and homologation of natural context from unwise human actions. Now, I think that we should move forward with two directions: architectural interventions successful in the composition of diversities and integrations that stimulate a comprehension of the necessity of harmonic relationships between human and environment at a perceptual and emotional level. But this does not mean that, in the right place, architecture can not reflect on itself and make this discourse explicit.

SIn your lecture, you said the city functions similar to a living organism with man and animals living together in a sensitive balance. What do you think is the best way to reverse the long lasting effects that man has had on the natural habitat of other living organisms?

GB: In the first two questions I have set the scene: the problem is not to follow the path in the opposite direction, that would be absolutely impossible, but to find new forms of coevolution. Now, the problem is that it is not possible to give a general answer but we have to analyze each case, considering their dependence on different human habitats and their dependence on various animal and vegetal forms and their integration in the ecosystems. In some case the main street is the preservation, in other case it is certainly possible to try a partial reversibility. Of course reforestation is the easiest solution from this point of view, but nowadays there are studies that tries to establish, even though with a huge effort, sensitive ecosystems like meadows or even cold forests and Siberian tundra. Clearly to inject in our cities some aspects of natural ecosystems that were close to those cities is actually possible, albeit as individual areas integrated rather in the urban tissue than in the forms of the past. However, speaking about cities that is what we are more interested in now, we have to start from the transformation of the city boundaries. For a very long time, the city was divided from the surrounding country by walls and then, even in the 20th century, by railways, bypasses, industrial areas and sometimes more meaningfully by a greenbelt. This had a great symbolic value, both in positive and negative: in a positive way because cities were connoted as a point of maximum integration of human relationships, but also in a negative way because cities were connoted as places of maximum arti ciality that often live at the expense of the country. However, nowadays in the age of networks (positive) and in the age of widespread urbanization (negative, because countries often does not exist anymore as protected ecosystems) it is clear that the boundaries of the city can be porous. Nature enter the city not as an inconvenient presen- ce but as a part of the relationship among different ecosystems that compose the city. In this scenario, is evident that we cannot do everything in all the cities, but for sure in each city the vegetal and animal elements from which to start are the ones present in its history, without neglecting the possibility of give hospitality to other species, in a moment where climate changes make them migrate.

S: Most successful architectural and social projects not only deal with material aspects but also with the references within their context aiming to provide a solution for issues like preservation and conservation of nature in a designed environment. During this period, the identification of mutual values for the creation of a respectful cohabitation involves a process of integration between the animals and human kind. What are the institutions and control mechanisms that are able to direct a positive movement in the design of a combined project with multidisciplinary knowledge for the renewal of objectives related to the conditions of cohabitation?

GB: Also in this case the most interesting point concerns the intersection between global constraints and local projects. Thus, we have seen that for each question regarding the valorization of biodiversity and, more generally, the transition toward a new world based on renewable energies (because a world based on renewable energies is certainly more compatible with biodiversity and with the development of ecosystems) it is necessary a cross between institutional top down interventions and more spontaneous and democratic bottom up ope- rations. A dimension without the other is not enough, instead both dimensions can strengthen each other. The problem is not to ask ourselves what are the most adapted institutions in a “point geometry logic”, but which is THE NETWORK of institutions that are more adapted to the context of integration of top-down and bottom-up, of public and private, of proposition of public institution as a facilitating state and the action of group of citizens whose aim is to improve the social and ecological quality of their life places. The bigger problem is to switch from the idea isolated operation to an idea of interventions with a positive summation, whose action solicits, valorizes and sometimes re-elaborates the other. In a certain way, an example could be (and certainly is worth to deepen it) the history of the parks and green areas in great European metropolis. The presence of relative plurality and the decentralization of interventions have lead from the distinctive biodiversity which was opposite to the city, to the idea (at least in principle) of the porous city in which biodiversity could become a constitutive component. Thinking about London, on the one hand, due to its administrational complexity that has evolved throughout the history, the participation of the citizens has been various and strati ed and the reason why several important contributions from the bottom have arisen. For example, the Island of Biodiversity created at King’s Cross, starting from a carbon storage or a park intervention in the zone of Mile End, is an example which the discourse about the environmental quality (and about renewable energies) can not be separated from the discourse on social quality, nor from the requalification of a zone strongly damaged by wars and by substandard housing policies. Instead the same location today accepts and valorizes the basic idea of multiculturalism and of a positive coexistence that is embodied in the practical interventions regarding the ambient theme.