Helsinki Design Weekly introduces Petri Herrala’s (architect SAFA) research about a post-humanistic city of 2078. The plan presents a society that avoids devastating climate change for mankind. ”What if the urban environment was not planned for humans only but also considered the non-humans of the area?”, asks Herrala.
One gram of soil contains an average of 50,000 algal spores, 400,000 fungus spores and 2.5 billion bacteria – the complexity of the ecosystem is beyond human control. In the form of distant small glimpses I begin to realize that I am part of that system. I am living in a symbiosis with the billions of bacteria in my body, the independent mitochondria in the cells produce energy and, for example, tiny mites eat my dead skin surface layer preventing it from snowing on my keyboard. I would die without the abdominal flora. Also, In spite of the modernity, I still breathe the oxygen created by the atmosphere’s complex gas cycle, drink water, eat natural food, and produce waste for the decomposers of the ecosystem. Wouldn’t I still be fully part of the nature, though I feel like living mostly near construction and furnishing materials and textiles? Growing awareness of the nature symbiosis and the extension of the self-image are ways of changing the perspective away from the anthropocentric and technocentric worldview. How could the new awareness be extended to our built environment? Can nature simply – in practice with complicated means – be brought back to the city?
Since I could not survive as a hunter-collector with my basic woodcraft, I can not dream of a romantic nomadism. How could I act more responsibly in my profession in addition to the insufficient consumer activism?
Architect and Threats
Historically, architects have been actively involved in social discussion and have drafted new, interesting, radical, and often optimistic future in line with the spirit of time, such as Étienne-Louis Boullée in the late 18th century, Soviet constructivists in the 1920s, or situationists such as Constant in the 1960s. On the other hand, the architect’s working environment, the construction sector, is often rightly referred to as a slowly changing and conservative sector. This is evidenced by a large amount of carbon dioxide producing concrete industry, which has mastered the last 50 years of construction in Finland, even though in a land full of commercial forests there would be a better option. For example, in the comparative LeanWOOD project of Technical Research Centre of Finland in 2017, it became clear that the carbon footprint of a concrete building block was 75% higher than with wood structures.
However, construction is mostly a short-term business and manufacturing of consumer products. My own professional role, which is most of the time in line with the average Finnish architect, has shrunk to produce the most profitable, technically high quality and, at best, a beautiful construction product. Today there are only a few socially engaged architectural offices in Finland when the total amount of architects is about 3500. The architect – and me – is unfortunately more attracted to the free lunch offered by the construction product manufacturer than participating actively in environmental projects. It has been almost 50 years since the last generation of architects demanding a societal change and the occupation of the Architectural Department in Helsinki – and they did not even have any threats at present-day scale. What happened to that generation and could the new generation of change be growing somewhere?
In the spirit of liberal humanism, a sustainable society should create as much prosperity for as many equal members as possible and extend the welfare to other creatures. Voting and staying passive for four years does not seem sufficient. When climate change is already underway, it is time to act immediately. When built environment accounts for one third of Finland’s greenhouse gas emissions and the transformation of the sector is much too slow there must be something to be done as an architect. But it is difficult to position oneself in this era when, in Arno Naess’s words, there is the individualistic abyss of the Atom Age on the right side, and on the left, the ocean of organic and mystical lifestyles with their biodynamic products and esoteric therapies.
The classical humanistic thought of the Age of Enlightenment has valued man as superior to other creatures. Intellectually and technically advanced to measure and investigate the environment that he ultimately dominates. After a long period of technological and material progress, the oil crisis and the first major environmental movements of the 1970s, highlighted clearly the results of the world population growth, outlined for example in the 1972 report “The Limits to Growth” commissioned by The Club of Rome. Post-humanism can be seen as a philosophical response to the movement. Now non-humans were seen equal with people.
Posthumanism is still a sufficiently powerful respond to the threatening future scenarios. Since we are dependent on our environment, a view that takes into account the well-being of other creatures is possible to secure the sustainability of the ecosystem. Although various species have, through history, influenced the current natural system, the load has been so low that the system has been able to adapt to it. As the American paleontologist and biologist Anthony Barnosky describes in his book End Game. Tipping Point for Planet Earth? (William Collins Books 2017) considering humans, there is a risk that if the overcrowding of the ecosystem will continue at the present level the system will no longer recover, but will change after the tipping point in an unknown way and will cease to maintain us. A change, such as a sudden and unforeseeable series of global crop failures, will lead to unprecedented social problems as a result of rocketing food prices. In this case, people in the most vulnerable countries will have to move to survive.
In architecture and urban planning, the change of perspective means that the urban environment should not be designed only for people, but the non-humans in the area should be better taken into account. Non-humans include, for example, animals, organisms, plants, and natural habitats, such as meadows, wetlands and forests, which are essential to the ecosystem. In today’s urban planning, nature is taken into account by means of protecting certain species and creating ecological corridors enabling species to migrate. A post-humanist perspective would extend the planning tools to a more holistic approach. Nature could become part of the city. In addition, as ecologist Ilkka Hanski has suggested, in southern Finland, one third of the area could be defined as ‘multipurpose areas’ within which one third of the area would be protected. Thus, the protected area would increase to 10%, which is already five times the current level.
As the Norwegian deep ecologist Arne Naess has described in his book Ecology, Community and Lifestyle, ecologically and morally, it is not only the diversity of species but also the large number of species that is important. Also other species have the right to flourish. By minimizing our impact on non-humans – end greenhouse gas emissions, cut vast pastures thanks to mainly vegetarian diet, quit emissions from chemicals and pollutants, reduce material consumption for example through circular economy, stop population growth – can the environment cope with the load and continue its natural cycle, gas processing and food production. A more sustainable balance between humans and other creatures makes it possible to maintain a continuous welfare of the people.
Besides the climate change and mass destruction, a major challenge in urban planning is the interruption between human and nature caused by urbanization. According to the biodiversity hypothesis it has caused a worrying increase in the number of different inflammatory diseases and allergies. Ecological corridors in urban areas are not enough for the people to fulfill the symbiotic natural needs. Essential is direct contact with nature, watching it from the window of a nearby apartment building is not enough. A new kind of urban ecosystem can restore nature close to people – even inside the body – and to act as a genuinely healthy environment: for example, by increasing the closeness of nature, children can play in the soil and gain more vital microbes in the intestine that increase immunity.
A city that incorporates natural environment in its immediate contiguity could produce happiness and increase health also from the biophilia hypothesis point of view. Throughout its 300,000 years of history, humans have lived in immediate closeness to nature and only industrialization has distanced us from it. The Japanese speak of “bathing in the woods”, that is, Shinrin-Yoku as a health enhancing factor. Concretely the biophilia hypothesis is evidenced by e.g. 24 Japanese forest experiments, showing that dwelling in nature decreases the levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
In a broader perspective, and in the words of the English philosopher Timothy Morton, seeing growth as a target itself, and always a good thing, dates back to about 12,000 years ago when humanity moved away from nomads living together with nature to the agricultural society. When migrating to agriculture, humans also began an ostensible controlling of the nature as they sought to reach the highest possible crop in a given land – compared with the former annual food supply based on the annual circulation of the animal herds. Despite the fact that mankind has increased its prosperity on average, true prosperity has always accumulated for a small minority. About three billion people live in poverty, where the daily amount of money is less than $ 2.5. A good part of people have at the same time disarmed the global weapons of mass destruction: the climate change.
Already more than a half of the world’s population lives in cities and the level is estimated to grow by 2.5 billion by 2050 alone. Then the level of urbanization will be about 70 percentage and the cities, in particular, the venues for a societal transformation. Today, the composition of the largest cities has grown to enormous dimensions. It is difficult to describe the beginning and the end of the hyper cities with tens of millions of people, such as Shanghai, Mexico City and Delhi. They approach the mystery which exceeds one’s comprehension, the transcendent. The city is the birthplace of efficiency, culture, the decadence beyond all imagination, lonely anomie and social performance described by Simmel. The city penetrates into the lungs and into the blood stream as fine particles of smog. It is slush that the car is splattering on a beggar, the smell of train brake dust at the subway station or the synthetic bass drum sound wave resonating in the chest.
The massive agriculture led to industrialization, after which the metropolis allowed the climate change to be unleashed by gathering infinite amounts of capital without worry about the inhabitants of the developing world or the wilderness. In addition to the denser urban blocks of the first wave of urbanization, the skyscrapers of the economic centers, the fenced McMansion areas, and the retail halls lying next to the highways, the cities especially in a more unequal countries contain ad hoc-type, boundless shantytowns of the poor. According to the United Nations World Economic and Social Survey 2016, climate change impacts, such as very high temperatures, floods, heavy rainfall and storms, are the most disastrous for the inhabitants of these areas, as the regions have generally little resilience to them.
Cities have a moral obligation to respond to climate change. A dense city is able to populate a large number of people with a smaller overall footprint and environmental impact, and with a more efficient energy production and transport system, compared to low and widespread sprawl. They have the preconditions to act as facilitators of world political and economic change due to their dominant position, knowledge, demographics and readiness to change. For example, they may become more carbon neutral and implement the cultural and working-time policy changes needed for a stable economy, such as reduce working time, reduce and change the consumption culture, and increase public services and green spaces.
Can a concrete jungle become a natural taiga, a northern coniferous forest zone, even if urbanization rates and population density increase?
In Roihupelto, 21.6.2078
Neighborhoods and social core tasks
Roihupelto, like othe neighbourhoods after the ecological reconstruction period, is a very communal area. Particularly, the residents of your own quarters will become familiar through the part-time collective work that is made alongside the actual profession, decision-making and frequent celebrations. Everyone is involved in actions based on their will, abilities and fitness. Income and wealth differences are small so that everyone can truly act and work together. Anti-social behavior is countered by general kindness. Discussion and direct decision-making in the common affairs play an important role.
The grid area is divided into ca. 10 block neighborhoods, which, for example, organize food and energy production, building maintenance work, and cultural and recreational activities. Care work is also organized by each sector, with each district having doctors and nurses as well as care units for children and elderly. The basic functions of society are still funded with public money.
Most of the blocks have combined residential and service quarters, with public and business spaces in the street levels and upper floors.
Schools, kindergartens, communal greenhouses and energy production units, a shopping mall and other larger service spaces are located as separate blocks. After the digitalisation of trade, the retail space demand has declined significantly.
The area has increased the amount of endangered traditional biotopes such as meadows, gullies and bait. From the surrounding protected forests runs a free green area to the neighbourhood passing through the residential quarters. The block courtyard is usually filled with food farming. On the surfaces of buildings, food farming varies with with plants.
In the east-west of the region, the runoff system collects rainwaters in ditches and pools, from which they can be used as irrigation water. The roofs of buildings collect rainwater for use by residents.
Street network and traffic
Subway network now covers the entire metropolitan area. An automatic group conveyor, a kind of robotic electric bus, takes people from the Roihupelto subway station to the distant parts of the area. Otherwise, bicycles and walking are the most popular modes of transport in the area. Electric bikes have started to look like mopeds and larger models even like small cars. Also some co-owned electric and biogas cars are still available. Transportation of goods is generally carried out with drones, and bicycles are also common delivery method in cities. After the general decline in robot cars and car traffic, the Itäväylä highway was reduced to a two-way road in the 2030s when the land was restored to nature and farming.
Climate change and the economy
The resilience of the area to climate change and its side phenomena is much greater than in a traditional modernist city. The general burden on nature is minimized. The area does not produce any greenhouse gases, it collects biogas from the agricultural output and recycles all to be used by circular economy. The contradictions during the transitional period and the global problems affecting the Finnish society, most urgently the migration and acceptance of tens of millions of people worldwide, forced the administration to shift societal values towards altruistic, natural worldview, and to make the economy more resilient. The economy is not based on growth, guaranteeing people’s well-being. The change was a huge effort. The tools preferred by post-keynesian economists, such as job security, where minimum paid work was always available, and the universal basic income brought about the change: there was a lot of work on the construction of renewable energy plants, in nursing and farming. (An alternative would have been a few sectors remaining in fossil-based production methods and mass unemployment). Public services also gained a significant role.
The metropolitan and modular architecture of the 1960s, such as Archigram’s upward expanding modular cities, Kurokawa’s modular buildings in Tokyo, and for example Constant’s city based on hedonism and for Homo Ludens, a playful human, got their inspirations from rapidly evolving technology, urbanization and social liberation. The same sources serve as grounds for Roihupelto. Here they combine with biotechnology, nanotechnology and environmental conditions and, for example, the bioclimatic architecture of the first half of the 20th century, which, for example, takes into account natural ventilation. Considering the general new principles of construction, the result is a series of different blocks, with dense and granular, lush masses terracing and rising upward to form large bridge structures.
Principles of construction
– Most of the construction must be of wood produced as close as possible, mycelium structure or their combinations
– The footprint of buildings must be small
– The shading of buildings must be minimal
– Buildings should create adequate outdoor spaces in the immediate vicinity of homes
– The functions of the building must, as far as possible, be shared
– Construction and housing must minimize the disturbance to other creatures of the area (noise, lighting, traffic, residence, etc.)
Buildings and collectivity
Buildings are unique in aesthetic and shape, and feature plenty of communal space solutions. They can be subdivided according to the degree of privacy and communality. Nest, some of the buildings and the distribution of their premises in private and shared spaces are presented.
Mycelium construction is a combination of natural plant, nanotechnology and the construction of the 20th century. A wooden structure is first built on cleaned and reinforced soil. The mushroom structure, which is a combination of recycled wood or fiber blend, reinforcing lignin and mushroom fungus, is injected with drone vessels or cranes into on the wooden frame, after which the injection material grows and binds the whole to a solid form with the strength of massive wood structure in about two weeks.
The mycelium structure is a flexible, practically carbon-neutral, long-lasting and healthy construction method. The hard, quinine surface will resist weather and temperature fluctuations as well as mechanical wear. When a damage occurs, the structure makes a notification to the residents’ info system and automatically corrects itself. Solid installations such as seats, beds and bathroom equipment can also be grown by the material. Windows made of agar seaweed are mounted directly on the structure. It binds windows, doors and other installations such as electrodes onto itself. Ventilation channels and other technology are often inside the structure.
In the apartment
Despite its robust, solid and mute character, this building is “alive”. However, it does not actively grow mold or other unplanned crops, but after reaching the finished state it becomes passive and the hard surface is lifeless. In the beginning, the attitude towards the building was cautious, and nightmares of a predator mushroom were common. The setting in which the building is both a kind of independent pet and a vital shelter, a home and a source of food, is confusing and all-embracing. The resident is like a part of the building, normal flora of its body. The position of the ruler of the environment is blurred.
The inhabitant installed already in the design phase hydroponically farmed surfaces in the winter garden, kitchen and bedroom. He is growing vines, herbs, vegetables, naturally mushroom and ornamental plants on them. Especially the liked his bedroom, which is covered with vines all over. Indoor air is always very good and healthy moist, and the inhabitant, who loves early man theories, always says that he feels like he’d come back to the original home of human.
The building also functions as a the processor of mycoremediation. The cleaning system in the technical space includes a variety of mushroom plants according to the cleaning operation. The building uses virtually all of the people’s waste, such as bio-waste, carbon dioxide, liquids and stools, and converts them into pure soil or uses them for its nutrition. The system removes nutrients and poisons from the waste water, turning it into drinking or irrigation water. I hope the beneficiaries will continue the farming on the terraces. With the help of drone gardeners, farming application and cultivation consultants he was growing root vegetables, beans, berries and herbs on them. On the facade grow grapes, hay, blueberries, lingonberries, meadows and lichens. The squirrel has made a nest in between the blueberries and blackbirds nest in a secluded corner on the bay window.
This study was made with the funding of Kone Foundation in the years 2017-2018.
The full research report as well as bibliography can be found here. Petri Herrala (architect, SAFA) works with Lunden Architecture Company and with other projects of different scales, both with housing and other urban visions.