Introduction from the Creative Directors
All leaves are this leaf,
All petals are this flower,
And abundance a lie.
For all fruit is the same,
The trees are one, alone,
And the earth, a single flower.1
Unity, Pablo Neruda
Nature and Artifice
Human life is essentially artificial through natural means. The advancement of capabilities in human activity, technology is based on the observation of nature. Conversely, the experience of nature is mediated by technology. This artifice is intrinsic in all encounters with nature.
Today we struggle to define the boundaries of what we consider to be natural. In Western society, the philosophical framing of the natural world occurred during the technological extreme of the Industrial Revolution. However, long before the advent of engines and light bulbs, we had already invented gods to control the weather.
In every generation, technology can be seen to deceive. It is recurrently presented as an ‘end in itself’. We see that the present state of technology includes an abundance of structural, communicational and therefore design capabilities. This too is often seen as a means in itself.
In the pre-modern world, an essence may have resided in artifacts, where things were made to ‘face two ways’, as Feenberg puts it “on the one hand participating in the normatively informed world of everyday experience, on the other hand implementing rational understanding of nature”.2
The present position of science, perhaps from Popper3 onwards, would acknowledge that the creative urge in the human condition is limited by technology, the human body and nature itself; formed by a place somewhere between ‘the human experience’ as a collective and the ‘rationality’ of the individual.
In a world of misunderstandings, thicknesses of procedures and confusions as to where the rational place of humankind might exist; it would seem that humankind has lost its relation or desire to seek that which is essential. The confusion may lie in a misunderstanding of the relative positions of ‘people’ and ‘technology’, ‘humanity’ and ‘artifact’, ‘nature’ and ‘the artificial’.
We would seek in the ‘Natural Artifice’ conference, a desire to reexamine architecture as a pursuit, amongst other things, of the essential character of things; whether this comprises the character of a place, an act, a culture, or a people. The now familiar discussion relating to technology can be redressed in the context of our living in a wholly organic world whilst we are immersed in the technology that may, in some respects, represent us.
Facing two ways
The point of the conference is to develop a deeper understanding of that which we do as architects. This understanding may be sought in the space between the experiential and the rational, on one hand, and the abstracted and irrational on the other. The larger context for this introspection is the search for something essential in the personal contributions that we all make. However one should be wary of this tendency; lest we are all consumed by the rational.
In a post Darwinian world, questions will be raised about the readiness of society to accept a blanket or sea of taxonomy over everything. There are now questions about the absolute power of our artificial inventions (or inventiveness). And so we may seek the two ways again; perhaps this is best rationalised by simply seeking the ‘natural’ and the ‘artificial’ and looking at each separately, while knowing that each exists close to the other – just beyond focal range. The conference will assemble observations of these things in order to construct a picture of an unfocussed whole. We will concentrate on what is before us on the stage; whatever proves to be the essence of each speaker. At that moment, the speaker’s position will be sought and intensified.
In his poem, ‘Unity’, Pablo Neruda gives presence to a wholeness that he observes and we, as creative people, must seek. Will we be brave to hunt for this wholeness in the dark forest of technology? Or will we simply sit outside of technology, admiring but never comprehending its intricate paths and snares?
The pretext for next year’s conference is that our built environment must embrace both a natural agenda as well as an artificial one. Eschewing a separation between pristine and imperiled Nature, and chaotic and implacable Culture, our conference theme expresses a belief in the wholeness of the world. Accordingly, we have invited speakers from five continents and three generations.
There are amazing results now evident in a world where designers are apprehending the powerful relationship between that which is nature and that which is artificial in a contemporary and meaningful way for our time. We want to promote the idea that the melding of all human technologies with nature will enable our generation’s efforts to be profound.
Angelo Candalepas, Andrew Scott and David Neustein
1 A translation of the Pablo Neruda poem Unidad, by William O’Daly in ‘Pablo Neruda Worlds End’ (Copper Canyon Press 2009)
2 Andrew Freenberg ‘Between Reason and Experience, Essays in Technology and Modernity ’ MIT Press 2010
3 Karl Popper ‘Conjectures and Refutations, The History of Scientific Knowledge’ Routledge 1963