The series in the 'Image' section of this exhibition are the results of the initial collective research phase of the Transitional Territories (TT) Studio. The images represent the status of material, ecological, socio-political, and economic 'accumulation' at each student's case-study. The drawings are part of what we called 'The Monograph Series' on the present state of the territorial project. We understand the territorial project as the outcome of cross-scalar and multidimensional actions considering abiotic (matter / site) and biotic (ecology/ habitat) conditions, cultural values and political frameworks. The monographs are divided into four lines of inquiry on the present state of 'Matter', 'Topos', 'Habitat', and 'Geopolitics', providing critical entry-points to set the fundaments for the individual graduation projects and the collective studio research. The cartographic method is a forensic triptych composed by a composite map (composition), a relational section (alternation), and a spatio-temporal diagram (limits). The composite map isolates and highlights key spatial critical elements in the surface, subsoil and atmosphere in order to understand their interrelated processes in the horizontal plan. The relational section identifies strategic points of assonance and divergence by unexpectedly relating physical elements and spatio-temporal processes and thus identifying the patterns of alteration. The space-time diagram leads to a summary of the triptych, which shows the limit of the system under examination. This limit reflects the elements that emerged from the critical analysis of the composition and from the understanding of its alterations (the critical and unexpected relationships between elements and processes) and opens up design possibilities.
The notions of Accumulation and Clearance are the specific lenses through which we investigate the present state of the urban and its possible future. The guiding hypothesis is the envisioning of an urbanism of care through acts of clearance (displacement, erasure, decentralization, change of perception, alternative forms of co-existence among others).
Here below the collective positioning of the TU Delft Transitional Territories studio (jointly in conversations with AA Diploma Unit 9) on the present and the future state of the Territorial Project.
The Urban is no longer defined by borders on the spatial domain. Urbanization and its socio-spatial-environmental- cultural and geo-political implications are an accumulation of active and highly dynamic processes, which co-exist, overlap, dissect and interact. In the attempt to unravel the complexity of the contemporary Urban, the Transitional Territories approach to critical mapping seeks for alternative lines of inquiry to deconstruct the ongoing processes towards a synthetic and critical cartography. By deconstructing Accumulation from the perspective of Matter, Topos, Habitat and Geo-politics, we understand how subjects and objects are composed, what are the alterations that influence their nature, and what are the limits of their performance and qualities.
This gradual fading of boundaries between domains is initiated and accelerated by the accumulation of spatial elements and processes that lead to an uncertain living environment. The current era is intrinsically defined by accumulation and because of it, its landscapes can be called “Landscapes of Accumulation”. It is not only accumulation of capital (economic, human or other), but also of materials( in the most extensive interpretation of the notion): plastic in the oceans, carbon in the Atmosphere and even anxiety over the impotence of change. (Nick Axel et al, 2019). Through the critical mapping of “the landscapes of accumulation” the studio projects seek for an understanding of the present layers of materialization and processes blocking the agency (nor the narratives) of sustainability to reinforce a more inclusive ethics regarding ecologies and their values.
The identification, deconstruction, and analyses of the landscapes of accumulation defines the problematization of each research project in the studio. What are current conflicting conditions that need to be considered when looking into the future? What are the layers of accumulation of materials and practices? Where is the accumulation stretched to exhaustion of land or resources? What are the socio-cultural, economic, environmental and spatial consequences of the present state of the urban and territorial project?
Nick Axel et al. Accumulation (e-flux Architecture, 2019). Retrieved at https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/accumulation/
Whereas Accumulation is descriptive of the status quo, Clearance presents ways to take a stance, to look for very different future and possible scenarios. Clearance allows us to explore alternatives and project future possibilities through design for the current and next generations. Clearance is about progress being reinterpreted. It is about finding operational ways to say farewell to the anthropocentric vision of endless growth and development as epitomes of wealth.
The urgency to act and to move away from accumulation processes is already starting to redefine the boundaries of the urbanism field. Clearance is not a solution-driven, nor a’ one-size-fits-all’ form of working, it is a situated practice. Clearance is about developing well-informed and context sensitive perspectives of what could be alternatives and responses to the global accumulated processes of extraction, displacement, and pollution. Clarence works with the fragile equilibrium capacity of the local by exposing critical areas in need of new imaginaries, either by bringing them out of their disruptive state or by completely bouncing forward, supported by new networks of ethical care.
The projects in the studio seek to take a strong position on these accumulated realities to direct them towards a sustainable state of co-existence. While these projects are diverse in their context and criticalities, they root their ethics in care for nature, sustainability, human and nonhuman lives and their coexistence through (trans-)formative, context-driven and situated design.
Matter is where the studio starts to make sense of what comes as inheritance from the epoch of accumulation. From the subsurface to the atmosphere, centuries of resource extraction, transport, conversion, distribution, and consumption have left its entropies in many ecosystems and altering landscapes in a relationship of mastery over natural processes.
The mapping of the studio seeks to unpack the implications of human occupation and its consumption, which are intrinsically part of “operational landscapes” of extraction, production, and circulation that support the urbanisation process. This process is, in the current mode of production, characterized by the constant operationalisation and its increasing demand from human and non-human ability to perform work. Through mapping, an attempt is made to demonstrate the entropies in local degradation, but also its sum that bears the condition of planetary imbalance.
Three main elements of matter have been identified throughout the several different landscapes analyzed by this year's Studio: Water, Soil and Air. When examined separately, these elements provide hints into the processes governing and shaping the earth, by the advanced state of alteration of natural processes and conditions. When combined, these three elements alone expose the fragility of the state in which processes of production enfold, of the ways of inhabiting and the dependency on natural finite resources. Globally the severe altering of larger water cycles - provoked by the increased imperviousness and barrenness of the soil and among others, by industrial agricultural activity, the manipulation of water flows and regimes in several water basins - have brought the state of matter to a limit condition. Conditions which were once suitable for the expansion of certain economic activities are no longer found.
Hence, the cartographies expose the contamination of aquifers, the exploitative engineering of watersheds, the degradation of soil, the pollution of air and the exploitation of human labor as entry points to deal with the changing nature of the territorial project in all its complexity. This informs the approach of urban design and spatial planning engagement at territorial scales, broadening the understanding of territory from the purely technical or administrative domain to also understand it as fit for the inquiry of design.
Topos is the commonplace for our existence, setting the baselines for the establishment of our habitats. Humans are constantly manipulating the landscape to create possibilities to inhabit the local natural conditions in a process of ever-retracing their own imprints. As a result, a continuous alteration and exploitation of the landscape to meet human needs is taking place. The created systems are not adaptable, flexible and inclusive so to ensure the durability of the anthropogenic manipulation imposed on the landscape. Crumbling infrastructures, decaying urban areas exposed to disruptive events, loss of agricultural productivity by soil exhaustion and the climate crisis are just some of the expressions of the inability of our anthropogenic layers of accumulation to adapt to new extreme scenarios in an adequate amount of time.
Since the industrial revolution, the relationship with the landscape shifted towards the accumulation of resources, peeling layer by layer the Topos, until nothing useful (the market) is left for This restless erasure had and still has unprecedented repercussions not only on the surface - disconnecting habitats and leading to the erosion of the land -but also on society.
There is a lack of synchronization – and above all of understanding - between the changes occurring on the surface, subsurface and atmosphere and the general systems organizing the globe, as the conditions on which they were relying upon are crumbling down at exponential speed.
Topos is the spatial expression of these systems in a state of crisis. It is the place in which habitat and geopolitics find their common ground. Therefore, the commonplace framed by Topos needs to be a strong yet flexible and non-hierarchical core where humans and non-humans coexists and co-create.
Topos is the place for a desired new contract between all subjects part of one ecology, one where humankind repositions itself and takes a humbling step: from being in charge of natural worlds by pastoral care (Bellacasa, 2010) to contributing to the return of the surplus of production and biotic processes to nature, and aiding in processes of regeneration of natural systems; by taking care of the earth, and by scaling up vernacular practices that have been overlooked by modern societies.
Topos is the place to design for the plurality, thereby taking the position of a respectful stewardship to sync human potentials with the potentials of the landscape. This entails incorporating the needs of more than one part of the ecosystem and to consider the needs of more-than-human lives.
“Ecologists describe the thin film of life covering the Earth as the biosphere, the sum of all organisms and communities, acting as a superorganism.” Ian McHarg
Our desire as humans to rule comes with an instinctive notion of accumulation. An urge to amassing resources to satisfy our needs and to establish power.The capitalist economic processes have instilled in humankind an aspiration to compete with other forces or regions around the world to be able to provide ourselves with various goods and services. The upscaling of this narrative of accumulation has brought us to overlook our local realities, to disregard our indigenous knowledge, and to sabotage situated practices of production, care and co-existance.
What turns Topos into Habitat is the life that inhabits it. However, what is perceived as Habitat is deeply rooted in the current paradigm of Modernity that operationalizes natural systems and commodifies them to sustain the global needs of geo-politics. As populations rapidly grow together with the demand of resources, the co-existence of humans and natural systems is deeply disturbed -if not brutally disrupted. Whether that is primary agricultural production, energy production and distribution or the tourism industry, the infrastructures and the means that they are based on, have a high impact on Habitat and Topos. Economically profitable land-uses absorb large areas of less profitable ones, by increasing the demand for cheap labour that mobilises migration flows from all over the world.
A territory's value is measured by its production rate, dismissing the negative externalities that come with it. Urban, peri-urban and rural landscapes are synonymous to industrial zones, economic units and production sites, showcasing that they are defined by the way humanity is appropriating them. The unseen side of anthropogenic processes is silently present both in the biotic systems and the political structures that are intertwined in the web of human life. Landscape transformations and territorial claims have a direct impact on everyday human relations causing conflicts and frictions. The land we share essentially divides us.
The unrelating pace of urbanization and intensification of land use for means of production, economic profit, and different life-forms sustainment, is resulting in tight congestion of space. The etymologic origin of congestion comes from the Latin term “congestio” which means to accumulate. There is, therefore, a paradox: Accumulation creates a hole in the spatial conditions Matter, Topos and Habitat.
By observing for example, the Randstad (The Netherlands) or the river basin of the Rhine, the accumulation of a multitude of operational layers - focusing mostly on profit-oriented purposes -, does not serve the needs of local communities. The studio understands communities following the ideas of the philosopher Roberto Esposito, meaning a group that includes human, non-human, and synthetic life forms, where the idea of rights stands by always giving back what is taken.
The state (and with it its politics and policies) exercise power on the biological domain. The exploitation of Nature is most of the time even justified by narratives of geo-politics. Power over Nature comes strongly to the foreground in the various theses and locations which are being researched. Often driven by economic profit, the theses see conflicts over land which is exploited and drained of its biological and natural values. A common observation in the different contexts of the studies is how the politics, and with it the administrative boundaries, are not overlapping with the spatial extension of the natural life forms which inhabit those boundaries. A strong example: a river like the Rhine is affected by completely different policies and different care protocols in all the different states it crosses, regardless of its identity as a whole body.
In the face of geo-politics large part of civil society seems iImmunized as it doesn’t serve the potentiality of the complete community. In the research, the studio is observing how politics is immune to the community’s values: nature is not being understood as a life-form equal to the human one or the monetary one. At the same time, the local population does not have the same potential for freedom as others entering the community. In the context of Mexico or Venice, mass tourism and exploitation of land for economic profit caused the displacement of local population.
The studio proposition is to work towards the clearance of the political indifference and work towards inclusive communities. Nature, population, synthetic life forms, and state should coexist in a balance of taking and giving back.
Elke Krasny and Angelika Fitz. Critical Care: Architecture and Urbanism for a Broken Planet (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2019).
Bellacasa, M. P. D. L. Ethical doings in naturecultures. Place Geography and the Ethics of Care, Ethics, Place and Environment (2010).