The John Gray who wrote “The Silence of Animals” and the John Gray who wrote “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” are two different people.
The book’s tantalizing tagline is “on progress and other modern myths” and that is what this post is about. Recently, in this blog, the words architecture, progress and evolution have been occurring in the same sentence rather frequently of late – mostly to do with The Autopoiesis of Architecture. It seems we’re always being told we need a new architecture like it’s some new gadget that’ll help us better cope with modern life or functionally differentiated society or whatever you call it. Admittedly, for the lower end of the market, there’s some truth in it if people like SANAA can forge a reputation and a new architecture from a few boxes and some alleyways. Essentially, they’re telling us to make do with less so we can be modern and happy. (Recall that a century and a half ago, Chicago department store owners were modern and happy at not having to pay for truckloads of expensive stone ornament.)
The upper end of the market, however, constantly needs a new architecture to represent this supposedly progressing and evolving world and show how progressive and evolved they are. Or, to put it another way, architects need to convince the upper end of the market to pay them to represent this new and functionally differentiated world. Architecture may have some sort of double code of function and beauty but the mix varies according to client dosh.
Patrik Schumacher isn’t the first person to think we need a new architecture every time the world changes a bit. With his endless endeavour, The Venus Project, Jacques Fresco also believes in progress and things evolving and that we need a new architecture to show it. There’s not that much difference between their two stances.
The Venus Project recommends that the present state and aims of architecture be redefined to fit the evolving needs of individuals in this new, emergent culture.
Great – but who’s going to pay for it? This is where Fresco’s concept of a resource-based economy comes in.
It is a holistic socio-economic system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other system of debt or servitude. All resources become the common heritage of all of the inhabitants, not just a select few. The premise upon which this system is based is that the Earth is abundant with plentiful resource; our practice of rationing resources through monetary methods is irrelevant and counter productive to our survival. In a resource-based economy all of the world’s resources are held as the common heritage of all of Earth’s people, thus eventually outgrowing the need for the artificial boundaries that separate people. This is the unifying imperative.
Sounds good huh? The Venus Project is based on some rather big assumptions with some rather sinister subtexts. For example, for better or worse, one of the things artificial boundaries currently do is demarcate sovereign states with the sovereign rights to exploit whatever resources they have. Fresco seems to think this is selfish. For him, for example, the Gulf Wars were supposedly just America’s way of telling Iraq to share their oil for the good of all. As if taking is the new sharing.
Foreign policy determines how America conducts relations with other countries. It is designed to further certain goals. It seeks to assure America’s security and defense. It seeks the power to protect and project America’s national interests around the world. [Constitutional Rights Foundation]
Dave@whenthenewsstops also has problems with the idea of a resource-based economy. But forgetting for a while the not inconsiderable problems involved in the very basis for his project, Fresco just goes ahead and designs a new world to show us how great it’s going to be. I did The Venus Google for you. You get the idea.
Clicking on any image or any link will take you to the same future and when that future is not being relentlessly white and curvy, it’s being relentlessly white and oblique. Moreover, the climate is temperate, the landscape is green, the oceans blue and skies ornamented with Little Fluffy Clouds. Relentlessly. This is one of my favourite images.
Military grey machines with caterpillar tracks and painted letters position prefabricated pods in a double-helix tower that’s a curious combination of Matti Suronen’s Futuro House, Kurosawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower and Niemeyer’s Niterói.
The Venus Project itself is an escape from reality but so is the project website. Check out the new movie, catchily titled “Paradise or Oblivion” (Did you see what they did, Corby!?)
I confess that, years ago – 2009? – when I first learned of The Venus Project, I found it a bit of a guilty pleasure looking at all the retro-future buildings with their Tracy Island aesthetic.
The site’s page on housing is always a good first stop.
The architecture and individual dwellings of future cities will evolve on an entirely different basis from today’s houses. With the intelligent application of humane technologies, we will be able to provide and allow for a wide array of unique individual homes. Their structural elements will be flexible and coherently arranged to best serve individual preference. These pre-fabricated, modular homes, embodying a high degree of flexibility inconceivable in times past, could be built anyplace one might imagine, amidst forests, atop mountains, or on remote islands. All of these dwellings can be designed as self-contained residences with their own thermal generators and heat concentrators. Photovoltaic arrays would be built into the skin of the building and into the windows themselves. “Thermopanes” would be used to tint out the bright sunlight by variable patterns of shading. All these features could be selected by the occupant to supply more than enough of the energy required to operate the entire household.
I’m not finding The Venus Project so amusing these days. Its huge assumption is that there are and will be enough resources to go around if we just share them. As you just saw in Fresco’s future, land continues to be wasted building detached houses catering to individual fancies and whims – “Another three feet on the balcony dear?” Nowhere is there any mention of using less resources or altering patterns of consumption. The biggest problem this future solves is how to keep everything just the same. Energy is generated invisibly but nowhere is there any mention of using less of it. Rather than incorporating even the most basic principles of passive design into these buildings, windows can be the wrong size or position because “thermopanes” will sort it out. By assuming that continued faith in the tenets of American foreign policy and technology can and will solve everything, Fresco shows himself and his project to be creatures of the 1960s.
* * *