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.
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I worry sometimes. I really do.
its very ealistic if u study economics and sociology. only thing i disagree with is no money. this will encourage laziness. contribution to the society must be reward by some form of currency
Resources are a tricky thing, it doesn’t matter how much we have. If we don’t know how to use them, we will never have enough. Capitalism just doesn’t have the concept of enough, it can not abide a limit. It turns it into an obstacle and then overcomes it. (Marx, Grundrisse) But it does so one-sidedly, creating new kinds of inequality. Capitalism also never solves its crisis problems, it moves them around geographically. (David Harvey) That is a true violation of national sovereignity, not sharing. Our economy is bound by the need to pay back for everything, we can not freely give and take, we must do things conditionally for money. So we invent nonsense jobs. Why? Because the spice must flow (Frank Herbert)…I mean, money must flow. Automation allows the companies to produce goods without sending money back into the population and population is cut off from wages. When that happens, and it is happening right now again, the economy stops or is stopped by a revolution.
We need a system which does not force us to invent nonsense jobs, but where anyone is free to start a nonprofit project. We need a system which knows the function of money, but replaces it with digital sharing of information and resources. Money have a restrictive function as well, but TVP replaces that with a limit on resources. There can be shortages, but shortages are a scientific problems to find a substitute, not to raise price, force people work more and give the scarce goods to whoever is richer. (while the work usually has nothing to do with production) TVP lets us keep our free time and find actual technical solutions.
I would like to point out some things that you stated about the Venus Project, things that you seem to believe haven’t been thought about.
1. “Nowhere is there any mention of using less resources or altering patterns of consumption.”
Actually, one of the Venus Project’s core ideas is “the intelligent management of the earth’s resources for the benefit of all the world’s people”. That includes creating goods which maximize efficiency, designed to last, can be recycled to create a cradle-to-cradle sustainable product cycle.
Without the need for cyclical consumption like that which is necessary in a monetary system to perpetuate the economy, goods could be produced to last, and to be available for access, instead of buying. For example, private cars spend around 90% of their lives sitting somewhere doing nothing. In a world of finite resources, this is extremely wasteful. Instead of this, cars, tools, musical instruments, cameras etc. would be available for use like today’s libraries. This would greatly reduce need for production.
Straight from the FAQ –>
“76) Q: Could you describe the distribution of food and/or other objects of desire, like telephones, computers, or books?
A: Distribution of goods and services without the use of money or tokens would be accomplished through the establishment of distribution centers. These distribution centers would be similar to expositions, where the advantages of new products could be explained and demonstrated. For example, if you visited Yellowstone National Park you could check out a camera or camcorder from a distribution center, use it and then, if you choose to, return it to another distribution center or drop-off, eliminating storing and maintenance.
Besides the computerized centers throughout the various communities where products would eventually be displayed, there will be 3-D, flat-screen imaging capabilities in each home. If you desire an item, an order can be placed and the item automatically delivered directly to your place of residence.
All raw materials for the manufacture of these products can be transported directly to the manufacturing facilities by automated transportation “sequences” such as boats, monorails, mag-lev trains, pipelines, and pneumatic tubes. An automated inventory system would be connected to both the distribution centers and the manufacturing facilities, thus coordinating production to meet demand and providing a constant evaluation of preferences and consumption. In this way a balanced-load economy can be maintained. Shortages, over-runs, and waste could be eliminated.”
2. “Energy is generated invisibly but nowhere is there any mention of using less of it. ”
The Venus Project plans designs around energy generation integrated into its structures and high efficiency, also there are many new energies which will be available to tap into. Without the need for profit, long-term sustainable solutions will be pursued to a much higher extent, instead of finite fuels which are fought over in these times because they make “quick cash”.
The earth gets constant heat from its core, and from its sun, and by developing advanced and integrated technologies, these energy sources could be harnessed increasingly.
Here is some info about TVP’s energy ideas –>
Sorry for the long post!
I hope you look a bit into it, and I would love to hear some feedback :)
Helo Shai. I know we both agree that “the intelligent management of the earth’s resources for the benefit of all the world’s people” would be a good thing. And that includes, as you say “creating goods which maximize efficiency, designed to last, can be recycled to create a cradle-to-cradle sustainable product cycle.”
I don’t know who said it but in order to create a better world we first have to able to imagine one. I actually do admire Jacques Fresco and Paolo Soleri and other for being able to do that and to come up with something. Some might call them optimistic. I have to think about whether I am a realist, or just another pessimist. The terms “upgrade” and “product cycle” are now a part of regular vocabulary whilst “adaptive reuse” and “design for life” are not. I’m not even sure we’re moving in the right direction.
It’s not much different with energy. I too am a believer in highly-efficient energy generation integrated into structures and in the use of alternative energies but again, I’m not optimistic we will ever achieve this or even if we are heading in the right direction. Nobody seems keen to share whatever fossil fuel that might remain. We need to remember that geothermal hotspots, consistently windy places, fast-flowing rivers and sunny places are just as unevenly distributed around the planet as oil and gas. If history is any guide, countries having any alternative natural resources will be just as possessive of them. The Venus Project is based on some very large assumptions such as re-focussing the global economy – the modern face of greed, and dismantling the global system of nation-states – the modern face of tribalism. No, I am not optimistic.
It’s not 100% gloom. In the future, there may be many new energies available to tap into but we can’t assume they’ll be more environmentally benign than fossil fuels. Nowadays we can produce energy from coal-shale gas via fracking – one of the most environmentally nasty forms of energy production imaginable and just see how the world has rushed to embrace that! It’s these basic human impulses of greed and tribalism again. I’m not so confident humanity is even capable of making the right choice for all. I hope I’m wrong.
All the best. =)
Thanks for your reply Graham. I’ll just leave you with one more thought..
“It’s these basic human impulses of greed and tribalism again.”
I would just like to point out that these behaviors of greed are varied between different cultures and their amount of abundance. In a system where one has to climb over others to simply exist, you can bet that these behaviors will emerge.
Here is a bit about this idea of “human nature”
The Venus Project would indeed like to see a dismantling of this current system, but you can rest assured that it will not be able to stay this way for long. As economic gaps widen, automation removes more people from jobs, and finite resources are depleted, another “crash” is likely to occur. When that will come, many more people will see that their system is utterly failing them. Then, like in the past, many will look for other ways of doing things. We hope that the Venus Project will be able to offer its ideas to a larger population by them. Until then, I am advocating it, so that it will strengthen and spread its concepts, since it’s not perfect, but a lot better than other ideas.
I’m not super-optimistic either, but I know that if people don’t advocate the change that they want, nothing will happen.
Oh sorry, the video I posted should start at 9:10 :)
Hi Graham, your UWA colleague Peter here. Enjoy your blog!
Can I suggest a formatting improvement? Could you wrap text around the pictures for one? This would columnise the text rather than have it run fully across the page. It is harder to read long lines of writing. Cheers peter
Hi Peter, I’ve been thinking the same thing. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been experimenting with different templates. I’ve found a couple I prefer (with narrower, single column text) but have yet to break them in. I’m glad you’re liking it. Stay with it a while longer =) Graham
where do these people get the time to produce this stuff. why would anyone pay them to do it?
I hardly have time to keep up with the epistles of the forever rampant señor blogmeister.
everyone should be given a 5m x 4m tent when they are born, and that is only shelter they as singular person can ever have. if start a domicile, then they can be joined. when you die, it gets handed back
I see the sense of that. We probably had that too worked out long ago but, like we do, forgot.