Originally published on Conditions Magazine issue #5/6, 2010

They discovered there were whole tribes of people — in plain sight — with no clothes on. That’s right! The women, the men, the young and old, righteous white folks covered their eyes. So no time was spent considering the environment. Hell no! This here, this just wasn’t civilized! And another way they knew the folks were backwards, or at least this how we were taught, is that unlike the very civilized people of Europe, these tribal groups actually fought! And yes, there was some rather crude implements, and yes there was primitive art, and yes they were masters of hunting and fishing, and courtesy came from the heart. And yes there were medicines, love and religion, and inter-tribal communication by drum. But no paper and pencils and other utensils and hell, these folks never even heard of a gun. So this is why the colonies came to stabilize the land: the dark continent had copper and gold, and the discoverers had a plan. They would discover all the places with a promise. You didn’t need no titles or deeds. You could just appoint people to make everything legal, to sanction trickery and greed. And when the natives got restless deep in the jungle, they would call it ‘guerilla attack!’ and never describe that somebody finally got wise and decided that they wanted their things back. But still we are victims of word games, semantics is always a bitch: places once called under-developed are now called mineral rich. And still we are constantly haunted, with unity always just beyond reach. Egypt and Libya used to be in Africa, but they’ve been moved to the Middle East. There are examples galore I assure you, but if interpreting was left up to me, I would swear every time, this version isn’t mine which is why it is called ‘His-story’.

Gil Scott-Heron, Black History / The World (1)

Entanglement or self organized matter is perspective in motion, a simultaneous narrative co-created by one and all. Chaos is only chaos until we zoom in to understand all the different laws that direct the intentions of every self organized cluster. The word “we” is the evolution of the word “me” and in the moment this premise is processed, the portal to Wonderland is activated and the shift down the rabbit hole is engaged – the dive through Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spazialle (2) is the bridge towards the next platform, a dimensional expansion from the independent individual to individual-connected. The urban shaman connects consciences for the sake of appropriate behavior. As Yona Friedman openly shares, “my dog understands me but I do not understand it. Who is more stupid?” (3)

Why is design obsessed with being good and beautiful when good necessarily implies the existence of bad and beautiful implies the existence of ugly? Until these values are updated, design will segregate instead of connect. Fair is the new good and the ticket for this episode can only be issued collectively between the designer who holds the spoon and the melting pot of never ending neighboring disciplines without which survival is impossible. Design should become a consensus based activity, a result of cross-pollination, not a dictatorship technique. If people do not come together to define the framework for the evolution of their cities, decision making will continue to happen behind closed doors and citizens will fade completely into consumers, free to choose from the the few choices they give us.

If architecture quality is justified by its appropriateness, the architect needs to get out of the office to discover what people need to do to live better lives, and give shape to such environment. First world cities have been conquered by politics for economical growth which led to consumer-mania, isolation and fear (4). Positive change will occur bottom-up, as it does in our global shantytowns, all different and all the same, co-designed and co-built incrementally by the hands of the ones we ignore. The code for global balance might be hidden inside the bridge that links the rich and the poor, the formal and the informal, the legal and the illegal. Since it is easier to ask for an apology than for permission, we need more participation and less politics.

Creativity is the daughter of necessity and the mother of appropriate ideas – it is channeled via an infrastructure of natural justice: it does not come to the one who wants it, it comes to the one who needs it. This force is not a by-product of higher education: mothers who raise families in megacities with less than two dollars per day are the true geniuses of our time. The creative elite of the first world should allow itself to be taught by the ones who can do more with less, kings and queens of hope and wisdom from sharing resources. Indeed, for every lazy man getting paid without working there is another man working without getting paid. If the last will be the first, the poor will be rich. From the community point of view, they already are. As the late Notorious B.I.G. put it, “the weak are the strong, you are dead wrong.” (5)

In Rocinha there is a shop called “The Limit Of The Limit”. This shop sells the cheapest underwear in Rio de Janeiro. My friend Buni made a funny comment about it – “of course the underwear in Rio is very cheap, it is made with so little fabric!” Even so, at that time I was interested in the fractal nature of the spontaneous construction pattern – every house was hand built without machines, each with a structure of nine columns. The footprints of the houses were irregular trapezoidal deformations of rectangles with an average size of five times six meters, negotiated between neighbor families and the steep landscape that supported the flow. Since the underwear shop was located in between the mountain dressed in pixels and the road/ invisible wall which divides the poor and the rich, – was “The Limit Of The Limit” the name given because of its lowest prices, because it stood on the economic border of two universes or because the person who named it had the awareness that there is a limit inside of another limit? This fractal branding got me meditating. A football game is a collection of limits – specific court size, two goals, same number of players on each side, one ball, can not use the hands, etc – and even inside this orthodoxy, there is no repeated action. The same kick technique has a substantially different character and consequence in different moments in space and time. Inside the limit there are infinite possibilities, therefore I came to the conclusion that the limit, has no limit.

Engaging with infinity means living in the now. This entanglement of past and future, places accumulated formulas and theories aside. The moment is like the local: any authentic composition in this field must be made with the few objects it is providing to create something new. Improvisation and the constant implementation of hope guide the steps through subconsciousness, two of many keys for unlocking a sequence of doors of perception which compose the hidden obvious in real time – until a foreign distraction erases this connection by bridging it backwards to the ancestral character. The personal DNA should evolve, like a chameleon adapts to the context but still remains a chameleon. The nomad tolerates difference to a greater extent than the sedentary who expects standardized behavior from the traditional community. The traveler is attracted to explore exotic praxis… The price for one dogma is a dark loop fading from belief and alienation to boredom and denialism. Technology replaced the focus of our attention from Nature. Our tempo, which was synchronized with the seasons, is now compressed by alarm clocks and a chain of promises organized in a digital calendar.

Capitalism sustains itself from macho muscle. Its formal organization is administrated with military bureaucracy. Hierarchy and results are the rules of the game. From the opposite perspective, emerging from developing countries, is a new, proactive, feminine economy based on common sense. The female economy brings ethics to the spotlight: its social networking mechanism is energized by trust. The feminine horizon is not about competition, nor about winning, it is about survival in collective harmony. With a tolerance of two years, the moment where the amount of oil on Earth can only decrease can be juxtaposed with the moment when conscience can only increase – thus, the graph for Peak Oil can be inverted to become the graph of Peak Unconscience. If hierarchical muscle is where we are and common sense is where we are going, muscular common sense is the bridge. European capitals have so far been designed by men for men, and this is only one of many habits in need of update. As Rose Molokoane, a South-African grassroots leader clarifies, “the word women stands for well organized men”.

Framing the urban growth of Stockholm onto urban bridges which connect previously disconnected suburbs is the starting point of Connecting-Stockholm, a participatory design strategy to turn one of the world’s most segregated cities into a network-city. The tactic brings together the trajectories of a collective thought shared by Yona Friedman, Superstudio (6), Constant Nieuwenhuis (7) and other anonymous heroes. Common sense and people’s participation are essential ingredients for the discussion. During September, Urban Nouveau will move it’s premisses into the exhibition space of the Architecture Museum of Stockholm to take Connecting-Stockholm to a public level.

On an initial phase, the strategy will be laid out from the aerial perspective, to show that if no man is an island, no suburb should be disconnected from another. An extra large model of Stockholm will be built to show the city as it is, and as it could be, if the strategy is adopted. The second phase will mature locally, from the ground, in social workshops in which architects, designers, planners and facilitators will work together with the locals to understand the challenges and opportunities of each community in order to process appropriate systems for positive change. The museum-office will also become a recording studio for interviews with citizens with different professions to be documented. Visitors are welcome to volunteer, becoming part of the design team. Model-making on an aerial photograph base will prove that an urban strategy can and should be easily understood by children, elderly people and everyone in the middle.

Urban stitching between the isolated communities may and should adapt to the landscape in focus by going around lakes, forests and rocks, thus making sure every connection is unique, fractal and organic. The plan is to densify the city to maximize human interaction and production of local culture. The green spaces between urban bridges are meant to become permaculture courtyards and food forests, another security layer to prevent an eventual social panic in case of a global economy collapse caused by a World in debt.

Connecting-Stockholm is a direction for transition, from a paperwork society into a self-sufficient hyper-village, born in slow motion as we resurrect traditions and lifestyles harmonized by Nature. It is an alternative stage for choreographies on the global city, brushing away the unnecessary to strengthen what brings us together: respect.

Filipe Balestra / Urban Nouveau*

Image references and sources:
(1) Gil Scott-Heron in performance at New York’s Blue Note Jazz Club. Photograph: Terrence Jennings /Retna Ltd./Corbis @ http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/feb/07/gil-scott-heron-comeback-interview
(2) Lucio Fontana, “Concetto spaziale”, Attesa 1964-65 @ http://aurum.comune.pescara.it/eventi.php?id=69
(3) Yona Friedman, “Balkis and I in front of Les Invalides” in Yona Friedman Pro Domo, Actar, page 1
(4) David Hockney, “Shirley Goldfarb & Gregory Masurovsky”, 1974. Acrylic on canvas, The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art @ http://blog.sfmoma.org/2010/07/frank-on-hockney/ Architecture of isolation. No trace of community. Is the solution a mere subtraction of walls?
(5) Notorious B.I.G. @ http://artschoolvets.com/news/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/notorious-big.jpg
(6) Superstudio, “Superprojects: Objects, Monuments, Cities” in Superstudio – Life Without Objects, Peter Land and William Menking, Skira Press, page 131
(7) Constant, “Collage View of a New Babylonian Sector”, 1971, watercolor and pencil on photomontage in The Situationist City, Simon Sadler, 1999 MIT press, page 154