QUOTE | Collapse, complexity & scale

Posted on 19/12/2009

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I’ve just been reading an interview with Kazys Varnelis (Triple Canopy #7), an architectural historian, who discusses the collapse of complex societies. He made the following comment about design in bad times, referring in part to the current financial crisis:

What do you do when labor is cheap, resources are expensive, and nobody is going to fund many new buildings? You design facades and small-scale urban interventions … What can we do for people today? How about allotment gardens on abandoned building sites (or at least those that aren’t too contaminated), so that people can grow their own food, eat in a healthy way, and get some exercise while doing it? … We need to back off of the obsession with the next big thing and its close relative, the urge to find a quick fix, for a while.

While several things Varnelis said in this interview jarred, something of this resonated with me because it introduces an idea of scale and of closeness. Instead of opting for large scale infrastructure fixes (which in part continue to create complexity) he proposes a multitude of smaller scale initiatives that take time. While not necessarily an argument for simplicity such interventions provide alternatives. Many of the works considered on PlaceBlog are small scale interventions. They are not total fixes or wholesale changes – they are localised alternatives in the experience, knowing and making of the city.

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