CHANGESCAPING | Thought | Postscript: On Thought

Posted on 09/03/2011

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During a Design Futures hothouse, Tony Fry reminded the participants that “we dwell in our thinking”.  This echo of Martin Heidegger reminds us of our humanity: to be human is to think, reflect and act. Humans dwell and dwelling is an engagement of both thought and action. Dwelling unfolds as care and cultivation.  In Spaces of Hope, David Harvey asks the reader to imagine herself as an architect striving to the change the world: “as crafty architects bent on insurgency we have to think strategically and tactically about what to change and where, about how to change what and with what tools. But we also have somehow to continue to live in this world. This is the fundamental dilemma that faces everyone interested in progressive change.” Each of these projects which comprise this section asserts an image of practice as changemaking and as a site of cultivation – as negotiation, as provocation, as creation, as opportunity, as care, as activism.

The six preceding anecdotes about proposals for Australia’s built environment indicate that new thinking and rethinking is interrogating a history of urban problems from the city centre to its sprawling suburbs. There are clearly both big and small responses and solutions to the gamut of social, spatial and environmental issues. There is also recognition of long term and repeated failures in addressing these problems and that there is legitimacy in practice-based thought, collaboration and exploration. In part, this might mean, as Fry proposes ‘redesigning design’ or ‘retrofitting’ practices for transformation to be possible. Perhaps it also means what Mark Wigley refers to as an ‘expanded’ – meaning flexible – architect (or designer, planner, artist etc) free of default settings, working in an expanded or unfolding field. Or as Harvey asserts, it involves “knowing the courage of our minds”.

Australia will be hard hit by climate change and peak oil. There is also a sense that time is running out, a process of losing the future that Fry describes as ‘defuturing’. For Fry there is an imperative that change is absolute and uncompromising, cutting into ideologies founded on continual growth. Others suggest that it can be wholesale or incremental, and others propose a kind of urban acupuncture from which positive effects ripple across communities; rein in the excesses of capitalism and consumerism and we might stand a chance. Consequently, there is both a calling and a need for changeful thinking at all scales. To propose or advocate for change is to inspire optimism and hope out of which thought and ideas can flow. A thought or idea sparks and informs; it expands and unfolds.

These ideas – thought, design, philosophy, practice and theory – alert us to the complex relations shaping the city and there is a sense in each of them that there is a reflection on practice and, to some extent, a reterritoralisation of practice. The propositions, as they have been represented here, demonstrate an aspiration for something other than what exists by using or recasting what exists. Ideas about ‘development’ and ‘better’ are untying from the ideologies of continual economic expansion. At its most overwhelming, what is at stake, as Felix Guattari argues, is that “there will be no more human history unless humanity undertakes a radical reconsideration of itself”. Reconsideration means and involves thought, memes and culture. Reflexively, this might be seen as a drive to be and do differently – that connection between idea, action and agency. This implies the reconditioning of what Guattari describes as the three ecologies of mind, society and environment. The planner, designer, artist, researcher and other built environment makers are implicated in thinking and charting new forms and ways of practice to assert social, spatial and environmental justice or change.

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