1/24/09

EcoMetropolitanism: 3 for 7 in 10


Local academics from UBC Architecture, Matthew Soules and Mari Fujita, have recently unveiled their manifesto in Beijing. Titled “Seven Points for EcoMetropolitanism,” it sprung as a critique of EcoDensity and uses Vancouver as the case study.

Firstly, why seven, but not six or eleven – is this somehow related to seven deadly sins and seven deadly virtues; or perhaps any of these - lucky seven, the seven charkas, the seven heavens, seven of the apocalypse (ie. seven churches of Asia, seven candlesticks, seven stars, seven trumpets, seven spirits before the throne of God, seven horns, seven seals, seven plagues, a seven-headed monster, and the lamb with seven eyes…)? I digress, but as my blog line states I will indeed be led astray with ease. So then, seven is that magical cultural number that will stick in your head and it is probably a no-brainer that there are seven and not eight points in this manifesto.

Ten – the total number of the pages in the manifesto. And, boy, considering that most of it is comprised of images, do these pages take on quite a bit. The manifesto puts forward a concept of EcoMetropolitanism. As usual Adele Weder has already reviewed this proposition in the Tyee and from there is the summary of what makes this particular urban proposal distinct from many such:

what the Soules/Fujita team has done is conflate all these discrete sectors -- urban agriculture, animal habitat, vibrant entertainment -- into one unified field theory, literally shaped and effected by this broad new architectural paradigm. Architecture -- often the window-dressing final step in so many urban schemes -- is in this case the first step, what makes everything else possible.

As for shortcomings of this very tiny document with a very large idea, Weder’s got it covered:

The EcoMetters haven't reached that stage yet. A fantastical scheme like EcoMetropolis will require not only an ace team of architects and planners, but also the experts in botany, wildlife, economics and pretty much every other professional domain you can think of.

Read Weder’s entire article here ( The article gave EcoMet quite a boost with Archinect and Planetizen; "Seven Points" has also been featured in respected journal Praxis.) .

That to me is the biggest problem. Seems like any idea like that would begin as a joint initiative of a team of people with the same goals and architecture would be much less so window dressing and instead would emerge as a crucial component of a thorough plan. As much as the goal of making our city/ies sustainable and energy efficient through densification and ecological practices and enriching urban landscape with flora and fauna is a great one, I am confused by some of the seven points and many of the accompanying images that suggest a very literal “greening”. The literal green is something that is perplexing in architecture as well as in other milieus, such as marketing, etc. This literal green in architecture often harkens dangerously close to window dressing.

Yet, the fertile topic of zoning and property division is only grazed. Now – is it implied that EcoMetropolitanism elaborates on the ideas developed Koolhaas’s Delirious New York (never mind the Downtown Athletic Club illustration re-imagined)? From the text itself :

Where Koolhaas’ metropolitanism is focused on human experience, EcoMet brings an expanded population of non-human organisms into the mix; proximities and tensions are developed between programs specific to the expanded definition.

Meaning (reading between the lines), to subject fauna to what architectural tyrants visionaries typically subject people to. However, the age has passed for something so grand to be envisioned by so few – like the grand schemes of Beaux Arts or modernism - replaced by healthier if more time-consuming process involving discussion and collaboration.

Ah, but to criticize the criticism (of EcoDensity, of course) will not do. As usual one cannot sink teeth into the vague rogue, as it is only “a conceptual exploration” (Soules).

From Weder’s article:

For now, such churlish reality-checks aren't the point. The issue is to paradigm-shift our collective attitudes away from the glass-tower-on-plinth-surrounded-by-green formula.

"There's a very limited imagination of what architecture can be in the city," says Fujita. "But we live on the west coast, man! Nature is urban. Nature is eco-metropolitan. And it's our job to cultivate vibrant communities."

In its current form, seven points is more of an “inspiration board”. Weder’s article already served as a catalyst (and forum – check the comments section, unfortunately already closed) for a discussion on the internet if such a discussion cannot be had with a manifesto – an anachronistic and authoritarian means of communication that would hardly begin anything like an integrated urban design. More discussion can be found in comments on archinect and archurbanist, although most of it is predictably about the renderings.

That’s my three cents.

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