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Tom Foster - Architecture Column


Mon 2 Aug 2021

By Tom Foster - Architecture Column

TOM FOSTER’S ARCHITECTURE COLUMN                                                                              

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The world is offered a way that is much healthier, happier, fairer and livelier for all of Creation, animal vegetable and mineral. But the human sub-section of Creation feels so angsty about it (especially ‘fairer’ which sounds like giving all our money to the poor(er) that we fiddle in busyness, Entertainment and violence while on Earth fire, storm and novel epidemics take hold. Offer Availability is closing fast. What to do? Maybe some alphabet soup – in all-happening UK, G7 & COP26 could do the trick?

As usual, it’s a mug’s game to be peering forward to G7, when it will be done and judged by the time you read this. But if ‘The Venue is the Message’, Boris’s choice of a mid-range hotel in a bungaloid resort must mean something – surely? Having myself inspected (from the S W Coast path) the site, I am incredulous that the Presidents of the world’s ‘leading’ democratic (read white, capitalist) nations will accurately assess Little England at its most parochial. A flurry of security installations and seven new sea-view cabins – pity their ‘eco’ grass roofs have ended up as plastic astroturf. For a country with some of the best Architects in the world, it’s beyond clueless.

A commandeered cruise liner will billet 5000 police offshore, as protests are expected – but not violent – no, it’s their new sneakily non-criminal passive tactic, which can inconvenience local citizenry – compared to official lockdown of the three nearest towns, rail and road. Cornwall’s front gardens and farm gates have ‘G7 FREE ZONE’ posters.

Lulled by typical British holiday weather, why wouldn’t these global capitalists agree, last chance, on 11-13 June to:

immediately halt new fossil fuel projects including steel and cement works, close more, to cut CO2 by 45% in nine years and by nett 100% in 29 years, stop intensive meat production to cut methane, forgive third world debt, make Ecocide an international crime and stop deforestation, vast re-forestation and carbon capture technologies, vast re-wilding,

and more? Why wouldn’t they? maybe re-electability fear? To be sure, the rest of Creation, animal, vegetable and mineral, already accepts the offer of a way that is much healthier, happier, fairer and livelier for all. That is, healthy ecosystems will regenerate, albeit of organisms that thrive on salinated land, acid rain and exotic viruses. Just that they won’t include humans, if humankind fails to adopt the above policies. And life will be hell for my grandchildren, along the way. So, jolly good luck, G7!

 If G7 fails, never mind, COP26 is along soon, in Glasgow, on 1-12 November. In the interim, the same comfortable characters may have noticed their electorates’ outrage, and will face more outrage from other leaders far from comfortable that their countries will soon be under-sea. So maybe Boris’s strategy is a double-whammy, a left-and-a-right. We do hope so.

We keep pinning our hopes on bright new leaders – Kennedy, Thatcher, Blair, Corbyn, Johnson. We never learn. Concentrated power is the root problem. For 95% of human history people were wise enough to make sure that never happened. Archaeology and Anthropology show that till long after the advent of Agriculture, humankind was overwhelmingly un-warlike, egalitarian, wise with the Commons. So it’s up to ‘We the People’, as I would say if American.

What do I do about it, I hear the question. Well I recycle, am mainly veggie, aspire to an electric car. Not quite good enough. If younger I could become an Extinction Rebellion activist. As an architect, with my bros and sis’s on the Green Building Forum, we are a ferment of well-informed ideas on what the future should be, like

Every Thing that humans make, from handy products to cars to houses to grand infrastructure projects should, as well as their primary purpose, be an opportunity to create something of not merely small, but actual negative ecological footprint, of not merely small damage to, but actually strengthening ecosystems and biodiversity, and not atomising socioeconomic systems, but actually contributing to co-operation and mutual support.

That is a worthy guiding principle, but … I won’t say over-idealistic, just radically un-explored in the present state of humanity. But it is how things were for 95% of human history. Present humans can and do, at best, achieve ‘merely small damage’ – but that still amounts to accumulating damage. What would it take, in this technical era, to achieve ‘actually negative damage’, truly defined, i.e. not for example greening the desert via desalination/condensation infrastructure  – but at cost of disturbed desert ecosystem and steelworks spewing CO2 elsewhere?

It may be that any technology inherently creates more damage than doing nothing at all. So how do I attempt, architecturally, to fulfil that guiding principle? Weakly, I’m sure, but a current project is for a capable couple, smallholder/gardeners, hands-on builders, and co-op members of a woodland from which they are entitled to timber when available. They have a 2up/2down Listed thatch, with recent 1up/1down extension and flat-roof kitchen linking between - ugly, cramped, ignores garden.

In place of the flat roof, garden will flow as grass-roof hillock peaking up to eaves, accommodating staircase and bringing space and light. Beneath arrayed tree-trunk beams, ‘underground’ kitchen and ancillaries have glass wall overhanging dammed-stream water garden.

While commercial forestry burns diesel and chaws up the forest floor to release centuries’ more CO2 than the growing tree captured, these trunks (and green sawn planks) will be extracted by horse and hand, sequestered ‘forever’ out of the carbon cycle. The southern glass will soak up whatever winter sun there is, stored in the massive construction.

By built proofs-of-concept, we significantly influence the eventual outcome of these chaotic times.

Other columns by Tom Foster - Architecture Column

TOM FOSTER’S ARCHITECTURE COLUMN (March/April 2021) - Mon 1 Mar 2021
TOM FOSTER’S ARCHITECTURE COLUMN (November/December 2020) - Sun 1 Nov 2020
TOM FOSTER’S ARCHITECTURE COLUMN (July/August 2020) - Wed 1 Jul 2020
TOM FOSTER’S ARCHITECTURE COLUMN (January/February 2020) - Wed 1 Jan 2020

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