How Will We Live Together With All Other Species?

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Hashim Sarkis, the curator of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition organized by La Biennale di Venezia, launched a striking visionary theme at the beginning of this year: “How will we live together?”. This fundamental question finally transcends all disciplines and opens an existential portal for humanity. It does not refer only to humans but all species, the nonhuman organisms as well.

We live an unsustainable model of existence for the human species on this planet. The Anthropocentric perception of the world, which operates on the basis of monetizing anything alive, brought us to this very critical point. We came from a narrative of inter-subjective reality, a determinism aestheticized by romantic existentialism of a binary “human” (us) and “nature” (them) dialectic.

After living through a period within the new reality that COVID-19 imposed, the humans’ point of view seems to understand the fundamental and existential need of solidarity and eventually perceiving “solidarity with nonhuman people” (Timothy Morton). From this crack of the global financial system chimera, we can finally envision a new world. As Charles Eisenstein pointed out: ”COVID-19 is like a rehab intervention that breaks the addictive hold of normality”. Normality of norms and productive behaviors in service of non-regenerative systems.

The imminent collapse of our mechanistic civilization is opening the beginning of something that we need to be brave to imagine.  A future that is not the Black Mirror scenario or a catastrophic dystopia, and yes, more an illuminated opportunity to overcome the destructive relations we created with ourselves and all other species. A future to be designed right now with new positions that embrace all species, a panarchy.

During these days of isolation, new subtle connections opened and encouraging news comes out every day. Online I have been able to read about stories of wildlife animals conquering back the urban area (once covered with forests), dramatic drop-down in pollution, reduced consumption, unseen international solidarity, collaborative medical researches. And honestly, this is a future I want to live in.

The images from Venice crystalline water and even no predatory tourism is very touching. And those images are even more surprising eventually by being real – in a different way of what we thought was real, which no longer exists.

So, to coexist with animals that are coming downtown to live with us and embrace a new reality we need to shift our perception from the world made just for us to an interrelated web of life. Cities occupied by nonhuman at first view create that strange sensation, as it’s not a place for them, once our romantic separation of nature and culture positions artifacts as artificial in a natural environment. That obsolete dialectic, reminiscent from the Age of Enlightenment, is still mainly running our process of making architecture and designing our cities.

The last great architecture movements from the XX century were driven to mechanical and separation mentality, where houses are “machines for living” and our cities should function as closed systems of feedback loops with controlled inputs and outputs. In fact, the urban space is designed only for humans and eventually domesticated animals.

Eventually, megalopolises are collapsing and every little noise in that fragile and centralized system reinforces that – it was clear during a few days of truckers strike in Sao Paulo and numerous other cases where the cities got paralyzed by inner or outer vectors.

Indeed unpredictable events would disrupt any structural system as any city as well, but how can we design cities and buildings that are better prepared to absorb such shocks to the system and afterward be able to heal back. We are talking here about resilience, that sustains ecosystems and its connections and operations after structural stresses. We are all living organisms in synchronic scales, as singular, symbiotic, colonial or other kinds of collaborative organizations.

A city could learn a great deal from the forest and the ultimate technology of cooperation, diversity, redundancy, self-organization, networking and high technology that produces energy through photosynthesis, water distribution, efficient communication, not generating waste… we are talking about a regenerative system in all dimensions. The “law of the jungle” is a partnership.

2030 - Sao Paulo, Pinheiros river cleared, respected and integrated in urban life for all species © Atelier Marko Brajovic
2030 – Sao Paulo, Pinheiros river cleared, respected and integrated in urban life for all species © Atelier Marko Brajovic

Buildings as trees and cities as forests propose an evolution of modernist architecture paradigms from mechanical to organic and that changes everything. Where architecture is designed through regenerative processes that mimic ecological interrelationship.

We should at least envision such cooperative cities, imagine them as wildest dreams, where the urban environment operates “as” and “together” with other organisms. At this very moment, we urgently need architects to project themself in time and imagine the bright future, products, buildings, and cities designed for all species.

After all, urban spaces are saved by mangroves from devastating hurricanes, microorganisms are cleaning the air, trees producing oxygen, fish and algae cleaning rivers and plenty of other species collaborating to make our cities better. This is happening all the time, we are alive thanks to other organisms, our invisible partners, not appreciated for their contribution, trying to keep the web of life operating.

Our planet is a living organism, made out of an infinite interdependent whole. In fact, that’s nothing new to ancestral knowledge. For a long time, this information was clearly expressed by North American Native Americans, Brazilian indigenous people, wisdom from ancient times, till contemporary Krenak, Kopenawa and many others freed from our Matrix.  Your individuality is a multiplicity, a “dividuality” and inter-connectivity with all other species that create conditions for life.

And here comes COVID-19, another organism, so small and so big. So big that, in fact, it can embrace the whole planet in just a few months, proliferating through our social relations even as a meme, thanks to our global network as a computer virus. We are watching a horror sci-fi apocalyptic movie, potentiated by voracious media expanding our fear and rage onto a new enemy. And again the separation story: “us” (humans) and “them” (virus).

That military narrative can be seen right now everywhere; “fighting Coronavirus” or “war against Coronavirus”. In fact, you cannot fight a virus as linear causality, and less successful is that strategy, once you are dealing with a network virus deeply embedded in our global logistics. The same problem comes out of “fighting” climate crisis by cutting only fossil fuels, “fighting” terrorism with war or “fighting” immigration by closing borders and so on with no effective results.  Because all those problems are rooted in our relations, to how we live together with other species, as a whole.

Coronavirus is, more than anything, an ecological crisis, intended as our capacity of understanding and feeling that everything is interconnected. Indiscriminate “war” against the microbial world with obsessive sterilizations of everything that is alive, cut off micro biodiversity and by so our bacterial cooperative resilience and resistance to pathogens as well.

Deforestation, massive extinction, biodiversity depletion, air and water pollution, animal domestication, industrial agriculture, pesticides and all the violence we are proportioning to Earth are the causes for this and other pandemics to come. Anthropocentric devastator war against life. We can not solve terrorism, famine, pandemic or global warming if we do not reassume our ecological interrelation.

Today we are living in a unique perception shift, a critical and privileged moment in human history, and eventual ecological consciousness evolutionary opportunity. We don’t need to save our collapsing world and unsustainable model of inhabiting this planet, neither our globalized economy. Today we need to be brave and dream in lucidity, we need now to envision the ecological evolution of our species in coexistence with all species in a new interbeing.

As Nick Cave said recently in his online diary: “Perhaps, we will also see the world through different eyes, with an awakened reverence for the wondrous thing that it is”.


This is an edited version of Marko Brajovic’s article, to see the full text click here

This article was first published in Arch Daily and is republished with permission.


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