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Paul Clerkin

Below is the abstract of Paul Leech’s talk at The Citizen and The City


ECO-URBANISM: The Sustainable City?

Paul Leech; Architect Engineer

GAIA ecotecture; DUBLIN

Sustainability is NOT a checklist item: it is an holistic, gestalt shift which informs every choice of a working professional, in both highly adulterated and nuanced ways which characterise all real work.

Ecology is brutal: Nature is not benign: it is red in tooth and claw. We are very much part of that. Sustainability is a working myth, ultimately: a paen in the face of mortality: we and our species shall ultimately become extinct; whether that is terminal or a step-change in evolution is part of the human drama, in which we are all both authors and actors. Ecosophy does not offer a route to immortality of the species: it does offer this gestalt shift which can holistically inform us on our journey. It is in the nature of living things, in an entropic cosmos, to extend life as long as possible: Agenda 21 is about this, for human beings. We must pragmatically function now within, what Heidegger termed “debased techne”.

We occupy an increasingly unipolar world, pivoting on the allegedly free market.
The city has always been the locus of most intense interchange. The essence of city is simultaneity: the Web can provide part of this now, but not fulfil the human essence, which resides in sensual media, rather than the virtual. The citizen in the city revels in a highly turbulent system, with many degrees of freedom. The fuzzy logic of constant adaptive and opportunistic behaviour lies at the core of the urban attractor. Web based ‘urbanism without cities’ may have sustainable aspects but is a recipe for nerdy loneliness and cultural decline.

The patronising and controlling demeanours of conventional sustainable development ethos wont succeed and are out of date: step changes in urban citizen choice for survival will, if ever, come from unfettered choice, actively resisting controls from the subversions of the de-facto oligarchy; economic, political or intellectual/cultural.

The urban citizen acquires a high tolerance for chaos and ambiguity and develops navigating skills to hold a course. Whether this is for survival/evolution of the human species, or not, time will tell.

Collaterally, one may accept and even enjoy our ultimate fate in the scheme of cosmic things. An elegiac view is less concerned about survival than the profound perceived elegance of what we do. This elegance is its own reward and falls within the true domain of architecture.

Dublin is again a living city: it has some cankers which thrive on this life and they may be terminal. The inner dynamic of the last twenty years is something to celebrate: without movement there is no steerage. I have chosen to live and work there.

Dublin is a matrix of villages around a core, the locus of activities / culture relying on special demand from these villages, and the entire country. One may consider all of Ranelagh as an eco- village rather than thirty eco houses in the country side with thirty cars. Decentreing resource-use, while also intensifying generic core activities is a sustainable urban policy.

Architects are flotsam in the chaotic urban process; they can opportunistically navigate; interrogate; comment; monitor and signpost future options but they cannot direct the process. The grit of architecture in the social / environmental oyster occasionally produces a pearl of wonder which has transformative potential: this fine art aspect of Architecture should never be undervalued in the city as nexus (intersection of pragmatism and idealism).

Every dwelling is a miniature city. Ecology; ‘oikos logos’, is the economy of the house.

Consider afresh, tomorrow, the course of your life .

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