Pandemic and Environmental Project

The Level-1 Postgraduate Specialisation Programme at IUAV presents the programme EMERGENCY AND RESILIENCE. The goal is to train architects and other professionals to give a more effective response in the field of humanitarian emergencies, natural disasters, climate change, and man-made conflicts.

Given the current health emergency that is affecting the whole planet, the seminar offered by Professor Carlo Severati is focused on the pandemic, and how architecture should deal with it.

New Philanthropy

In the late fifties of the last century, architecture students in Rome were dealing with the definition of Architecture made by William Morris, according to whom it was “any modification of natural or built environment.”

So far, his definition is useful to identify subjects and principles about the goals and meanings of Architecture in the time of Pandemic.

The pandemic has changed the economy, health requirements, and human habits.

Sometimes, the insufficient monitoring of the WHO creates imbalances in infection diffusion and in production and distribution of vaccine: only 4% of its 5,000,000,000 USD budget arrives from 16 Nations out of 164 participants; the greatest part comes from private Foundations and Drugs Companies.

Therefore, we should need a complete analysis of the economic and social situation that an aerobic transmission virus may determine in order to understand the consequences of a pandemic on all architectural and environmental design practice fields.

The White House employees who turned out to be positive to Covid-19, the Bo Jo example, as well as many prominent personalities around the world, show something as an equivalence between the pandemic and the diffusion of infections because of the inhuman hygienic condition in the slums of the first industrial age between the 18th and 19th century, in England, Netherlands, and north of Germany.

The reason why hygienic regulation, Philanthropy and then urban regulation and plans were born is that diseases were reaching the higher social classes too.

Environmental design and architectural language: a plea for sobriety.

There is a correct general call for environmental transformations as responsible for the origin and diffusion of pandemic and sanitary difficulties for recovering.

Limits of development A report published in the early seventies raised an alarm for an antropization that should exceed the possibilities of the Earth.

A century ago, the level of ‘antropization’ did allow for an idea of nature as a balanced system: a stage set where Architecture should play a steady action.

Grandiose architectural examples, from New Delhi to Chandigarh, to Brasilia, were built until the mid-fifties.

The current ‘Anthropocene’, after its first steps in the 16th and 17th century, culminated with hundreds of nuclear experiments in the atmosphere, and many recent accidents (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima).

Many settlements, from the arctic area to Louisiana or Philippines, are disappearing under water.

Netherlands and Japan are elevating their dams, and the largest dike ever conceived in the world has been planned to shelter the Manhattan Bay.  ‘Garbage cities‘, i.e., accumulations of plastic and rubbish of different sizes are growing throughout the five oceans.

If the sixteen UNESCO 2030 goals will be carried out from a certain number of world cities, the pandemic will be coped with better; but these cities would be islands (as Samoa, USA, now) into a dangerous realm.

Food and fresh water are, and especially will be, basic resources for the human being.

For all of these reasons, sobriety in architectural language and a greater stress for environmental design, as Bruno Zevi stated in 1997 (Paesaggistica  e Linguaggio grado zero dell’architettura), should be more than a simple suggestion.

Social Status and Communication

The war in Libya and the Daesh attack in Afghanistan did happen, despite the appeal of the UN Secretary with three millions signatures for a moratorium. Minorities, the poor, the elderly, refugees, immigrants – irregular but functional to production in industrialized countries – in pandemic time have major relevance in international communication media.

The social status emerges with its inequalities, along with a lack of health care, especially in poor countries and wherever State health care is lost or insufficient.

Economy against health: the concern about GDP has been the main reason why China and the WHO postponed warnings and decisions about the pandemic.

But somewhere, in industrialized countries, a new development model will have to be invented.

That’s the major opportunity of the Pandemic; environmental and architectural design has to be homed in this realm.

Effective purposes or Utopia?

New social needs are emerging with the pandemic, with their differences for each geographical area; sanitation should also mean to repair our cities and their surroundings, and the territory. Within narrow limits: acid rains, like those in the Ruhr or in Padania, and several pipelines of fossil fuel arriving from everywhere constitute an heavy condition for Europe. The architectural or environmental design invention includes a definition of a new development model.

This is largely the domain of Utopia.

Waiting for the next pandemic, a lot of social needs require limited but urgent new design: territories, housing, sanitary structures, a new network of sanitation in any item and an appropriate user’s interface, from transportation to the educational system.

Children who were born in Europe around 1940 suffered air bombing during 1944 and went to the air-raid shelter.

The ‘shelter’ in this pandemic is a matter of social equity and personal behaviour between billions of human beings.

Few elected members of human community, fat and depressed, living in an enormous spaceship, wait for some living message from the Earth, which they abandoned because it was totally covered by litter and garbage. Wall-E is the automaton collecting rubbish in shape of skyscrapers.

This movie (a Pixar production of ten years ago) announced the final Pandemic: the earth became uninhabitable.

Before being submerged by rubbish, we have to deal with soil consumption and waste.

Architecture and environmental design are often accomplices.

Carlo Severati 17 05 2020

photo credits: Terunobu Fujimori, Meditation Swinging Capsule, 2018