SAVE OUR SOUL: Architectural Atonement through an Urbanism of Salvation
To be presented in the UIA (International Union of Architects) World Congress Sept 6-8, 2017, Seoul, South Korea
This paper addresses the palpable perception evident in the profession of architecture of a collective loss of the soul of the city and the way towards the profession's recovery of agency and relevance in the process of salvation. In the first part, by studying the history of cities in the recent past and articulating the role socially incapacitated architects played in creating cities lacking soul, the paper wishes to launch a forensic investigation of such exquisite corpses. Since the advent of the avant-garde of the modernists with the futurist movement a hundred years ago, architects and planners have become increasingly instrumental in shaping the spatial fabric of the city overtaking the more organic nature of emergence which was consciously stymied and then formalized. As we move forward into the 21st century with evermore uncertainty and unpredictable entanglements in a globalized world, it is crucial to evaluate the potency of such rational planning and conscious city-making. The intuitive and synchronous realization of the loss of the soul, both by architects and citizens alike needs to be made apparent for a collective awakening of the profession, both as an ethical and social responsibility. Even though there is lack of cognitive transparency in articulating what specifically the soul of the city is, the perception of its loss is tangible. If architects are to recover from this loss made possible by explicit participation in being the instruments of enacting the zombie cities, the process must begin with a sincere admission of guilt. Escaping the grip of modernity, and by extension, the apathy of post-modernity, the profession of architecture needs a collective act of atonement. What better than the act of salvation of the soul of the city? In the second part, the paper wishes to chart a possible direction towards that end, which starts by arriving at a definitive meaning of 'soul of city'. Avoiding the true/false argument of such a definition, the aim is to construct an interdisciplinary and transmodern narrative that is definite and thus useful as a tangible and communicable model between architects and across disciplines. This definition also thwarts attempts to veil the soul in an intangible shroud of mystery left best to artists and mystics. Since the 90s, there have been radical changes in the understanding of cognition, conscience and the social psychology of human beings. The Cartesian duality of body and mind has been falsified and the concept of the embodied mind necessitates a dynamic interdependence of the physical environment and the emergent consciousness, both of the individual and the collective. Linking latest research, the paper will postulate the 'soul' of the city as a collective social consciousness/mind that continuously is in a process of unfolding by the actions of the citizens and which in turn shapes future actions. Human habitation must create affordances that allow for cultivation and preservation of the soul through enactive engagement. Salvation of the soul of the city can only emerge from architects fully understanding the implications of their collective enterprise.