Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The garden and the gardener

nationcrafting: the garden and the gardener

Let's start this essay by considering various types of garden design.

If you look at European gardens, and at Italian and French formal garden designs of the Enlightenment period in particular, the position of the gardener in relation to the garden is clear: the gardener is a force competing against nature, taming nature and forcing his geometric designs upon the garden. The gardens of Europe's palaces look like small cities made of grass, plants and trees.

In Japanese gardens, on the other hand, the gardener sees himself as a part of nature. He is, as it were, another plant, albeit one with no roots in the ground, and with the intelligence to influence the balance of the garden as a whole. His culture is not distinct from nature, it is a part of nature, just as the ability to grow flowers and live out a symbiotic relationship with bees is part of nature.

As a result of this difference in outlook, many Japanese gardens are naturally harmonious, created with a deep knowledge of how plants grow naturally, and working with this natural growth, rather than against it. Over the long term, they're not trying to break out of the shape they've been designed in, because the shape already took their growth into consideration.

Just as it is easier for a woodcutter to cut a piece of wood going along the grain than against it, so it is easier for a gardener who understands each plant's growth pattern to bring out the emergent harmony of the garden.

Japanese gardens make gardening look easy: they look as if they just grow themselves. Some Japanese gardens designed during the Edo period are still growing today in the way they were designed to grow, with garden maintenance seen as a complementary action, for example, to plant seeds being blown by the wind.

This difference in relationship between garden and gardener is fundamental when considering the vast ecology that is a nation. The "European garden" type of state assumes that the nation itself is a chaotic entity that must be tamed and subjected to various forms of pressure in order to ressemble anything like an 'ordered' garden. The "Japanese garden" type of nation design, on the other hand, works with the nation's intrinsic growth properties.

It's interesting to see that many of our ideas around the nation state originated roughly at the time of the Enlightenment, the age when our gardens started taking on the shape of cities, straight and square. Many of our constitutions have changed only superficially since then.

The central and all-encompassing role of the state in France, for example, hasn't been questioned much since the days of the Enlightenment, which is why we still constantly see politicians of all parties behaving like dictatorial gardeners hectoring their gardens into shape.

What they seem not to realise is that - in our nation/garden metaphor - it's the plants themselves we're supposed to be designing our gardens for.


5 comments:

  1. As someone who is a voluntaryist and currently studying architecture, this blog is delightful. Keep it up.

    Also, you're getting exposure on the anarcho-capitalist subreddit on Reddit, if you didn't already know.

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  2. Hi Mikki,

    Thank you very much, that's a very nice thing to write.

    I just did a search on the anarcho-capitalist subreddit and read a few threads. I think I know who Mrs Roboto might be :-)

    Are you mikkistone? If so, it looks like this blog was started for people just like you: both creative and politically rational. Let's hope it's contagious...

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  3. That's me.

    Also, Mrs Roboto mentioned she had recently attended a lecture of yours on depoliticising politics and applying design theory to social organisation. Are your lectures available anywhere else, or do I have to wait for your next installment of this blog?

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  4. Hi Mikki,

    Yes, the talk Mrs Roboto refers to is one I gave a few weeks ago to introduce this subject, to look at natural organisations like superorganisms (e.g. ants colonies) and their mathematical models (John Conway, etc.) and to outline the creative opportunities that will open themselves up as politics itself is depoliticised.

    I recorded it on my phone, more to get a feeling of my presentation timing, but the sound does get muffled somewhat halfway through. So, as a file in itself, it's not really good enough to publish.

    The good news is that I'm giving another couple of talks in the early Autumn, which will be recorded properly. So, stay tuned... Given that I'll have written quite a lot more by then, they should present better structure and a better 'positioning' of the subject.

    This 'positioning' is very important, I think, because many designers know very little about free market economics, and many economists know very little about design. So, creating a new field of enquiry that merges the two subjects is in itself a challenge: finding the highest common denominator, finding the areas that are newly enlightened by the other subject's paradigms, etc.

    Even the word "nationcrafting" itself took some time to come up with, because it had to project the spirit behind the subject as well as give an idea of the subject itself. I mean, with a different name, one could easily misunderstand the subject to mean that I advocate more statist planning and interference. For example, many designers and architects in the Constructivist movement of the early 20th century used its ideas to justify their full support of the Soviet regime. On the other hand, calling it something like Creative Anarchism (since it's not exactly pro-statism) would imply a more political message, which contradicts the very essence of it, as well as an activist attitude that I think is unnecessary.

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  5. It's a problem that I can see myself running into in my career; that design and economics are isolated from each other. It's somewhat anecdotal, but I even had my professor remark during a lecture that if we aren't enthusiastic about design, we should go do economics instead. I understand that it was a joke (design is fun and interesting and economics is bland and boring) but this presumed mutual exclusivity can be felt throughout the profession of architecture, and thus shapes the habitus of architecture.

    I do however find it heartening that since the modern era, monumental architecture is being built for purely pragmatic reasons, rather than solely as state- or church-funded expressions of power. And also that design is something that is amalgamated with efficient, effective and sustainable business practice, by focusing on satisfying consumer needs and wants. Businesses that emphasise design create market-leading products. Hopefully one day nations can follow suit.

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