Resilience And Utopia
On the official website of the Italian Pavilion, Resilience and Utopia.
Resilience speaks of how space is perceived by its inhabitants, and how spaces designed for communities reflect this, particularly their symbolic properties as ideal spaces for communal living.
Taking this as a general background, resilience is usually associated with things other than utopia. At first glance, resilience and utopia seem contradictory to each other. Resilience is conceived as the ability to withstand disturbances and to return to a former state of existence conceived as ‘better’, more stable, and more desirable than the one existing in that particular moment. Resilience can be described as a capacity to persist, adapt or transform in the face of change, in a way that maintains the basic identity of a system.
From this perspective, resilience is essentially backward-oriented, namely to achieve an ‘ideal’ state that existed in the past and was subsequently lost. The system’s “basic identity” was once there and had to be regained. In such a way, the very idea of resilience relates to a ‘back to the roots’ movement: to return to one’s identity, as a new base for viability and survival. By contrast, utopia is usually associated with progress, future and forward-orientation; that is the very opposite of a backward-orientation. In such a move towards the
future, the creation of even new identities is sometimes possible.
Nevertheless, resilience and utopia share similarities in some respects: in the feeling of loss, and in the need to overcome a present state of existence. Common to both resilience and utopia is a longing for something better, for overcoming the present. Whatever is meant by the ‘better’, in the respective case, the longing for it is, in essence, a utopian venture. And despite having its anchorage in the past, the longing for resilience becomes future-oriented
because now, at this particular moment in the present, there is no resilience anymore; we must first regain it.
An additional historical aspect comes into play with regard to the utopian character of resilience, namely the replacement of ‘sustainability’ with ‘resilience’. Until quite recently, sustainability has been a prevailing idea of our time – to endure in the face of unforeseen changes and deterioration (for instance, climate change), and to remain in a viable form which entails more than just survival. Which eo ipso is a movement of retreat, as is resilience: to achieve, and to remain in a stable state that allows for endurance, viability, even prospering.
Now it seems this is not enough. Faced with recent global crises, being “sustainable” is not sufficient to staying alive; we have to become resilient, to “spring back” into former states where sustainability still seemed possible, an ideal state in the past when, and where things were better still. As a utopian venture and in mythological terms, resilience refers to a past golden age. It resembles the Christian myth of a paradise lost.
Resilience determines how a space or place is expressed via its overall ‘shape’ as a gestalt. In this respect, it is about how imagination operates via abstracting and symbolizing perception. What do spaces for resilient communities look like? There are many possible alternative scenarios, which we wanted to express in a tapestry-like space/exhibition, a multitude of possibilities out of which different spatial constructions can emerge. Imagine the network of a large carpet on which alternative worlds come to life when you approach it, worlds expressed as spaces of their own.
An example of such a ‘resilient’ space was developed for our recent exhibition Community and Place, at the Russian State Museum of Architecture in Moscow. As explained in our video’s dialogue, a fictitious or “utopian” world divided into terraces opens up, presenting spaces in which communities can settle and lives unfold. We have called it Terrace World due to its basic construction.
Communities in Terrace World have their own type of social organization and architecture, both of which depend entirely on the particular community in question. The overall aim of this world is to achieve maximum diversity and autonomy for the different communities, thus ensuring maximum resilience by “dispersing” these values throughout various autonomous places.
This is only one example, and there are many others possible. One can imagine other worlds in which resilience, the longing to regain one’s own identity, can be achieved.