Artificial Nature (Park Villa Lante/Italy, lower terrace photography by U. Gehmann)

What is an artificial nature and why it is important

Today, we live in environments that became our ‘natural’ surroundings although they are not natural at all. Many of them are not even suited for a proper human living, e.g. when you think about the recent situation in urban agglomerations, or about our increasing dependency on internet-based mediated environments which we need and which became quite natural for us. But which are neither natural, nor present the normal, ‘natural’ environment of human beings for the most time of their history. Or consider the bulk of logistic and junk landscapes at the fringes of our cities, topographies which became a normal environment for us. We have even entire landscapes which seem natural but which have been designed for touristic use, faking a natural environment.

To become aware of the unnatural nature of our meanwhile normal environments we all got used to, conceiving them as ‘natural’ – it could be worth the effort for sake of a better living, and for activities related to that.  

Artificial Natures

The normal and therefore natural surrounding is one aspect of, or perspective towards an artificial nature. Another perspective relates to dreams, and to hopes: an artificial nature always related also to some kind of paradise, or utopia. An artificial nature is one made – an arte factum, something constructed by means of technical art, and not ‘naturally’ grown, neither by nature nor by history. It shall serve for human belongings as an encompassing new environment, providing a second nature, some kind of artificial environment for humans. It is an environment with the aim of perfection, of representing an ideal space. Ideal both in the sense of a space imagined (idea, eidos) and of a space perfected, thus providing a perfect surrounding for human beings. For instance, a carefully designed English Landscape Garden, or the beautifully moulded cityscape of an ideal city.

In case of the garden/park, a nature is presented that looks more natural than nature could ever look like, or that has been deliberately altered to be something other than nature. As an environment, to be more than nature, to embody a perfected, ‘better’ version of it. Look again at a park to understand what this means, or at an Arcadian Landscape which never looked like that in the original territory of Arcadia, the historically real space from which the name originated. The essence of these artificial natures is to represent a symbolic space, richly endorsed with different meanings. Even the first garden of this kind, the one of Eden, was an artefact carefully created, and no ‘natural’ place.

The garden (in its extended version, the park) is a place of resemblance of this original paradise, a place where one can retreat in order to relax, to calm, to find to oneself. As a place, a topos it is the counterpart to all the places where we normally are living; it is a hetero-topos, an “other-place” to those. As a space, it is like an island: a well-designed Inner is separated from the Outer, the proverbial rest of the world. And, as mentioned, it is a symbolic space, resembling the one of the first paradise, a garden where humans lived in harmony with themselves and with nature before they had fallen into time, into their own history. Looking for a regained paradise since then, to be achieved by diverse means (and outcomes) of artificial second paradises made by their own. Wherefore we show a resemblance of such a paradise as the first of our worlds to be presented. It is a small garden really existing (Lucia), located somewhere in the countryside, a carefully and passionately designed space in clear contrast to its natural surroundings. Contrasted by a modern park (R. Burle Marx), the third world in our sequence, combining architecture and nature, symbols and the naturally grown.

In addition, many gardens and parks are an allegory of the cosmos (in our case, exemplarily presented with the Islamic Gardens of our terrace world), that is, they resemble cosmic proportions and symbols in their own design. At the same time, this Terrace World is an allegory in its own, resembling ideas of paradise, communal living and garden city, all of them united in a utopian space.

Since this is the other type of an ideal space, opposed to an artificial nature: the ideal city, too an island separated from the world’s remainder. That space differs from that of a garden/park. For humans as cultural animals, the city is their genuine place to live, a complete artificial environment that might have become normal to them, and therefore ‘natural’. The ideal city can be seen as the epitomised place, and space of such a way of life. Its utopian very intention is to embody the place for an ideal community, and as a space, it shall be designed in such a way that it does provide the ideal architectural surrounding for such a community, an environment that is intended to become ‘normal’ for a truly human way of Life, a way deserving the name of being really human. Therefore, we chose an ideal city to appear as a second world after paradise, as the very opposite to it and as an epitome for human culture.

Out of the many examples possible, we chose the ideal city of Sforzinda, planned in the Renaissance. It was a time when ideal cities emerged in full range, settling on the ideas that it is the environment of humans which shapes them, and at the same time, an expression of a proper and well-proportioned human attitude. One needs an ideal environment as ‘natural’ surrounding for becoming an ideal, i.e. real human, and in turn, ideal humans express themselves through ideal environments.

Moreover, as in many ideal cities from different cultures throughout history, cosmic properties are expressed by the cities’ very architectural setting. In our case, it is a cosmic circle moulded as a regular star, equally intersected by radiant streets running alongside canals.

In its architecture, it is a resemblance of an ideal society of those times. In parallel to that, it is a first glimpse towards a modern city: the medieval organic growth of houses (like in nature) has been framed and subdivided by a rational, symmetrical order; and inside this city space, there is a separated additional one where people live in democratic conditions, in an atmosphere of free exchange of ideas and art. Later modern concepts of society are started to be lived here, in the midst of a (still) traditional hierarchical social order.

The issue of an ideal city is not about cities, it is about a just society. The city is merely a symbolic expression for that. At first glance, one may smile about ideal cities in particular and utopian approaches in general as outdated and hence, no longer valid and hence, do not matter anymore. But in times of new, and increasing forms of social injustice, new forms of slavery, of migration, environmental degradation and overpopulation the issue does matter, probably more than ever.

The idea of an ideal nature, expressed by the garden/park, and the one of an ideal culture, expressed by the ideal city, can be combined in the so-called garden city. We took the example of Tel Aviv, a city newly founded in a new land. Tel Aviv is the fourth world to be presented. For the fifth world to follow, we crafted a utopian example of a construction we labelled Terrace World.

The final world we want to present is a purely abstract one (wherefore we called it Abstract World); in terms of development, it is the logical end point of an artificial nature: a commonly used, ‘normal’ environment which is, nevertheless, no physical environment any longer but a non-physical space made up by systems of algorithms.