Ian Bentley on Responsive Environments (1985)

In my opinion, everywhere is inevitably significant and meaningful, because human beings are so constituted as to read meanings into everything they encounter – this is surely a fundamental aspect of the human condition. The important question is how to make places that have a positive “place potential” I think the answer to this question shifts with historical circumstances.

For example, back in the 1980s – when RE was written – choice seemed “the supreme quality”, as the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman put it. The key qualities around which RE is organised, therefore, are all meant to structure space (of course, space is not all that matters here!) so as to open up the everyday life-choices of as large a proportion of people as possible.

By the 1990s, it began to be clear, paradoxically, that the very “supremacy” of choice was itself having a destabilising impact on many people”s life-experiences. It began to be clear that if choice really was the supreme quality, then there was an obvious need for a choice of ways of choosing, and a choice of ways of choosing how to choose how to choose – and so on, spiralling down what philosophers call an “infinite regress”; which left no firm foundation for making any choices at all.

In this scary situation, we see the growth of a countervailing desire for a sense of rootedness; specifically to counter what the novelist Milan Kundera had aptly called “the unbearable lightness of being”. Because it “enfolds” us, and “feels” solid and long-lasting, the cultural landscape of urban form is a powerful medium for constructing a sense of roots – concepts like “local and regional identity” and “traditional neighbourhood development” move nearer to the cultural centre ground; sometimes degenerating into a rather disempowering nostalgia.

With climate change and the inescapable evidence of ecological degradation giving rise to fears about the quality of the world we are bequeathing to future generations, the natural world, too, becomes a medium for constructing a sense of roots. Supported by influential literature about “biophilia”, “Landscape Urbanism” moves centre stage.

via entrevista 050.01: Ian Bentley | vitruvius.

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