Ideal Spaces is an art and research project that aims to experience spaces of social and imaginative relevance. To be presented at the Venice Architectural Biennale 2016, it is not only about architecture but about social dreaming and imagination,
expressed in ‘ideal’ spaces with their impacts on architecture, art, and human hopes.
We tried to show this via a combination of presenting ideal city spaces, active participation of the visitors molding their own spaces, and symbolic representation. Ideal Spaces is also a high-tech project that uses diverse technologies in new ways, also new techniques and programming developed by us.
Our team, the Ideal Spaces Working Group, has been engaged for many years in that theme of spaces being 'ideal' according to how space is practiced, planned, imagined and experienced. Now, we want to present some results of our ongoing investigations.
The exhibition deals with ideal spaces in a double sense: as spaces imagined and as spaces utopian, or perfected. In both its meanings of being ‘ideal’, an ideal space relates to utopian space, an old theme deeply embedded in our cultural memory
which has never lost its actuality and appeal. With a look at recent conditions, we need to re-address it more than ever.
Since it is a mythic theme full of hopes and dreams, and at the same time, very practical. Today, the majority of human beings live in urban agglomerations which are far away from being 'ideal' but chaotic, accompanied by an actual destruction of space unprecedented in history. In parallel, never before so many technical possibilities of imagining spaces existed, allowing for escape into worlds of fantasy, dream, and game. Space is lost, and at the same time multiplied. But human beings need space, also real one deserving the name, and they need community.
Issues which have to be settled, urgently. One first step in doing so may consist in re-framing them, to look at them anew, from different but nevertheless related perspectives. We did so by taking the theme's archaic character as a background
tale, the myth of a paradise lost and to be regained again, and by actively involving the visitors. Today, the question arises of what an ideal space actually is, or could be.
We want to invite visitors to join this venture, through contemplation and activity. By experiencing historical spaces conceptualized as ideal ones: shown in a large cave, as worlds of their own, and on a cosmic disk presenting them in connection. And by constructing their own spaces, which will allow the visitors to experience their commonly generated spaces together, both as a process and as a result. A paradise is no place of solitude, and it cannot be built by a single person; but is the result of a common effort. All relevant data are kept and will be available for those interested; so the venture can continue, even after the exhibition itself has closed its gates.
If the myth of paradise is an eternal tale about life worth to be lived, who says that such a myth is a lie? Referring to the Biennale’s theme for 2016, as a universal tale, it can open up many universes. Oscar Wilde has said that a map without utopias is not worth to be drawn. Many myths came into reality, and shaped reality.
The theme of ideal spaces is basic for an understanding of ourselves, as human beings. It is an old theme deeply embedded in our cultural memory, and at the same time, it has never lost its actuality and demanding appeal. Since it contains human
hopes – and a myth: After a paradise lost as the ancient space where humans were embedded in, the human longing is about a new one, a paradise regained. A new space of relief and of unity, with nature and with themselves, after that old paradise has
vanished forever. An ideal space is a one of both imagination and perfection, and we are looking for such a state of being, to experience it anew. It is utopian, and this is not meant negative. The notion of a space as an ideal place to live is a
very old, multi-faceted one, and appears as an idea in almost all civilizations, right from their very start. For Western culture in particular, it has been always linked with another idea, that of utopia. Other cultures, so investigators of the
issue, too had their utopias; but not in such a pronounced manner as our Western civilization, and not so tightly linked to a paradise myth, they say. Utopia, from the Greek ou-topos, the “nowhere-place” or “non-place”, is a place that either doesn’t
exist (yet) but is dreamed of, a paradise to be regained; or it is just conceived as a fiction, as something unrealistic which never can be reached at all. In its first meaning, it is the topic of the ideal spaces we present, also in its secularized
variants: to really make the place the constructors of a better ‘utopian’ world are dreaming of, or expressed as a term of utopian discourse, to let it become a concrete utopia.
In that sense, the spaces we present are symbolic spaces, they stand for a world they represent; them being just the snapshots of that world, so to speak, showing some of its parts only. The spectator has to imagine the remainder of the world shown via these spaces, how it might look like, as world, and how it might feel if one would really live there. It is about the atmosphere of such a world, transmitted by, and reflected through its spaces we are showing. We have to experience these spaces shown, and to imagine how a world would be that is made up by them – not as a utopia that never can be reached but as a concrete world.
To construct such concrete utopias, to plan and mold them out in terms of concrete plans and images does inevitably refer to other images, to ones which are rooted in our cultural memory. As said, first and foremost, this holds valid for a
paradise myth. The image of paradise is deeply belonging to a Western culture, and even after Christian belief had lost its stronghold, it reappeared in many different forms, adopting many different secularized shapes. A myth can never be fulfilled,
says myth researcher Hans Blumenberg, but is approached again and again, for each epoch in its respective versions; no matter if God has been replaced by man, and sacrosanct belief by rational construction.
Aligned to the figure of a paradise lost and regained is a dichotomy, if not a conflict between nature and culture, expressed in many forms which center on the image of civilization as it came to be vs. a natural, unspoiled way of life. Its underlying idea is that of a genuine human condition, a conditio humana, a natural human state as man’s ‘positive’ nature. Also aligned with its mythic backgrounds and basic assumptions about such a human nature, the principal aim related to ideal spaces is to encourage, even to foster the positive traits of that nature. A paradise regained that resembles the original, mythic first paradise where man had been expelled from. As an environment where humans can live in harmony with nature again, also with their own one; and by that, become truly human again.
Ideal spaces as ones both imagined and perfected resemble the places desired for such a nature in its positive terms. That is, each of these spaces becomes molded out as a specific place, a place for a living in line with that nature. That it may
prosper, develop further, be saved from negative impacts and evil in general. And that one day, this ideal state of being may be reached, in the longing for the mythos.
Therefore, the idea has to be combined with that of a built environment which encloses a ‘natural’ one, and which even becomes a second nature for humans. An encompassing structure in the shape of an ideal world where nature and culture are united, a real new and ‘ideal’ cosmos even if it is artificial, man-made and not naturally grown.
In exemplary cases, these are the ideal spaces we present in our exhibition. Concrete utopias to be directly experienced by the visitor, shown in a large cave in their historical succession. As Oscar Wilde had it: a map of the world without utopias is not worth to be designed. The worlds we present are ideal ones, in that double sense of worlds having been imagined and of worlds being ideal; places for human beings to unfold, and to prosper. It is about experiencing space, not about history. The array of worlds just shall reveal the manifold and diverse attempts to erect such an ideal space to be, to dive into its atmosphere, into its very nature and essence, to realize its fairy charm and character.
And we present an additional world, an epitome and exaggeration of the mentioned recent urban environments: the Favela, at first glance, the apparent opposite of a good, or eu-topian version of spaces but its overt contradiction, a materialized
dystopia. Although the space we present here is not of such kind, at least not exclusively, it is a good final mark for the spaces presented. It reminds on a recent reality, and on what has to be avoided. Not for an ideal conditio humana, but for a
human living deserving the name. Since the majority of humans not only lives in cities which became urban agglomerations – in other words, which are no cities any longer, at least not for a cultural, and human animal.
At the same time, even if it might sound paradox if not cynical, it is a great opportunity. In the approach we present, referring to Alejandro Aravena’s idea, the Favela is a place where opposed to all the ideal spaces shown before, the inhabitants can generate their own ideal spaces, as concrete places to inhabit. The ideal space is no longer pre-given by some divine architectural demiurges, created on a tabula rasa, an empty space to become filled with ideal constructions. But it can be really generated, by those who inhabit them. They can take their own belongings in their own hands, they are no longer fixed spaces which have to be accepted, and which are essentially not to be changed.
Following this practice, we are offering a specific place in our exhibition. We invite the visitors to mold out an ideal space by their own, through common effort. Not a favela, but a world that could become a real one; also quite obviously since
the visitors see the results of their activities in real time, presented on a screen in front of them. To generate an ideal environment they desire, a one from which they can expect that it could be really feasible for a living. By molding the
terrains and objects of a world as it could be, the visitors can experiment with different experiences of an ideal space generated by them directly. They become their own architects, in making their own worlds. It is an approach that is used in
participatory planning of urban spaces, and the visitors have the unique possibility to make their own ones – as they wish it, and as they believe spaces shall look like.
It is a venture not confined to the exhibition since the participants can continue if they wish to do so. They can take the worlds they made at home, so to say, and elaborate them further, also together with others. To gain inspirations of what could be done for their real environments, by translating some of these ventures into concrete terms of living.
The world disc is a montage of the history of planned spaces. It starts in the beginning of time and through the visual interpretations of historical maps and drawings it expands into the present here and now, and will continuously evolve over time through our ongoing investigation of ideal spaces. For this exhibition we started with the idea of branching out the history of planned spaces through history, in the shape of a mythical figure - the tree of life; but ended in a visual representation of the cross-section of a tree and its pattern of concentric tree rings that over time recorded it´s presence. The key to understand and to create a montage like this is to recognize that it does not help us understand a space or its meaning; they just help us to visualize it, and in doing so, they come into play, no matter how peculiar they look, and then helping us imagine our place in the world. Our world disc is based on three layers of representation driven by a data model that also accumulate and store the data for further research. The first layer is the visual representation of world disc itself – our map. On top of that there is a set of transparent rings. Each ring, when being actuated, represents a certain timeframe that relates to the ideal space showed in wall 1. The second layer is connected to the physical objects in wall 2 and will be actuated when someone is interacting with them. When this occurs it establishes connections between the different timeframes/spaces and creates visual traces between them, which makes the participation of the audience visible over time.