Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Paratrooping Finn

POTS 2003


FINNISH ARCHITECT Marco Casagrande is in Taipei until October 17 at the invitation of Taipei City Government’s Department of Cultural Affairs for a project of some kind. I met him by chance at the bar Watersheds two days after his arrival on September 30. This is what we talked about:

“I have this plan. I want to jump out of an aeroplane and parachute down over Taipei. Spreading seeds.”


“Spreading seeds. I will have a thing right here.” He indicated a basket on his hip. “See what I mean.”

What kind of airplane?

“C-130. I know the military has them here. I saw one just yesterday flying over.”

Will they let you do that?

“Why not? That is what we will see.”

Have you ever parachuted before?


Shouldn’t you take a class or something?

“No. I will just do it.”

What if the equipment screws up?

“It will work.”

What if you can’t get a C-130?

“We’ll try to find someone with a private aeroplane. They must have them here.”

I don’t know about that. The government here has strict controls on transportation. If you can’t get a private plane or a C-130, would you try to jump out of a commercial plane?

“That would work too.”

Do you think you can really do this?

“We will see. I just got here the day before yesterday.”

Is this an art project. Do you consider this art?

“I don’t like to call this art. I was trained as an architect. This has more to do with - urban planning.”

Who invited you here?

“The city’s culture department.”

And what did they say when you told them what you want to do?

“In the meeting, of course they were all silent for a moment. And then somebody said, ‘Is this like a metaphor or something?’ And I said, ‘NO. IT’S NOT A METAPHOR. I WANT TO JUMP OUT OF AN AEROPLANE AND SPREAD SEEDS OVER TAIPEI.’”

That’s cool as fuck.

“Thank you.”

Are you going to document this?

“You can come behind me and take pictures or whatever.”

I have a DVD camera.

“That too.”

What about landing? Taipei’s got a lot of buildings and stuff.

“WHAT? You come down! You land! THERE’S NO PROBLEM. Maybe you break your leg!”

Um, what kind of seeds do you want to spread?

“Plants. Things that people can grow.”

Not non-native species I hope.

“No. Local plants, like rice and so forth.”

That sounds great. Good luck.

“Thank you.”

Monday, December 10, 2007

7-11 Sauna

7-11 SAUNA

7-11 is the flower of a metropolis. Like a mushroom it is attached to the hidden energy flows of the city surviving on the balancing between highly calculated profit making mechanisms and community sense. It is justified to compare the 7-11 network to the acupuncture needles dealing with the Chi of the city, but what is the Chi then? And if the city needs acupuncture, what is the disease?

In Finland we don’t have acupuncture and we don’t have 7-11. We have public saunas. You can see steaming hot naked guys on a street side on a cold winter afternoon wrapped in towels. Literally steaming hot, they are chilling out from a public sauna.

There is 5 million people in Finland and 2 million saunas. If sauna, alcohol and tar don’t cure you – you will die, goes the old saying. Public saunas are real acupuncture for the city. People come out from their homes and from their works to sweat together as a naked community. People relax this way and talk a bit. In sauna everybody is naked, so there is no titles either. A workingman can talk to the naked president. This has always been.

In Gonguan I found the real acupuncture needle of the community. A secret vegetable garden was hiding in the ruins of the industrial city. This had been a site for military buildings, that had got demolished, but the site never redeveloped. Taipei –style this spot of sleeping capitalism was surrounded by a corrugated steel wall to keep the people out from the ruin. Similar kind of walls are everywhere in Taipei. Ruins are everywhere in the fast grown modern city.

The Gonguan grandmothers observed the site for long enough and then occupied the abandoned construction site for a community garden. Similar kind of gardens are everywhere in the fast grown modern Taipei. Grandmothers dominate the no-man’s land. This I find very hopeful for the industrial city. Ruin is full of hope and grandmothers are full of hope. They are preserving the First Generation connection between the modern man and nature.

I guess it is from these spots of hiding urban farms that the new layer of landscape urbanism will grow on top of the existing Industrial city. That will be the Third Generation City, when the man-made becomes again part of nature – like a ruin. Grandmothers are now cultivating these true acupuncture points of the industrial urban body of Taipei and taking care of the Chi, the common subconscious of the city. Soon it is time for the rest of the citizens to start helping the grandmothers a bit, so that the garden can grow over the corrugated steel walls and over the walls of the rivers. Too long time have these composts been hiding inside the city, soon it is time to turn them over to fertilize the whole urban body.

The hidden gardens of Taipei felt like the public sauna for me. I constructed a small public sauna in front of the 7-11 Gonguan to think more about the Third Generation Taipei. I found it hopeful that with one step you could step into a modern convenient store, the flower of urbanism or 1000 years back. And that these two exist the same time.

The Third Generation City will not take away your fridges or turn down your lights. It will just grow on top of you. The dictatorship of sensitivity has begun!

Marco Casagrande
Text for 7-11 City book edited by Roan Chin-Yueh based on the 7-11 City architecture, poetry and urban design event.