Thursday, November 26, 2015

Marco Casagrande: Architecture must be pliant and weak like a willow

Published in the MAJA Estonian architectural review 3-2015

Finnish architect and environmental artist Marco Casagrande participated in Tallinn Architecture Biennale with his experimental project "Paracity". A few months before the biennale he had a conversation with the chairman of Estonian Centre of Architecture Raul Järg.

At first I would like to ask you about the beginning of your career. You said that the architect inside you committed hara-kiri. How did you become an environmental artist?

During my studies I had built so much belief in architecture that I somehow could not separate the idea of architecture and the architect. I saw them as one thing. When we set up the office and started working with clients, I thought that everybody would have the same idea about architecture – how great architecture is and how much it has to offer. I thought that the client would be totally aware of this and that they would come to have an architect help them with the processes so that these ideas could become true. But it was not like that at all. The clients were used to thinking that the architect is a tool, the guy who gets the permission, who makes the city allow them to do what they want to do. But that has nothing to do with architecture. They call it development, but usually it’s a kind of building pollution. Architects work together with money and so this bad development happens. And we were part of that. I started feeling sick of betraying my own dreams and beliefs so fast that in half a year I had become everything I always hated and then I wanted to kill this person.

How did you do it?

Now looking back it seems that I never lost my belief in architecture but only in the architect. Together with my friend Sami Rintala, with whom I was working at that time, we decided that we will do it in a very graceful way, honoring the big idea of architecture. In Japan this kind of suicide is called hara-kiri. So we tried to commit architectural hara-kiri. We put the little money that we owned into one project and decided that in this case there will be nobody else telling us what to do. We had to be the client to ourselves, make the design, get the permission and build it. Step by step we completed our first big architectural scale landscape installation in Savonlinna. It is amazing how much people believed in us. The construction workers were our friends; they volunteered to come in for weeks. The city gave permission immediately. There was no business, no speculations – people just helped us. It touched them and that was a big surprise for us. Then we did this big work and actually burnt it at the end – which was the hara-kiri. I guess some sort of honesty was so much around that this started our career.

Land(e)scape by Casagrande & Rintala, Savonlinna, Finland 1999

You started to get invitations from different places.

Yes, and from places we were not even aware of. And that there were other layers in the architectural world, like biennales, magazines, some organizations that were actually working with the core of architecture. And it is pretty much the same idea we had in university.

You have done very different kinds of projects and art projects. What would you like to bring out yourself?

I have done maybe about 70 projects since 1999. Many of them are just opportunities that arose somewhere. Most of the cases are not financed. Those aren’t commissions in a sense that you are invited, how many square meters are needed, what is the budget and time-frame. They are more like opportunities where something good can be done. Sometimes I see an opportunity and have to find a client for myself – make someone else see this opportunity. Sometimes it’s like a Trojan horse – I’m doing something for the client, who is maybe even paying for it and getting what he wants, but besides that I’m doing something else too and that’s the real work. Sometimes the strategy works two ways. If the city doesn’t want to risk too much and commission me to do the real work, they ask me to do something else. And they know that I’m doing the "real" work too. If it becomes politically too risky for them, they will talk about only the work that they commissioned. But when the "real" work becomes good, they focus on it. Like in Treasure Hill.

Can you tell me some more about this project?

With Treasure Hill, I realized how windy the power structures are. Reality is total and it cannot be speculated. But when you deal with fictional power, it is always based on speculations. The city government had started destroying Treasure Hill, but when we started the counteraction and gained so much publicity that it started to gain political momentum, the same politicians changed completely. They saw that they can use it for their own good. If at the beginning they were 100% against Treasure Hill and wanted to destroy it, then after 3 weeks they forgot this completely. Before I used to think that destruction and construction are on opposite sides of an axis, but it’s more like a circle that is made up of both destruction and construction.

Treasure Hill in Taipei

Was the name of the place also Treasure Hill before?

Yes, it was Treasure Hill. It used to be an anti-aircraft position for the Japanese army. After WW II, when Kuomintang was retreating from mainland China to Taiwan, they took over the Japanese army positions and Treasure Hill was one of those. When Kuomintang’s soldiers came to Treasure Hill there had already been civil war in China for 25 years. It’s a very long time. Then they came there, put up their anti-aircraft guns and were waiting for the Maoist planes from mainland China that never came. So it was boring. Then they started to find wives in Taiwan, got married and had children. The wives started complaining that living in the bunkers was ridiculous. So they started to decorate the bunkers and build houses on top of the bunkers. They became homes and when at some point Kuomintang said that Treasure Hill had lost its strategic value and they must move somewhere else, the soldiers refused. Treasure Hill became a slum, an unofficial settlement of soldiers and their families.
Fast constructed steps in Treasure Hill, Marco Casagrande - Hsieh Ying-Chun, 2003.
At one point the officials wanted to demolish the site.

Yes, in 2002 they started the demolition and in 2003 I was in Taiwan and started to stop it.

At the end of the day it became like a tourist attraction.

Yes, that’s a shame. I had a very idealistic view of it. The Treasure Hill community was old – 80 year-old war veterans. On one hand, it was a wonderful 3-dimensional settlement without any cars. But actually it needed quite a lot of physical effort to use it – carrying the water to the hill and the garbage down. There were many empty houses because people moved away or died. So I thought that for the continuity of Treasure Hill and this very nice community way of living they need a new plan. The empty houses can be used by students or artists and they don’t have to pay rent but instead serve the old people. That was the idea. When they started moving in, it turned out different. They got so much attention, because great artists were there. The focus shifted from Treasure Hill’s original community to the new community. It gave a totally new vibe to the place and in the eyes of the official city it was so sexy so they changed step-by-step the whole of Treasure Hill into a place for artists. And then the original community died.

But maybe it gave new life to it anyway?

Yeah, the officials probably think of it that way. And it is true that the old community was so old that they died naturally. But the continuity became something different, now it’s fully artistic.

It’s not only this place where artists have taken over.

Yeah, it’s kind of a normal thing to happen, I guess.

Community garden in Treasure Hill.
Let’s talk about your recent idea – Paracity. Tell me the story behind it.

Paracity was born because of Treasure Hill. After Treasure Hill I got a professorship in Taiwan for 5 years, and then I was researching all kinds of settlements and local knowledge and getting deeper into that. The city government and the JUT developers at some point asked me to think about the potential for building floodplains on the Taipei river systems. When typhoons are coming the rivers rise a lot. There is a lot of land that is not developed. And on the other hand, the city is totally disconnected from the river environment. They wanted me to think about structures that could both develop these river bank areas and floodplains in an ecological way but also reconnect the city with the river. It was kind of no man’s land we were operating with: an island – 1 km long and 300 metres wide – that always disappears when the river is flooded so there are no houses. The city wanted us to make an urban structure there for 15,000 to 25,000 people. From the beginning I wanted to do a modular platform for people to actually build their own homes. In Taiwan there is a really high number of illegal buildings and illegal building extensions. People take it for granted that if they get an apartment house and it’s 5 floors, for sure they can build 2 floors more just by themselves. The facades become humorous. So it’s always been. It’s the same thing with the unofficial communities, they are fantastic – totally self-built and self-organized. So I thought that I wouldn’t even try to do a city that is ready or totally controlled. Like in Treasure Hill, people will come and start building their homes, and communities will start coming organically.

Paracity at the Tallinn Architecture Biennale 2015. 
The idea was very simple – we need to develop the primary structure of the city, kind of a scaffolding, where people can attach their communities. At the beginning I was thinking of steel because I admire the high-rise buildings in Taiwan when they are under construction: steel frames look really good and full of potential, but when the building is ready, it gets boring. Later I found out about this material CLT – cross laminated timber, and I got really interested in that because it would be ever more ecological if we could take this kind of wood from the Northern forest. In 2014 they opened the first CLT factory in Finland, so now we can get the material there. Now Paracity is a wooden structure. The dimensions of each module is 6x6x6 m and then put cubes on top of each other to make a village or a city. The wood element is 50 cm thick, which means it burns slowly. The charcoal surfaces take such a long time for the wood to burn so that it’s more or less fireproof and it has also excellent earthquake performance.

Ruin Academy in Taipei
In what phase are you with this project?

I hope it’s going to be built. Taipei is the first case study and we start building earliest in 2016. Another interesting pile of projects has come from North Fukushima in Japan. I’m going there to see three different sites they are considering a Paracity to be built in the tsunami area. Then there are other calls from Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro and interestingly from Pakistan. But nothing is built yet. One to one scale we have already built one module in Finland to test how fast it is going to come together and that the wooden joints are working and so on. In Tallinn we are doing 15 modules. It will be the first in the biennale to serve the Paracity idea, but it will certainly have an afterlife, become a permanent structure for something.

So it’s a kind of platform for people to construct their own houses on.

My ideal is for it to become a slum but in a way that it’s both ecologically okay and healthy. To make that happen we have to put some environmental technology inside. Paracity becomes "positive cancer" in the city – receives the leftovers from the city, treat them and turn them into resources. Just what slums are actually doing right now. But we make it more efficient and for that the environmental technology is needed. We are just copying how the unofficial settlements are already living or how slums live in symbiosis with the city.

I studied for quite a long time a chain of slums with 700,000 people in Mumbai, settled along the river. There the waste that can be treated, turned into resources, but all the rest gets dumped into the river. Then they wait for the monsoon and it becomes like flushing the toilet of the city. But in Paracity we don’t have to flush the toilet.

Nikita sleeping at Ruin Academy. 
Those concepts are more for cities in the East, or can they also be used for Northern or Western cities?

These concepts can also apply to Western cities. When you think of the method of Paracity, it is like urban acupuncture. Even in the West cities are a source of pollution. Small-scale interventions could also start affecting the cumulative development in Western cities. The biggest environmental questions are still in regard to emerging cities. In the West, the urbanization has already happened, but if you look at other places this is on a scale that it has never existed before. So Paracity could live together with the emerging city and act as the buffer zone.

Vegetable garden, Ruin Academy
This concept is connected with your idea of third generation cities.

I have made it very simple in my thinking. A first generation city is totally based on nature. A second generation city is an industrial city. A third generation city would be kind of a ruin of the industrial city. Identifying how an industrial city can become an organic machine. Ruin for me is when something manmade has become part of nature. In architecture it happens actually quite easily if you lose enough human control. On an urban scale the question is even more interesting. Paracity is kind of a method for ruining the industrial city. I would like it to grow into an industrial city from these acupuncture points and then start ruining the industrial city. And when this nowadays industrial core and these new organic layers find a certain balance, that is the third generation city.

Is that why you named one of your projects Ruin academy?

In Tamkang University I was studying the phenomenon of ruins and doing research on how nature is reading architecture. Then it just opened up more and more. Taiwan is easy because nature is so fast. There are trees that are growing on steps. Nature uses the man-made structures. I felt that I would like to move into a ruin and live there for a longer time, in order to have time to adjust my needs. So I informed the Tamkang University professor Chen who is the dean of the architectural department. We went to meet Mister Lee, who owns a small place half an hour from the university. There’s a river valley and rice farming. They had clean water coming from the mountains so they could make tea, a tea factory. But at one point it had burned so there was no roof, just the ruins. Also the rice factory was ruined.

Ground floor, Ruin Academy
I chose the rice factory, the tea factory I left for the students. So I didn’t go to the school any more but the students came there. First I had to decide where I can put my bed, but since there was no roof, I had to make it. And when I was building the roof I saw that below me there was a plant and it was growing there because there was no roof. So I fixed not all the roof, but kept a hole for the plant. Soon I took my wife Nikita there and then we stayed there for a couple of nights and finally she moved in too. Then I had to make ways to clean ourselves – there is a small river, so I can have cold water, but how to make hot water? How to make food? Like a civilization. It was of course very primitive but we stayed there. It was functional. I made the students live in the tea factory, not always, but they had to make shelters for themselves.

Penetrations, Ruin Academy
How long did you stay in the ruins?

One year, maybe a bit more.
In many cases rumors are powerful. The whole valley knew what I was doing. The rumors spread along the river so that one farmer from upstream came to me and said that we know why you are here and what you’re doing, so can you design us the house – we want to live in the ruin too. And I designed them the Chen house. It’s a designed ruin. After the Chen house one developer asked if I know some ruins in Taipei city and step by step it became a Ruin Academy.

I remember you once described the house as a boat.

Yes, the Chen House was also like that. It is like you have a site and it’s not just putting the building there but you somehow have to sail the building. You have to know where the big winds are coming from and how it’s changing. Also you find some natural shelters. So you consider these natural conditions and you sail this ship to the harbor.

Chen House at the Datun Mountains of Taiwan
In the beginning you talked about how you wanted to kill the architect, but the architect inside you is now reborn, you are getting commissions and real projects. So did you make the space around you, so the issues that bothered you before, are actual now?

No, they are not addressed so much any more. I’m getting a little bit freer. More and more people are starting to make apartment buildings out of wood. If I were making them out of concrete it would be a different story. Now everything out of the forest comes into the city.

You are working on "real" projects again.

Yes, we are doing quite large-scale CLT wooden apartment buildings in Finland.

Bathroom, Chen House
There are not many environmental artists in Finland.

No, but I think that architecture is an environmental art.

Let's finish the talk with another project. Did the Sandworm work come after the Ruin Academy? How did this idea come to your mind?

In 2009 I was working in Shenzhen with a project called Bug Dome. There I built a similar kind of structure out of bamboo. The migrating workers came from Guanxi province and I was asking them about their local knowledge. They said that they can do anything out of bamboo. You need just bamboo, water and fire. Then I improvised this building called Bug Dome. It’s very similar to the later one. Then I got an invitation from Belgium and I went to the site and I found that they are using willow a lot. Willow structures for canals are their local knowledge. Then I turned it upside down – used it above the ground.

It was a nice story, how people started to use it in different ways.

Yes, that is also something that quite often happens. You say form follows function. But I didn’t want to follow any function. The dunes are always the same shape because of the wind, so there already existed an architecture. This was actually just copying one dune.

But people afterwards find the function.

Yes, they called it the 'willow cathedral'. Some people got married there, kids were playing, there were a lot of picnics – like they would use the beach anyhow. It was not an interior or exterior space, but just a space. It was still a beach.

Sandworm at the Wenduine dunes, Belgium.
It was there only for one summer. Are most of your artistic projects temporary?

Quite often yes. Some stay, but many of them are not even meant to stay.

Temporary is an interesting quality. It seems to allow architecture much more freedom and psyche than a totally controlled, a totally fixed building. Tarkovsky’s Stalker says that strength is death’s companion – whatever comes stiff and strong will die. In this sense architecture must be pliant and weak, like a willow. It doesn’t help much if you are meant to “last forever”, but you are dead from the beginning.

For example cities are alive, they are collective human organism and also expressions of collective mind. But we treat them as something designed, regulated and controlled – expressions of mechanical human control, industrial laziness. This is a fundamental mistake and the source of stress and pollution.  As architects, we don´t know how to negotiate with the collective mind, and we definitely don’t try – we are cheap. We have shifted away from nature, including human nature. We have become pollution, death’s companions…

Monday, November 23, 2015


Julkaistu ARKKITEHTI lehdessä, marraskuu 2015
Marco Casagrande

Paracity at Tallinn Architecture Biennale 2015

Paracity on modulaariseen laminoituun massiivipuurunkoon perustuva kaupunkirakennejärjestelmä, primääristruktuuri, johon kaupunkilaiset itse rakentavat omat kotinsa, yhteisönsä ja viljelyksensä. Orgaaninen Paracity kykenee kasvamaan itsenäisesti kaupunkien jättömaille, kuten tulvatasangoille tai slummeihin. Itsenäisen biourbaanin kasvun mahdollistaa modulaarinen ympäristöteknologia, joka tuottaa syntyville yhdyskunnille niiden tarvitsemat sisäelimet. Paracity vastaanottaa, käsittelee ja muuntaa resursseiksi ympäröivän kaupungin tuottaman jätteen. Se toimii positiivisena akupunktioneulana saastuttavalle kaupungille.
Avoin muoto
Paracity noudattaa orgaanisessa kasvussaan avoimen muodon (Open Form) metodologiaa, jonka Oskar Hansen nosti esiin CIAMissa vuonna 1959 ja jota Svein Hatløy on 2000-luvulle asti kehittänyt.  Siinä yhteisöt kasvavat spontaaneiden ja toinen toisiaan agitoivien suunnitteluratkaisujen kautta. Avoin muoto on käytännössä hyvin lähellä esimerkiksi taiwanilaista alku-urbaania tapaa rakentaa itseorganisoituvia ja usein epävirallisia yhdyskuntia. Nämä mikrourbaanit yhteisöt ovat paikallisen tiedon keskittymiä, mikä on myös Paracityn kasvuvoima. Paracity on paikallisen tiedon komposti, jonka energia ruokkii kaupunkiyhteisöjen syntymistä.
Paracity tarjoaa yhteisökehitykselle kasvualustan, johon kaupunkilaiset rakentavat itse omat inhimilliset tasonsa. Design ei pyri korvaamaan todellisuutta. Flesh is More. Primääristruktuuri koostuu joko 6 tai 3 metriä pitkistä liimapuupalkeista ja jäykistävistä CLT-levyistä. Palkit liittyvät toisiinsa puuliitoksin, ja kaupunkilaiset voivat halutessaan itse kasvattaa primäärirunkoa. CLT:llä on erinomaiset maanjäristyksen- ja palonkesto-ominaisuudet.
Paracity on alkujaan suunniteltu tulva- ja tsunamiriskialueille. Koko kaupunkirakenne seisoo CLT-tolppien päällä, ja vesi pääsee vapaasti nousemaan ensimmäiseen kerrokseen, joka on jätetty tyhjäksi. Kuivana aikana maantasokerros toimii asukkaiden yhteisenä olohuoneena ja tarjoaa puitteet taijille, meditoinnille, karaokelle, veneiden korjaukselle, yömarkkinoille ja muille spontaaneille kaupunkienergian ilmentymille.
Paracity model at the CAFAM Biennale, China 2014
Paracityn biourbanismi kasvaa osaksi luontoa – rakenne raunioittaa itse itsensä. Paracity on ihmisräme tai komposti, jossa eri orgaaniset tasot limittyvät ja sekoittuvat keskenään agritektuuriksi, jonka kehityksessä luonto toimii yhteistyöarkkitehtina.
Paracity elää ympäröivän kaupungin tuottamista materiaalivirroista. Jopa saastunut joki on voimanlähde tälle biourbaanille sisäelimelle. Paracity elää ympäröivän kaupungin kanssa samankaltaisessa symbioosissa kuin slummit: kaupunkinomadit puhdistavat staattista kaupunkia sen kuonasta. Paracityssä prosessia on ainoastaan tehostettu modulaarisella ympäristöteknologialla. Periaatteesa Paracity on high-tech-slummi.
Suunnitelmassamme Paracityn pilottikohteeksi Taipeissa käyttövesi ja viljelysten kasteluvesi puhdistetaan saastuneesta jokivedestä. Esipuhdistettu vesi pumpataan Paracityn kattotasanteille, missä se hapetetaan ja edelleen juurakkopuhdistetaan kasvukenttien läpi. Juurakkopuhdistus on jätevesien biologinen puhdistusmenetelmä, jossa käytetään hyväksi tarkoitukseen soveltuvien kasvien juurakkoja. Katoilta puhdas vesi valuu painovoimaisesti yhteisöpuutarhoille ja kaupunkiviljelyksille. Kaupungin pääenergianlähteenä toimii joen runsasravinteisilla tulvatasangoilla nopeasti kasvatettava biomassa.
Juurruttuaan tulvatasangoille ja saavutettuaan kasvussaan kriittisen massan Paracity ylittää Taipein 12-metrisen tulvamuurin, joka nykyisellään erottaa teollisesti rakennetun ihmisympäristön jokiluonnosta. Tulvamuuri jää teolliseksi reliktiksi Paracityn sisuksiin, mutta uusi orgaaninen kaupunkirakenne mahdollistaa teollisen kaupungin ja jokiluonnon kohtaamisen ja yhteiselon. Paracity toimii välittäjänä kaupungistuneen ihmisluonnon ja luonnon välissä.
Paracityn fragmentit ympäri Taipeita muodostavat kaupunkiakupunktuurin verkoston, joka säätää teollista kehitystä kohti orgaanista konetta. Se raunioittaa teollista kaupunkia ja pyrkii saattamaan sen osaksi luontoa, kohti ”kolmannen sukupolven kaupunkia”.
Kolmannen sukupolven kaupunki
Ensimmäisen sukupolven kaupunki on rakennettu ihmisyhteisö, joka elää välittömässä vuorovaikutuksessa luonnon kanssa ja on ympäröivästä luonnosta riippuvainen. Taipein hedelmällinen tulvatasanko on tarjonnut puitteet tiiviille asutukselle, joki on tuottanut ruokaa ja väylän liikkumiselle, ja tasankoa ympäröivät vuoret ovat suojanneet kaupunkia taifuunien suorilta iskuilta.
Toisen sukupolven kaupunki on teollinen kaupunki, joka elää näennäisen itsenäisenä, riippumattomana luonnosta. Itse asiassa luonto toimii haitallisesti mekaaniselle koneelle, esimerkiksi tulvat tuntuvat haluavan hajottaa koneen. Sen vuoksi Taipeihin on rakennettu tulvamuuri.
Kolmannen sukupolven kaupunki on teollisen kaupungin orgaaninen raunio. Symbioosi Taipein kollektiivipuutarhojen, kaupunkiviljelysten ja laittomien asuinalueiden sekä ympäröivän kaupungin välillä ovat kolmannen sukupolven kaupungin fragmentteja. Nämä alueet ovat kaupungin akupunktiopisteitä, jotka pureutuvat teollisen kuoren läpi kosketuksiin paikallisen tiedon kanssa. Kolmannen sukupolven kaupunki sitoutuu paikalliseen tietoon ja sitä kautta kasvaa osaksi luontoa.
Kaupunkiakupunktio on ekologisen kaupunkisuunnittelun teoria, joka yhdistää kaupunkisuunnittelua ja perinteistä kiinalaista akupunktiolääketieteen teoriaa. Lähtökohtaisesti se käsittelee kaupunkeja monitasoisina elävinä organismeina, joista se pyrkii määrittämään kuntoutusta vaativia alueita ja kokonaisuuksia. Paikalliseen traditioon sitoutuvat ja kestävän kehityksen mukaiset projektit toimivat akupunktioneuloina, jotka elvyttävät kokonaisuutta parantamalla sen osia.
Raunio on arkkitehtuurin katharsis, jossa ihmisen luomasta tulee osa luontoa. Raunio on teollisen kaupungin alitajuinen tavoite ja modernin ihmisen trauma. Taipei tarjoaa kehittyneen symbioosimallin, jossa mekaaninen kaupunki elää yhteiseloa epävirallisten asuinalueiden, kollektiivipuutarhojen, kaupunkiviljelysten ja kaupunkinomadien kanssa. Kaavoitus on jätetty puolitiehen, ja ihmiset ovat viimeistelleet kaupungin.
Paracity on kolmannen sukupolven kaupungin siemen. Modulaarinen biourbaani organismi kasvaa ihmisten tarpeiden mukaan ja raunioittaa ympäröivää teollista kaupunkia. Paracityn siemeniä alkaa itää Taipein sisällä nykyisissä kollektiivipuutarhoissa[MB5] , laittomilla asuinalueilla, hylätyillä hautausmailla ja muissa rakentamattomissa pisteissä. Siemenet alkavat vaikuttaa ympäröivän kaupungin biologiseen kuntouttamiseen kaupunkiakupunktion keinoin. Näistä pisteistä Paracity levittäytyy kaupunkiin seuraten katettuja joki- ja kastelujärjestelmäuomia. Lopulta biourbaani organismi ja staattinen kaupunki saavuttavat biologisesti kestävän tasapainon ja siitä muodostuu kolmannen sukupolven kaupunki. ark
Paracity, Casagrande Laboratory

Marco Casagrande (s. 1971), arkkitehti, kaupunkisuunnittelija, Suomi. Työskentelee Paracityn suunnittelusta vastaavassa Casagrande Laboratoryssä, sekä opettaa ja tutkii kolmannen sukupolven kaupungin ja kaupunkiakupunktion teoriaa.
Arkkitehti, Finnish Architectural Review 5/2015



Marco Casagrande

Open form enables the biourban city. An industrial city seemingly independent of its natural environment is replaced by a living organism.

Paracity is a modular urban structure system based on the use of a glue-laminated solid wood grid, a sort of primary framework, within which people can build their homes, create communities and establish cultivations. Organic by nature, Paracity is capable of growing unaided on urban wastelands such as flood lands or slums. This autonomous biourban growth is made possible by modular environmental technology, which provides the necessary ’internal organs’ for the communities created in the process. Paracity is designed to receive, process and convert the waste generated by urban centres into a resource. It serves as an acupuncture needle in the side of a polluting city.

6 x 6 x 6 m Paracity module at Habitare. 
Open form
As it grows, Paracity obeys the laws of Open Form introduced by Oskar Hansen at CIAM in 1959 and developed further by Svein Hatløy in the 2000s. The methodology is based on the idea of communities growing spontaneously through reciprocally stimulating design concepts. Actually, Open Form is very close to the Taiwanese pre-urban tradition of creating self-organising and often unofficial communities. These micro-urban communities are centres of knowledge, which also serves as fuel of growth for Paracity. Paracity is a compost of local knowledge generating the energy that gives birth to urban communities.
Paracity supplies a growth medium for the development of the community framework to which people add their own human elements. Design does not seek to replace reality. Flesh is More. The primary structure consists of a grid of six or three-meter long glue-laminated beams with CLT panels serving as bracing. The beams are inter-connected using wood joints making it possible for people to extend the primary framework as they wish. CLT possesses excellent earthquake and fire-resistance properties.
Originally, Paracity was designed for areas prone to floods and tsunamis. The entire urban structure rests on CLT posts allowing the water level to rise freely up to the ground floor which is left empty. In the dry season, the ground floor serves as a common living area providing facilities for the exercise of tai-chi, meditation, karaoke, boat repairs, midnight markets and other spontaneous expressions of urban energy.
Paracity’s biourbanism grows to be assimilated into nature – the structure is auto-ruining. Paracity is a human marshland or compost where the various organic levels overlap and mix to create ‘agritecture’ with nature serving as the collaborative architect.
Paracity feeds on the flows of materials generated by the surrounding city. Even a polluted river serves as a source of energy for this biourban internal organ. Paracity lives and breathes side by side with the surrounding city in a symbiosis like slums: the urban nomads purge the city from the slag produced by it. Paracity represents just an enhancement of the process through the use of modular environmental technology. Paracity is basically a high-tech slum.
In the Paracity pilot project we have proposed in Taipei, household and irrigation water is drawn from the polluted local river and purified. Pre-purified water is pumped to the roof terraces where it is oxidised and root-purified by plants selected for this purpose. From the green areas on the roofs, the water flows down to the community gardens and urban cultivations. Paracity’s main source of energy is the fast-growing biomass that thrives on the fertile flood lands along the river.
Once it has properly struck root and achieved its critical mass, Paracity will reach over Taipei’s 12-metre high flood wall currently separating the industrially produced urban housing from the river and its environs. The flood wall will remain as an industrial relic within Paracity while the new organic urban structure permits peaceful co-existence between the industrial city and the river. Paracity will serve as a mediator between the industrialised human environment and nature.
The fragments of Paracity scattered around Taipei form a network of urban architecture that steers industrial development towards an organic machine. By ruining the industrialised city, it seeks to reclaim it to become part of nature and a ‘third-generation city’.
Third-generation city
The first-generation city is a built-up human community living in immediate interaction with and depending on the natural environment. Taipei’s fertile flood lands have offered favorable conditions for compact housing and the river has provided food and a means of transportation while the mountains flanking the plains have protected the city from the full force of typhoons.
The second-generation city is an industrial city, seemingly independent from the natural environment surrounding it. In fact, nature seems to be harmful to this mechanical machine, as if the floods, for example, intend to destroy it. To prevent this, Taipei has built the flood wall.
The third-generation city represents the organic ruins of the industrialised city. The existing symbioses between Taipei’s collective gardens, urban cultivations and illegal settlements and the surrounding city are fragments of the third-generation city. These areas serve as the city’s acupuncture points piercing through its industrial skin to reach local knowledge. Drawing upon and committed to this resource, the third-generation city grows to become part of nature.
Urban acupuncture is a theory of ecological urban planning that seeks to combine urban planning with the ideas of traditional Chinese medicine. Fundamentally, it perceives cities as multi-tiered living organisms and tries to identify areas and districts ripe for an upgrade and reconditioning. Projects relying on the local traditions and based on the principles of sustainable development serve as acupuncture needles that stimulate the entire organism by curing parts of it.
A ruin is the catharsis of architecture where something man-made reverts to nature. A ruin is the subconscious goal of the industrialised city and the trauma of modern man. Taipei offers an advanced model for the symbiosis where the mechanised city co-exists with unofficial residential areas, collective gardens, city cultivations and urban nomads. With zoning only half-finished, the final touches to the city are put by its residents.
Paracity is the seed of a third-generation city. A modular biourban organism grows in response to human needs while at the same time ruining the surrounding industrial city. Seeds of Paracity are germinating within Taipei in the collective gardens, illegal settlements, abandoned burial grounds and other undeveloped sites. These seeds will contribute to the biological rehabilitation of the surrounding city through urban acupuncture. From these points, Paracity will spread out along the covered river and irrigation channels. Ultimately, the biourban organism and the static city will reach a biologically sustainable equilibrium that will give birth to the third-generation city. ark
ARK, Finnish Architectural Review