The Incan cap­i­tal of Cuz­co was arranged through a radi­al sys­tem of land­marks, places of note that were seen to repeat the orga­ni­za­tion of the world in micro­cosm. Such places, hua­cas, still rec­og­nized by Quechua peo­ple, can be every­thing from remark­able nat­ur­al fea­tures to places of his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. When orga­nized into pro­ces­sion­al routes called ceques, the hua­cas served as a liv­ing heuris­tic of the Incan world sys­tem, at once mon­u­men­tal­iz­ing their cul­tur­al mod­el and mak­ing it a seam­less part of the everyday.

With the rise of automa­tion, fore­cast­ing land­scape futures requires, in addi­tion to every­thing else, a ques­tion of labor. Not just that the tasks of main­te­nance (mow­ing, water­ing) can be robo­t­ized; but that we face a yawn­ing gap between the work that is made avail­able and the abil­i­ty and desire of the pop­u­la­tion at large to do it. At the same time, exper­tise with build­ing the envi­ron­ment evolves in indi­vid­ual lives only to go wast­ed and unseen in garages and back­yards, while cit­i­zens pay to have the places around them reor­ga­nized accord­ing to inhu­mane logics.

The alien­ation already present in the urban built envi­ron­ment, as peo­ple lack con­trol and lit­er­a­cy over the spaces they inhab­it, only accel­er­ates; the automa­tion of trav­el seems like­ly to accel­er­ate a crazy quilt of seg­re­ga­tion where no one con­fronts their own soci­ety face to face. The rise of the Chi­nese con­trol soci­ety has quite sud­den­ly raised the specter of an entire­ly top-down oper­a­tion of space, where peo­ple are at best coerced and at worse forced through space accord­ing to the law. With cit­i­zens’ facial fea­tures logged for quick iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and a set of reg­u­la­tions dis­in­cen­tiviz­ing dis­sent and enforc­ing cer­tain move­ments, Fou­cauldian dis­ci­pline appears to have been dras­ti­cal­ly ratch­eted up. If you can force some­one to cross at a cross­walk, hold­ing the threat of social demer­its against them, you can treat them like dogs with an invis­i­ble fence. The specter of Tay­loriza­tion by the state, vis­it­ed upon a peo­ple the state has less and less use for, is a vivid specter for right and left alike – or should be. An alter­na­tive mod­el is to have an every­day land­scape that is every­where acces­si­ble, as a grand project every­where acces­si­ble by its builders and mechanics. 

The stu­dents are aston­ished when I tell them that the chi­nam­pas of Tenochti­t­lan were prob­a­bly not suf­fi­cient unto them­selves to feed the pop­u­la­tion. Why both­er to have them, then? Some pos­si­ble answers: to val­ue the city around you; to feel a stake in your own life; to feel unit­ed in an enter­prise of thrift (which maybe is not always entire­ly thrifty) and ingenuity.

The chi­nam­pa not only uses dredge to a pro­duc­tive end; it orga­nizes that dredge into a col­lec­tive pat­tern of invest­ment, a veg­etable quilt that speaks to com­mon aspi­ra­tions. Human incom­pre­hen­sion, human illit­er­a­cy of the mate­ri­als in play in the land­scape, not only dras­ti­cal­ly impairs the designer’s capac­i­ty for expres­sion, but impairs the citizen’s capac­i­ty to dia­logue with what is around them. I imag­ine, instead, a city where city dwellers are empow­ered to use folk forms to make and alter the set­tle­ment around them. Using what would oth­er­wise be waste in our con­struc­tions is not only to be thrifty, but to choose mate­ri­als with the pow­er to speak, to speak of their waste, of their removal, of their var­i­ous pow­ers to asso­ciate and aggre­gate. They become reports from a world in progress. Under such arrange­ments, peo­ple would see less in terms of the great green word Nature, but in terms of objects, not piled objects, or peo­ply objects, but nonethe­less social objects, objects with their own con­fer­ence. As the stone wall speaks to the farm field it enclos­es, hav­ing been har­vest­ed grad­u­al­ly from it, the patch­work of court­yards, medi­ans, dev­il strips, front yards, and under­pass­es should be con­struct­ed and embroi­dered with care through recy­cling, in such a way repeat­ing and illu­mi­nat­ing the mate­r­i­al his­to­ry of the city. 

The hua­ca mod­el is not the cur­rent mod­el of effi­cien­cy and con­trol, but one that works eco­log­i­cal­ly by har­mo­niz­ing exist­ing natures, mate­ri­als, and needs. This requires form that speaks, that bridges between past con­ven­tions and cur­rent needs, that sees itself in tra­di­tion. It is formed to say that I have been cre­at­ed and am being invest­ed in, that I am a con­sid­ered deci­sion made by your pre­de­ces­sors. But it also speaks to an active work of rein­ven­tion, a refusal to con­cede that was has already been done is opti­mal, an open­ness to do things in a bet­ter fash­ion. Mar­ket, state, human, ecosys­tem: we lean those inter­ests against each oth­er to add up to an opti­mal structure. 

Can a house divid­ed against itself stand? Yes; all hous­es are col­lec­tions of inescapably divid­ed things that are gath­ered in one place and assem­bled accord­ing to their affor­dances. These com­po­nents rest upon and against each oth­er. They lean and are stopped. They arrest one anoth­er in a form. They check one anoth­er. They par­tial­ly dis­ap­pear into the sin­gle unit of the house. 

Build a new city up from graf­fi­ti, from road­side memo­ri­als, from casitas, from sun­flower patch­es. Main­tain, main­tain, main­tain. Invest mean­ing and sto­ries in hua­cas – rem­nants, odd­i­ties, anom­alies – and con­nect them with ceques as a way to know and see the city. Make sure that every­one is look­ing at every­one else. Live a fes­ti­val life in pub­lic, where con­flicts can be worked out in safe for­mats, where aggres­sion can be expressed with­in the small­est pos­si­ble compass. 

To be clear, this is a city that already exists with­in the present city, and wants only to be grown in place. I see it in the work­ers lay­ing vol­canic stones in the streets of Rome, in City Muse­um and Meow Wolf, in the work of painters and plas­ter­ers. It takes skill and accepts the need of work to reit­er­ate itself; that such work must remind its behold­ers of the need to repeat it, instead of lay­ing silent and inert until breaking. 

What can any breed of archi­tect do to work toward this? They might super­vise the mak­ing of cer­tain some­things large, new, and com­pli­cat­ed enough to actu­al­ly demand inno­va­tion. They might sug­gest a pat­tern when it is asked for. They might work to gath­er and spread folk inno­va­tion, in a return to the pat­tern books of Down­ing, or Friedberg’s how-tos for play equip­ment, to the var­i­ous pro­duc­tions tapped into by the Whole Earth Cat­a­log. And they would have to be open to any­thing they build being edit­ed and embellished.

(May 2018)