Relocation — The Making of Utopia
‘Arrival of the Floating Pool after 40 years of crossing the Atlantic, the architects / lifeguards reach their destination. But they hardly notice it due to the particular form of locomotion of the pool — its reaction to their own displacement in water — they have to swim toward what they want to get away from and away from where they want to go.’ — Rem Koolhaas, ‘The Story of the Pool’, 1977.
In the tradition of science fiction tropes of Jonathan Swift and Jules Verne, the Russian modernist architects used a portable pool infrastructure to escape Soviet oppression to the United States of America in Koolhaas’ ‘Delirious New York’ (1978). Meanwhile, Brodsky and Utkin opted instead to remain in Russia to produce ‘visionary schemes in response to the bleak professional scene in which are only artless and ill-conceived buildings, diluted through numerous bureaucratic strata and constructed out of poor materials... [it was] an escape into the realm of the imagination that ended as a visual commentary on what was wrong with social and physical reality and how its ills might be remedied’. Their ‘Wandering Turtle’ (1984) resembles a large pile of seemingly ad-hoc elements being pushed through the streets. On closer inspection, it is ‘a maze of a big city’ comprises a diverse collection of crafted and intelligent buildings, presumably being smuggled into the banal urban context, making metaphoric reference to the ‘Trojan Horse’.
Both the decisions to relocate or to remain are basic human rights, and can be applied as strategies for the making of Utopia. According to the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, around 200 million people will be permanently displaced by 2050 — often the amalgamation of complex economic, social and political drivers, which are exacerbated by increasingly unpredictable environmental conditions. The movement patterns of environmental migrants vary: forced relocation might result from an unforeseen catastrophe such as a tsunami or earthquake, while slow persistent effects of drought on agriculture could cause a gradual relocation process. ‘When the nature of existence is based on a transient lifestyle, then the ability to create a portable architecture is one of if not the most important human-made factor in their survival’, argued Professor Robert Kronenburg in his book ‘Architecture in Motion’ (2014). He also identified the first recorded infrastructure of relocation to be ‘Noah’s Ark’.
At a much smaller scale, the travelling circus, mobile homes, Native American Tipi and Mongolian Yurt provided the necessary facilities and freedom to relocate. Mongolian nomads historically moved three to four times a year as seasons change or as pastures become greener elsewhere. Dirigibles, however, have more recently been used to ingenious effect by French architect, Giles Ebersolt, to position living environments in the treetop canopies of tropical rain forests. The ‘Radeau des Cimes’ (1989), an in inflatable raft that floats on the forest canopy like a boat sailing on the waves, provided previously unimaginable access to the forest environment.
Relocation of capital cities is not uncommon. Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Chinese changed their capital frequently. Some countries choose new capitals that are more easily defended in a time of invasion or war; others built in undeveloped areas to spur unity, security, and prosperity. The decision to relocate the Brazilian capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia was intended to not only symbolically relocate the seat of national power but also shift the demographic and economic focus away from the European colonial powers and toward the vast hinterland.
In 2016, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) reported that older couples ‘downsizing’ to smaller properties could free up much-needed housing stock in urban areas. Also, at £320bn a year, the third age now account for around 47% of all UK consumer spending, and is helping to keep the UK economy moving. In Detroit, it is the cheap housing and incentive programs that are enticing the relocation of the middle class and creative population from neighboring states to fuel the regrowth of the Motor City. ‘Write A House’ provides vocational training to Detroiters to renovate vacant dilapidated homes, help incoming writers and artists overcome the obstacles to home-ownership, and establish a sustainable creative landscape.
Nevertheless, relocation is not the only response strategy to climate change or global events; it is widely agreed that many displaced are likely to remain in their communities and seek to adapt to the impacts. Rather than ‘fighting’, governments together with planners and architects need to envision built environments that embrace the enemy. Strengthening community resilience that can adapt in uncertainty can reduce relocation — this is both an opportunity and a challenge.
‘A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. Progress is the realization of Utopias.’ — Oscar Wilde, ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’, 1891.