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Home in Eden: The Uncanny Philosophy of Dwelling by Nature – A Prelude to the METU Housing Experience*

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Thoreau searched for Homeric suggestions and Hellenic beauty along the shores of the Hudson, and Whitman affirmed that America did not yet have a culture but that the essence of its culture existed in the interchangeability of the terms America and democracy … Transcendentalism was the original expression of the new World. Lewis Mumford is perfectly right in asserting that the American architectural tradition was first defined, during the Golden Age, and on the printed page rather than in constructions of “sticks, stones and steel”.[1]

The METU Campus was conceived as a loci of an imagined setting, which became an essential notion in the formation processes of both its exclusive architecture and its academic and social program. Initiating a novel and yet completely Modern institution in parallel with its staunchly Modernist architecture was possible only through the presentation of an envisioned society that would support this social entity known as Turkey’s new “civic domain”.[2] In this respect, METU certainly requires an alternative history for further and yet critical readings. Taking up the challenge, its history is presented here from a relatively different perspective, tracing the root of its development back to the United States’ long lasting policy of Pax-Americana in Eastern Mediterranean geographies that relied heavily on a unique tradition of idyllic academic campuses and pastoral sceneries – well-blended with the faculties of Modernism. The Turkish state’s desire to modernize during the second half of the 20th Century presents a similar dictum, by which the nation’s social engineering programs and their spatiality reflect an environment of revolution. The “Edenic” reconstruction of the bozkir, its Modernist implications and the related social utopias demystify how the state reformulated their ideological mappings and conceived the qualities of the Anatolian landscape in its imagined inventions.

In this respect, “home in Eden” should be regarded as a social metaphor, allowing an understanding of the significance of the said bozkir and the unique ways it is perceived in the surrounding political contexts of institutional and everyday practices; and more importantly, how it was presented relationally with architecture through performative subjectivities. METU was, without doubt, part of Turkey’s second wave of modernization efforts, and gained its spatial impetus through the American vision of university campuses that flourished in the late 1800s. There, the idyllic backdrop and architecture came together to develop an underlying intellectual premise, and the most outstanding results have been produced since then. In tune with that, the Anatolian prairie established a strong sentiment towards the cultural associations with nature, while its architecture represented Turkish Modernism with all its necessary norms, codes of conduct and institutions. The uncanny unrest between the two then became at the same time a powerful social metaphor, symbolizing an urban setting, the faculties of modernity, pastoral virtue, an imagined society and a desire for secular academic community.

The transformation of the prairie into a Modernist ecosystem, both biological and social, had always been an important process that raised also a philosophical debate; and the end result was a battlefield of “nature” and “culture” that became the dominant intellectual mode in the creation of a symbolic landscape that could be perceived as a delicate blend of myth and reality. Although the definitions are complex, vague and amorphous, nature refers to the untamed and unspoiled rural, whereas culture recalls the tamed and spoiled urbanite. That said, nature is also associated with uncultivated, wild, original and sublime, while culture denotes cultivated, artificial and beautiful. “Home in Eden” then follows a similar dictum, in which “dwelling by nature” serves as a political niche in the development of “second nature”, in the terms of Marx. The term “second nature” implies actually a relatively complex political form: from a Puritan belief in God to its contemporary secular counterpart, both religious and secular discourses reinforce the polar forces of the rural of nature and the urban of culture, and emphasize the rightness of their terms through such established institutions as private or public land, entrepreneurship, class structure, gender identity and roles, and ethnic superiority.[3] Culture, in this conflict, was considered a human production, while nature was the inmost residence, as old as the ancient polis.[4] However, culture is systematically, yet paradoxically, carved out both “within” and “against” nature, in that the social agent arranges natural settings to make a comfortable living environment, yet the size and quality may vary from a small shelter to a complex urban field. But the recurring paradox, according to Rolston, is rather dialectical: “The thesis is nature; the antithesis is culture; and the synthesis is culture that is situated in nature, the two forming a home, a domicile (Greek: oikos, the root of “ecology”)”.[5]

From First to Second Nature; Dwelling in Nature as an Epiphany[6]

The unceasing interaction between nature and culture is at least one of the most important political genesis in the faculty of history, according to Marx,[7] but for the purpose of this brief essay, however, its reflections will be along two main lines: first, its philosophical backdrops will be limited into the US context, both spatially and socially; and second, the said philosophy will refer to the industrial revolution within the political-scape of capitalist development. In this respect, three important variants, claims Leo Marx, have developed since the mid-19th century. The first principal ideology captures its mythic core throughout the frontier culture and derives its momentum from the initial European impression of the New World, in which the New World is identified with its boundless immensity and emptiness, or its ahistorical character. The New World for the Puritan belief represents nothing but a wild, raw nature or a cultural vacancy, untouched by history and waiting to be cultivated. The second ideology is based on the primitivist culture, which has inspired contemporary philosophy as well as works of art, creating a nature-oriented aesthetic form and providing an agenda in which the wilderness was believed to be the center of life. It was indeed the first, and yet an unsystematic critique, of an organized society, and in particular, industrial capitalism. Henry David Thoreau, for instance, argues a new environmental ethics and deeply criticizes such elements of anthropocentric economics.[8] The third and final core is the pastoral version favored by a much larger population. Presented as an opportunity to realize a genuine harmony between humankind and the wilderness, it focuses neither upon the over-civilization of the Old World nor the frontier culture, but rather a middle landscape that is neither urban in a European sense nor wildly rural – a middle landscape as a border-land between civilization and nature that combines the best features of each. The pastoral myth, in this sense, evolves out of a specific literary mode that means more than mere nostalgia or naive primitivism. The contrast between the two worlds – one identified as the simple mode of countryside and rural peace, the other with the power of urban life, sophistication and chaos – becomes the dominant intellectual mode in the creation of a symbolic landscape, a delicate blend of myth and reality.

As Michael Kammen writes, this dualistic state of mind is, indeed, inherent to New World’s cultural life.[9] The idea of pure nature had always been an essential longing among the intelligentsia, and yet it found its ideological roots in Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia in 1785. Jefferson defines an ideological backdrop as a political guide to social policy that foresees the New World as a Virgilian pasture. In his notes, the continental landscape provokes a utopian vision that paints a significant blueprint. For agrarians, the continental landscape means more than an uncultivated land, being rather an opportunity for the yeoman to achieve economic sufficiency, and, in turn, a chance for freedom as the yeoman labors on his property. Given the economic incentives, the idea that land has a political value truly represents the possibility of a secular, egalitarian and naturalistic state. The land, in this sense, is a potentially mythical idea that provides an ethical vision based on a unique philosophy towards nature.[10]

Taming the wilderness is a significant dimension of cultural practice, and is in fact associated closely with the true egalitarian identity. Among the many significant historians, it was Frederick Jackson Turner who made a substantial contribution to this contested issue. In his seminal work Frontier in American History, he argues that the American frontier is sharply different from its European counterpart, in that it truly represents “a free land”. To encourage the family-farm and agriculture is to guarantee the moral properties under the new regime, although this should not be understood as merely an ideological choice, but rather as a prelude to a wider cultural discourse, which explains the imminent virtue of the agrarian world.[11] As reflected in Notes on Virginia, on the other hand, Jefferson’s political syntax is certainly a pastoral one, and yet his discursive tone, in expressing his desired community, seems to voice a preference for romantic naturalism over the menace of civilization. Rural virtue is a moral center of a democratic society – a society that approves an economic self-sufficiency, yet rejects paradoxically remaining a rural community. The new agrarian utopia, on the other hand, has many reasons not to be built upon its European ancestry. For Beard, “in spite of all the difficulties and discouragement confronting the American people, land is the real basis of democracy, the only genuine and enduring basis … It stands on an independent foundation”.[12] An agrarian interest, therefore, is the true basis of a real democracy and of the rights of private property, and rural life, as a moral seed, would allow an egalitarian society to abandon the problems of industrial capitalism and of a market-regulated society. The belief in the gradual accommodation of democracy thus requires a deliberate transformation of the said landscape into an invented garden. The politics governing “home in Eden” are, in fact, an authentic attempt to establish an ideal system based upon the theory of nature. Within this political view, the community should be saved from the menace of urban industrial life, believed to be the real cause of environmental as well as social disasters,[13] in that the industrial city is an urban setting upon which the landed and laboring interests clash. The landed interests of course are the overwhelming majority, and “it is not so evident that … Jefferson, so cordially cherished the laboring interests of the cities. On the contrary, Jefferson, repeatedly and with great deliberation, declared … a profound distrust of the working-classes of the great cities”.[14]

Having the agrarian ethos on the one hand and the industrial revolution on the other, as discussed in Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy, however, created a fundamental conflict between the proponents of capitalism and those with agrarian interests. For Beard, “it is established upon a statistical basis that the Constitution of the United States was the product of a conflict between capitalistic and agrarian interests. The support for the adoption of the Constitution came principally from the cities and regions where the commercial, financial, manufacturing, and speculative interests were concentrated and the bulk of the opposition came from the small farming and debtor classes, particularly those back from the sea board.”[15] Industrial development, in fact, soon led to enormous growth in the economy, meaning that the postwar economic reconstruction and economic expansion was, in other words, growing almost as a parallel force to the dominant agrarian vision. There, the continental landscape was slowly turning into a garden imagined, yet a garden with massive production of industrial wealth. With the growing image of industrial development, the most important value was actually political, and even ordinary people believed and supported the said political view that scientific knowledge can make all free.

Ideal Urbanization as an Image of Home in Eden

Design practices, in this sense, reflect a wide spectrum of intellectual positions in order to formulate a decisive resolution between the two views of rural myth and of industrial progress. As a founder of the Transcendentalist movement, for instance, it was Emerson who first combined technological progress with a romantic love of nature, blending the popular belief in pastoralism with post-Kantian philosophy. To support his preference for the natural over the artificial, man-made urban landscape, he made a clear distinction between the two faculties of mind: understanding and reason. City life would be the perfect environment for understanding, although for Emerson, reason requires rural scenes. According to Emerson, the advance of civilization, with all of its social apparatuses, like public school systems in the urban environment, can technically teach human beings to understand the factual aspects of life.[16] The countryside is also believed to be the social terrain in which a moral sphere arises. Like Jefferson, Emerson is quite confident that under natural conditions, science and technology may be appropriately utilized for a rural ideal. There is therefore a striking resemblance between Emerson’s view and the mythic world of Jefferson, in that like Jefferson’s noble husbandman, Emerson also abandons the merits of any commercial society, and instantly adopts an idea of economic sufficiency as his economic aim.

With the same idealist view, Henry Thoreau follows a similar ideological course, and withdraws from the consuming practices of industrial society in the direction of nature. As Miller discusses, in the late-19th century, Thoreau increasingly influenced the biocentric, Arcadian view, emerging as a romantic naturalist in calling for a new biocentric and/or eco-centric conception of values in which non-human natural objects are recognized as having intrinsic value, independent of human consideration. Thoreau assumes that if natural facts are properly perceived and accurately transcribed, they will yield the truth, the truth that would reveal the ultimate relationship between the human and non-human. Thoreau’s romantic experience of Walden, in that sense, represents a moral vision as a native blend of myth and reality. He was a moral naturalist in that he believed we could learn to live by observing the ways of nature – progress is a process not of mere scientific or technological development, but the advance of history in interaction with nature. Accordingly, progress should be towards a new kind of technically evolved rural society, which would reaffirm the Jeffersonian, as well as the Emersonian, hope of a pastoral dream.[17]

Puritans had the opportunity to build new environments, totally independent from the constraints of their historical legacy, and it was Carl Bridenbaugh who made a broad examination of the foundations of this new urban life and its transition from predominantly rural agricultural towns to the 19th-century industrial city.[18] In his work, Cities in the Wilderness, he emphasizes the fact that the city is in fact an expression of the political power of community in the pursuit of economic growth with social equality. Progressive social and political organizations largely enjoyed the benefits of the city, and for this reason the city as opportunity view has long been associated with extremists. If the rural view has been the ideal prospect for supporting conservatives, the idea of urbanization then has been an ethos for emancipatory purposes. Bender also shows that the gradual transition of New England towns, for instance, into small factory villages was the very first step in the production of an urban-industrial social order. The town of Lowell, in this sense, named after Francis Cabot Lowell, a prominent New England entrepreneur in the mid-19th century, was a remarkable example of how modern factory systems transformed the spatial features of modern cities out of traditional towns. As the first real manufacturing town on the East Coast, the town of Lowell actually is an expression of a tremendously powerful economic organization smuggled into contemporary culture.[19]

Epilogue: The Philosophical Codes by Architecture

As Dal Co explains, “in the field of architecture, progressive ideology produced its most outstanding results at the end of the 19th century and during the first two decades of our own”.[20] However, as early as the 1850s, its practice began to take shape as a part of the general themes of university campus culture. This transition since the mid-19th century is of the utmost importance in defining the general patterns that established a new sentiment towards a natural environment as part of an ideological exercise aimed primarily at restoring an organic relationship between nature and urbanization. For many, it is a native product that is generated by the New World’s Renaissance of nature, which expresses a moral rejection of the faculties of European capitalism. Thus, the philosophy of nature is instantaneously transformed into a form of moral struggle.

The romantic revival of the 1850s not only inspired scholars, but also, and more directly, developed particular design practices that were unique to our urban culture. Yet the many utopian projects are quite distinctive from their European successors in their preference for understanding the notion of nature. The utopian projects of 19th-century Europe could be considered as cornerstones of an expanding and yet Modern urban planning tradition. The socialist communities were rather political symbols, promoting an alternative lifestyle to eventually rival the traditional bourgeois city and the system of capitalist development created by the drivers of the industrial revolution. One may argue that the European examples were unable to develop an alternative environment that was totally free from the forces of capitalist production, but rather emerged as an extension of a middle class vision: “The criticism of ideology as a whole and, above all, the Marxian theory of value have demonstrated that utopia is ultimately not an alternative to the organization of the class struggle but a design for the orderly progress and possible planning and programming of productive forces.”[21]

The new urbanism of the New World would become a mere image of an eventual acceptance of urban industrialism, in tune with the premises of a new landscape. The campus university is one major example of this, being almost an architectural archetype that blends nature and architecture as a delicate resolution in the said pastoral vision. The University of Virginia (1822–1826), for instance, holds a special place in this enduring journey. Jefferson designed and built a campus environment that was based primarily on his ideal landscape; yet the syntax of his design aimed to improve a unique language that was specific not only to his agrarian image, but also to his visionary images on urban landscape and architecture, in a bid to cope with the most vital expectations of a Modern society. The University of Virginia is a one-of-a-kind example not only because it provides an opportunity for an alternative academic environment to exercise, but also because of the utopian vision it presents, as discussed in brief above. For Andrews, the perfect blend of the Greek revival architectural style with a pastoral climate represents truly and at the same time the ideal environment of “Jefferson, the political philosopher” and “Jefferson, the architectural critic”.[22] Since then, the field of campus design has gained a new momentum, and has reflected itself widely in respected institutions. From this perspective, the history of the transformation of the barren Anatolian bozkir, a literal translation of prairie, into an American-like university campus can be held up as an intricate example of how Modernist architecture via the American pastoral vision should be encapsulated within the norms of environmental historiography. This calls for a complex inquiry into the symbiotic intricacy of nature and society, in fact, a social process in which its conceptions as well as perceptions are overshadowed by politics.

There is little doubt that this historical reconciliation gives way to a unique architecture of its own, proving that the taming of nature under such conditions is indeed possible. Many projects following the lines of green urbanism have been designed and built since that time, and have become archetypes for architects, urban designers and planners. Neither the architectural syntax nor the semantic codes, however, were the primary objectives in this enduring endeavour, in that it was believed that the modern concept of “beauty” was based on social faculties, and so designing was a “science” that allowed one to understand the needs of the said community. A comprehensive approach needed for the sole purpose of providing public qualities for collective welfare; however, the foremost ideal was based upon nature, being an important element within the Modern ideals. University campuses, in this respect, are a deliberate attempt to merge nature, in this case, the prairie, with architecture, which, in many respects, is based upon the tradition of the romantic ideal of the pastoral dreams envisioned in Jeffersonian urbanism. Beyond their architectural forms, they are planned and then executed in such a way that architecture is significant only to the extent that it contributes to the underlying premises of the urban structure. Such works indeed affirm that design is not a task to be undertaken in line with professional and partial incentives, being rather a political instrument for the development of a comprehensive urbanism in/by/with nature, of which architecture is an essential part. Within the above-mentioned premises, one may conclude that the influence of the North American tradition and its land-use policies have been translated into the modern syntax. This is not only a conceptual engagement, but also an actual mental set-up, and is relevant for the construction of an imagined society. METU, which now covers an area of 1 million m2 in built area in 45 km2 of man-made forest and accommodates a daily population of 35,000 people, reflects in subtle detail a social program that relies heavily on the initial premises of the early-Modernity Project, in tune with Turkey’s architectural culture at large.

Notes

*This is a revised version of an article specifically penned out by an exhibition catalog/book on “METU Lodgings”. Curated by Ayşen Savaş the preliminary exhibition is an insight into METU architectural history through its first faculty housing complex as well as its specific lives shed upon METU’s unique culture. The exhibition also includes a book on this unique experience in respect to its social, cultural and environmental qualities, edited by Ayşen Savaş and Agnes Van der Meij, and expected to be published in the upcoming years.

[1] Dal Co, Francesco. 1979. “From Parks to the Region: Progressive Ideology and the Reform of the American City.” The American City, From the Civil War to the New Deal. Trs. La Penta, Barbara Luigia. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. pp. 147-8.

[2] Sargın, Güven Arif and Savaş, Ayşen. 2013. “University is a Society; An Environmental History of the METU Campus.” JoA-Journal of Architecture, Vo.18, No.1, Routledge/Taylor and Francis, pp. 79-106.

[3] Curti, Merle. 1980. Human Nature in American Thought, A History. The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.

[4] Bookchin, Murray. 1992. Urbanization Without Cities, the Rise and Decline of Citizenship. Black Rose Books, Montreal-Buffalo.

[5] Rolston, Holmes. 1988. Environmental Ethics, Duties and Values in the Natural World. Temple University Press, Philadelphia. p. 330.

[6] Sargın, Güven Arif. 2011. “Making the Second Nature: Towards a Critique of Cultural Politics in Urban Perception – The USA Context, 1850-1940”, in JFA-Journal of the Faculty of Architecture, Vol. 28, No. 1, METU Press, Ankara. pp. 147-64; Sargın, Güven Arif. 1997. “Myth, Ideology, and Hegemony: The Political Syntax of American Environmental Design Tradition,” in JFA-Journal of the Faculty of Architecture, Vol. 17, No. 1-2, METU Press, Ankara. pp. 25-42.

[7] Smith, Neil. 2008. Uneven Development; Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space. The University of Georgia Press, Athens and London.

[8] Miller, Perry. 1981. The American Transcendentalists. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

[9] Kammen, Michael. 1974. People of Paradox, An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. p. 280.

[10] Marx, Leo 1991. “The American Ideology of Space.” Denatured Visions: Landscape and Culture in the Twentieth Century. Edt. Wrede, Stuart and Adams, William Howard. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. pp. 62-78; Marx, Leo. 1967. The Machine in the Garden, Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. Oxford University Press, London, Oxford, New York.

[11] Turner, Frederick Jackson. 1940. The Frontier in American History. Henry Holt and Company, New York. pp. 2-4.

[12] Beard, Charles A. 1949. Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy. The MacMillan Company, New York. p. 347.

[13] Bender, Thomas. 1975. Toward an Urban Vision, Ideas and Institutions in Nineteenth-Century America. The University Press of Kentucky, Kentucky.

[14] Beard, Charles A. 1949. Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy. The MacMillan Company, New York. p. 421.

[15] Beard, Charles A. 1949. Ibid. p. 465.

[16] Miller, Perry. 1981. The American Transcendentalists. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

[17] Thoreau, Henry David. 1966. Walden and Civil Disobedience. The W.W. Norton Publishing, New York.

[18] Bridenbaugh, Carl. 1938. Cities in the Wilderness, The First Century of Urban Life in America 1625-1742. The Ronald Press Company, New York.

[19] Bender, Thomas. 1975. Toward an Urban Vision, Ideas and Institutions in Nineteenth-Century America. The University Press of Kentucky, Kentucky. p. 69.

[20] Dal Co, Francesco. 1979. “From Parks to the Region: Progressive Ideology and the Reform of the American City.” The American City, From the Civil War to the New Deal. Trs. La Penta, Barbara Luigia. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. p. 145.

[21] Dal Co, Francesco. 1979. Ibid. p. 149.

[22] Andrews, Wayne. 1967. Social History of American Architecture, Architecture, Ambition and Americans. The Free Press, New York. p. 60.

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About gasmekan

http://archweb.metu.edu.tr/

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