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)