I do not know anything about architecture. I do live in a building, and often observe and go into other buildings, but that’s basically the extent of how often I think about it. After visiting the Yale School of Architecture’s “Infra Eco Logi Urbanism” exhibit, I sat in my room and Googled the term “architecture,” which the Internet defines as “the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings.” This alone encapsulated a mere fraction of what I saw in the exhibit.
“Infra Eco Logi Urbanism” displays the design research of RVTR, an experimental architecture practice based in Toronto that combines academic and experimental research platforms, in the words of their website, to “continually evolve ecologies,” The firm completely reimagines the urban environment as we know it, replacing cities with “Megaregions” that encompass enormous areas of land, people and resources. The exhibit is framed around the “Great Lakes Megaregion” of their construction, a network defined as the most populous and geographically vast in a post-metropolitan world.
The ideas behind “Infra Eco Logi Urbanism,” while at times highly theoretical and difficult to grasp, have the potential to impact even the least architecture-savvy among us with its sleek coherence. A detailed description of the project greets visitors at the entrance, where the neatly-organized, medium-sized room takes the appearance of a vast landscape. Detailed charts, maps and pictures on wires hang from the high ceilings. To get from one end of the exhibit to the other, you must walk across a large map of the GLM plastered to the ground.
This configuration invites visitors to stop and admire the detailed, colorful networks sprawling across it. And the exhibit not only depicts plans for the new future, but also the concrete visage of GLM centers, presented as scaled building models with impressive, imaginative designs. In the case of one model, the designers chose to make use of existing water instead of land, presenting an apartment-like complex resting alongside a boat.
The key at the bottom of the chart delineates symbols for infrastructure and logistics, politics and food. This alone gives visitors a sense of how intertwined all of these systems are. To an extent previously unimaginable, “Infra Eco Logi Urbanism” envisions how life could be if these systems worked in accordance with one another (better, I think).
Not only is this exhibit a spectacle — beautiful and striking to the observer — it is also a calculated, potential reality crafted by architects. It’s not necessarily the sort of exhibit that makes for a fun, afternoon trip to “go check out some art.” We are instead confronted with the disturbing reminder that we, the humans, are messing up tons of stuff here on Earth — to such an extent that a group of people planned a completely alternative urban ecosystem.
The exhibit tells us that “the urban landscape’s whole image no longer corresponds to the activities carried out within it,” a notion that virtually abandons the part-to-whole governance that shapes our modern government and lives. “Infra Eco Logi Urbanism” acknowledges energy as a collective resource — in people, in culture, in natural resources. This makes for a most efficient and most orderly place, one that bears little semblance to the places we inhabit today.
Call it art, call it architecture, call me crazy, but I think this exhibit challenges us to reconsider how we organize and conduct our everyday lives. Although it suggests a radical reconfiguration of every aspect of life as we know it, the basic idea that people have the potential to organize themselves and their future world is empowering. At a time when there is more conflict in the world than I can possibly know or grasp, utopian visions of the future can help direct our expectations towards the positive. And it’s always nicer to think of what we can do than what we cannot.