The current lockdown in much of Europe has city-dwellers flocking to the countryside to wait out the outbreak sweeping the continent. Seeking relief from coronavirus, urbanites flee to rural areas en masse, where locals beg them to please stay away.
Countryside, The Future
But what exactly are we talking about when we speak of “the countryside”? In general, the rural, remote, and wild territories is what we think of as “countryside”. Or the 98 percent of the earth’s surface not occupied by cities. For many of us (being metropolitans), it is thought of as a place for pastimes like writing, literature, poetry, music, wellness or simply a place to escape. But that’s just one side of the coin.
Which passes the untrained eye is that the countryside in fact forms the frontline where today’s most powerful forces (such as climate and ecological destruction, migration, technology) are playing out. These sites are mechanized and optimized for maximal production; changing beyond recognition.
In his latest publication, architect Rem Koolhaas explores the rapid and often hidden transformations and other forms of radical experimentation that are altering landscapes across the world. This publication is the official companion to the Guggenheim Museum exhibition Countryside, The Future — now closed for obvious reasons.
About the project
Countryside is a five year research project where Koolhaas addresses urgent environmental, political, and socioeconomic issues through the lens of architecture. In the rich publication, beautifully designed by Irma Boom, Koolhaas and his team at AMO (a research and design studio that applies architectural thinking to interdisciplinary domains) peel the radical changes within the rural, remote, and wild territories collectively identified as countryside.
In doing so, past romantic notions surrounding the countryside as a place for contemplative life are being put to question. They analyze how the different conceptions of the countryside are implanted in different cultures, and dive deeper into the effect political projections have had on the existing countryside.
The countryside becomes an epicenter
The role of an architect is not only to create buildings, but also to search for possible elements, complementary to the production of constructed dwellings. Koolhaas’s Countryside takes a closer look at the modern conceptions of leisure, large-scale planning by political forces, climate change, migration, human and nonhuman ecosystems, market-driven preservation, artificial and organic coexistence. To name a few.
With the aid of technology, the countryside is now becoming the pull of innovation. According to Koolhaas, the countryside needs to be embraced by a new typology which embeds technology and the possibilities it can bring. In his view, the countryside is becoming an epicenter. The romantic notion of the countryside as a hide-away from the city-life is no longer accurate.
The countryside becomes a hybrid
Koolhaas presents the example of the Shandong area in China, where contractors have reshaped the countryside with technology and changed the way inhabitants live in it. Shouguang’s greenhouses have now evolved from the first generation to the seventh generation. Technology and innovation have rendered Shouguang a pioneer in rural revitalization. By downloading an intelligent agriculture app on their mobile phones, its villagers can view and adjust the greenhouses’ settings in real-time. Simultaneously Shouguang’s countryside has a city center, a bunch of theaters and a Starbucks. The countryside has become a hybrid.
When manufacturing countryside’s landscapes, it’s equally important to reevaluate the ways we can best grow food and build our nations. It may allow us to rediscover and rethink the role we wish to play on Earth. Koolhaas’s Countryside takes an intellectual plunge into our relationship with nature. Within the countryside, nature has become a commodity; an agent of transformation and a buffer between civilization and the wild.
The countryside in your pocket
To the city dwellers who are planning to move to the countryside. Here’s a thought. Instead of actually spending your time in rural landscapes, why not find an inspiring publication to hide away with? Koolhaas’ Countryside will help. You can pre-order the publication here.
Thanks Lonneke for the tip!