dreams for an empty earth

I have been inhabiting Bain St Michel, a wonderful disused bath house that many in the cultural community here in Montréal are familiar with.  Though a small building, the main room with the empty pool gives a somewhat overwhelming sensation of space.  And quiet, even though one can hear the occasional car go by or pigeon on the roof.  In fact, the odd noise outside heightens this sense of quiet, of stillness or stasis, inside.  There is a solemnity to old and unused buildings, a quiet that lets in memory or echoes of what passed between their walls.

My aim was to bring plants into this space, to make it living.  To look at the space as a plant might, or a small community of hunter-gatherers much like Charles Simond’s Little People.

To that end I ended up selecting a space that was much more scaled-down than I originally planned, but worked much better with the architecture.  It became a priority to maintain that palpable sense of space.

In this rather monolithic space, the only real architectural anomaly was the overflow ledge at the deep end of the pool, where the water would have been filtered.  It was here I established (or planted) a landscape, a miniature ruined city.

Little rows of walk-ups and apartment buildings were cast in cement, forming a broken street mirroring those of the surrounding neighbourhood.

As ever I am wondering about our future streets and urban landscapes.  What will they look like?  Will we have to step over chasms of broken sidewalk, climb over mossy hillocks or cut our way through vines to cross our streets?

(Kudzu vines have already taken root in Canada.  With a little more greenhouse gases, could they not happily take hold in Montréal’s humidity and clayey soil?)

Would we develop more nomadic lifestyles, or  develop ad hoc shelters to live more lightly, responding to a shifting, changing environment?

Perhaps the more creative among us would start to look upon the vegetation itself, mutations and all, as shelter, as our new infrastructures.  We would cease to be builders and buyers, and instead become shapers and tunnelers. Climbers and burrowers.

What our cities will look like in the near or far future is anyone’s guess at this point.  What is exciting to me is the field of enlivened possibility that opens up with rapid, looming change.  (Whether I survive, or we make it through or not.)

At a basic level, there is an aesthetic enjoyment to new shoots of verdant complexity rising out of the rubble of the modernist empire that surrounds us.  The architectural spaces and empty volumes resounding with echoes of its swan song.  Post-modern indeed.

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