The Wild, 2020
According to the anthropologist Philippe Descola, the separation between the wild world and the civilised world is an idea specific to the West, set in stone in the modern era. It goes back to the distinction between the spaces for farming and for hunting in Roman times, between the inhabited sphere, domus, and the forest or sylva, the root of the word “savage” or wild.
Now, “wild” has a more privative connotation. Both literally and figuratively, it is that which escapes civilisation, the habitable, reason, logic and control.
Contemporary anthropology has shown that, for many civilisations, the world is not divided by a discontinuity between the domestic and the wild. We share a kinship with the animal or plant species that populate the forest, all members of one big planetary family. The jungle is a garden, inhabited and characterised by discreet methods, indistinguishable from nature.
Yet since the invention of the modern scientific method, nature has, for the Western world, become a describable object of observation; we can dismantle its inner workings and use science to shed light on its laws. Is everything wild destined to disappear, domesticated by technology and human reason?
The epidemiological, economic and social crises that we have recently gone through confirms the need to focus our attention on rethinking this traditional distinction between the wild and civilisation, nature and culture. Exploring the relationships between the human project and the wild parts of the world – the concept of environmental philosopher Virginie Mars – encourages us to no longer see nature as purely a system of resources available to human interests. What role can we restore to the non-domestic character of this nature that has formed our sensitive world, our landscapes, our imaginations, from which our humanity ultimately cannot be isolated?
In light of a necessary change in our behaviour on a global scale, interior architecture and design, as projects for living, can help us rethink and reshape our relationships with this wild aspect, these ecosystems whose balance pre-dates us.
Updating our concept of wild nature, with all the ambiguities and difficulties that this implies, is a prerequisite in exploring a necessary transformation of the technical and cultural processes involved in all human creation. This issue seems to come with a vast potential wealth of energy and imagination, both required for this task. For example, can we live in this artificialised world, with a view to cohabiting with all that we have not created and that is dangerous for us to destroy?
Threatening worlds, threatened worlds
The wild is all the dangers against which architecture and the domestic sphere purport to protect. But is violence not, at times, something that in fact comes from the human project which, when it becomes overly intrusive, destroys the ecosystems and connections already forged naturally in the context where it is at play?
How can the project be at once protective, economical, reserved? Perhaps a tool for exploring wild worlds?
At the origins of the world
“I have journeyed thousands of kilometres in search of the Other, and all I found was humans.” This sentence from Claude Levi-Strauss in The Sad Tropics can be read as the idea that the wild as absolute otherness is a fantasy. All living species are connected by common roots, and the murmurs of the world resonate in our imagination: the myth of elsewhere and of origins remains an inspiration for even the most contemporary forms of architecture, design and the decorative arts.
In the tradition of decorative arts, fantastical bestiaries, illustrations of wild animals or plants, represent this original, almost magic energy that is present in the world and relayed to the living as a hint of what came before humans. But can we rely on technology alone in our search for these origins, in this exploration of our roots?
Wild thought: the primary energy for a project?
Wild Thought, the title of a book by Claude Levi-Strauss, refers both to precious and fragile medicinal flora and a concrete way of thinking that, while not eschewing magic entirely, does not oppose scientific thought but takes the same organisational approach to the world. This practical organisation of the world, this taxonomy, has built the cultural framework for uses by traditional societies.
Wild thought is a living, concrete and embedded practice that is not subject to productivity. It evokes the inspired aspect of the project, which breaks from complete rationalisation and draws on the ability of imagination and intuition to create unexpected connections.
Can we see “wild practices” such as DIY, retro-innovation, upcycling, salvage and repair as a new production culture, as new project sources? As we saw during the pandemic, with home-made masks and the use of Fablabs to make visors, everyone can become a producer of crafts and knowledge connected to the world around us.
Some artistic and project-based approaches can also be classed as wild, in that they are liberated and liberating. Stage arts are imbued with this kind of energy, from music to architecture, from Dionysian Ritual to raves. Art is always a form of resistance – at times wild – to normalisation and domestication, which needs to breathe outside “asphyxiating culture” (Dubuffet).
Metamorphoses of the habitable
“Private homes, as a personal stage, the last symbol of one’s own capacity for choice, a non-homogeneous space, an accumulation of objects, a forest, a medley of adventures and passions that also run counter to our projects. This is the charm of the “soft project”, so to speak, compared to the ostentatious certainty of the “hard” project, which is premonitory, demagogic, which has to assert itself and its rules more and more in order to exist as a new reality.”
Alessandro Mendini, Survie subtile, Casabella, n° 385, 1974, p. 520
Taking the wild part of the world into account can open up new avenues in our methods to revitalise projects for living.
Must we continue to domesticate or preserve the non-domestic? Do the design project and architecture represent methods of control or spaces in which nature can take its course? In such a project, how can we retain an open, uncertain, unplanned, uncontrolled and under-domesticated element, which in fact opens up the space for living.
Wild nature has no need for humans in order to come up with energy-saving, efficient and beautiful adaptation solutions. Could we take inspiration from this, be guided by nature in order to inhabit while limiting humans’ destructive influence on ecosystems, thereby giving an entirely new meaning to the modernist “less is more”?
Cities and countrysides: cohabitations and metabolisms
“Heatwave, pandemic: is this what it means to live in a city? Must we flee at each threat? No, if we imagine a rural, united, connected and open ‘after-world’.” (Claire Desmares – Poirrier.)
Can urban spaces be seen as partially rewilded areas, open to free cohabitation between humans, open to non-humans? Planting alone is not a sufficient prospect; we need to be able to look beyond decorative ornamentation to breathe new life into the city and offer new ways for humans and non-humans to live together. To this end, methods and spaces of teaching and transmission will play a central role.
Rural areas are also replete with inventions, such as local initiatives and low-energy processes, non-productivist agriculture and food resilience and new relationships with non-humans. The transition is also being invented outside the over-domesticated spaces of metropolises, in transformed rural spaces, in places of resistance, where new autonomies and new relationships with the urban environment are at play, and new attitudes, such as rural pride, are developing.