Comment by architect Andrew Todd for The NXT 2020.
I’m writing a book about trees at the moment, so my reading habits have been channelled that way, and I’m immersed in some wonderful things I can heartily recommend, for instance, The Life of Plants by Emanuele Coccia and Richard Powers’ epochal The Overstory. Throw in Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth, and presto, a kind of toolkit for exploring the new normal of climate crisis, that is both overturning any certainties we may have grown accustomed to, opening up new vistas into a world we thought we knew well enough. Coccia says ‘the knowledge of the past is of no use to us; we are the absolute pioneers.’ Ernst Zuchner’s Les Arbres, Entre Visible et Invisible is also wonderful (trees, between visible and invisible), but is not translated into English.
Latour’s thesis is that the political system, in the US and Britain, to begin with, is now raging like a wounded beast, the relic certitudes of nationalism reasserting themselves as the real questions become ones of global cooperation. It seems people are happy to vote for buffoons who offer dumb slogans and grotesque distraction as a bulwark against the real difficulties we are all beginning to encounter. This is a personal question for me, disenfranchised in the UK (for not having made it onto the digital electoral rolls and for having lived abroad for too long); I feel rather numb about developments in my native country, and am starting to morph into growing stronger roots and identity in my chosen home of France.
On the eve of Boris Johnson’s election, I was informed that my new passport was finally approved, and I consequently reacted to his election with indifference and resignation.
During the last month, I have been in Burgundy, Paris, Amsterdam, Innsbruck, Geneva, Copenhagen and Cairo. I experienced the latter pair as a direct contrast, moving from a brand new metro line (under the stewardship of an effective left-green government that means business) to a megalopolis, population 25 million, where nothing is under control, despite the best (and most repressive) efforts of the military regime. With the possibility of abundant renewable energy, the city is choking in dirty diesel fumes, the urban form marred by corrupt and illegal development. I feel terribly sad for the population, obliged to get by in awful conditions when there could be a massive release of social potential in configurations where fear is not the primary political motivator.