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Chris Stewart

Collective Architecture's Chris Stewart discusses his overlapping roles as architect and member of the Scottish Ecological Design Association in promoting green design to a wider audience.

Fortnightly Blog - View from the Plague

June 23rd, 2015

Humanity is a plague engulfing planet earth. I first encountered this revelation in a conversation between Agent Smith and Morpheus during a screening of the Matrix. Whilst classifying humans, Smith came the to the conclusion that we were are not actually mammals, as mammals instinctively develop a natural equilibrium with their surrounding environment. Humans of course do not, we multiply until every natural resource is consumed after which we colonise. Smith correctly explained to Morpheus the only other organism which follows such a pattern is disease. What is your view.

Recently these thoughts have been polarised by the ever present issue of migration and populist contributions from the likes of David Attenborough and Katie Hopkins. David with his warning that the frightening explosion in human population is eating up the earth’s resource to the point that the only reasonable alternative is to reduce that population by 2 billion souls. The opposite is the reality as numbers are set to increase by 2 billion over the next 50 years. Natural selection is now so skewed that David, our cuddly malthusian and patron of the charity Population Matters, calls for improved birth control. Jock shock Katie is more economic and would hold back machine gunning drowning migrants to save bullets.

There is little doubt that we swim in a sophisticated plague exponentially fuelled by global capitalism. As with all organisms the view from the eye of the storm is acceptably comfortable while the edges are a tad wretched; migrants flee public beheadings, starvation, political oppression and civil war. Fuelling Katie Hopkins and her form of entertainment shares the ambiguity of the issue, if we can accept we are living in a plague of sorts, we have to temper our views accordingly. Katie may gush poison with expletives such as migrant cockroaches but has to accept in her metaphor they try only to join the rich vermin and enjoy the best pickings from the garbage we produce. Likewise the smug sustainability community have to accept they are part of the same plague, it’s all ours.

The Matrix was first screened 15 years ago, 15 years before that James Lovelock published the Gaia hypothesis that our planet functions as a single living organism. A view that humanity will conquer all, halt climate change and live happily ever after. Lovelock has had to look a different way and listen to creepy nihilist sorts such as The Church of Euthanasia, ‘Save the Planet Kill Yourself’. Their view is that of the astronaut looking down on manmade patterns which resemble nothing so much as the skin condition of cancer patients. Slag heaps, garbage dumps, saline bleeds, bomb craters, open pit mines, top soil erosion, sewerage discharge, checkerboard clearcuts all feature in Kent McDougall's essay ‘Humans as Cancer’. The mist has cleared on Lovelock’s view to such an extent that ‘Climate change may just be the mechanism through which the planet eases its human burden'.

What do we see. The exodus is televised, an epic of biblical proportion where the fury of boils, thunder and death of your first born can be viewed in high definition on flatscreen somavision, past-over by a glut of low interest loans. A two billion population excess giving credence to Nazi ‘Lebensraum’ and the right for a superior race to displace the unhealthy and feeble; an understanding of Russian ‘Dekulakization’ and the destruction of 15 million kulaks; an appreciation of the American frontier, the rape of resource and the use of birthrate as a weapon. Comfortable with our fair trade coffee break, the view from an overpriced raft sinking into the Mediterranean weighed down by your unborn, whose hopes lie in an E.U. back room power struggle is less panoramic.

What do I see. A plague is a large number of animals infesting a place and causing damage. The view from within is often hidden as in the proverbial wood and trees. Some put faith in religion and a place in Valhalla, others in science and the power of GM crops so that one day humanity will triumph. Others know that one day the sun will become a red dwarf and turn all to dust. Until that day we may as well enjoy the diseased ride as best we can but why take down so many of our companions ahead their time. Grasshoppers change to locust when they swarm, humanity changes from David to Katie when we proliferate.


SEDA's Krystyna Johnson Award Exhibition will be held at the Lighthouse from 29th October 2015 until 13th January 2016. Prof. Sandy Halliday will deliver the inaugural Howard Liddell Lecture at the opening of the exhibition on the 29th October 2015, 6.00 pm at the Lighthouse, 11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow.

The overall winner of the KJ Award 2015 is Olivia Page of the Mackintosh School of Architecture for her proposed ‘Place of Amenity’ in Beith. The overall winners certificate will be presented by Jim Johnson on the 29th October.

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