Postscript: Origin Myths
What new origin myths can we stage in the theater of our minds to remind us that “the earth belongs to no one” before it falls into ruin? One of the clearest answers to this question in current architectural discourse can be found in the work of architect Neyran Turan, especially in their project Four Dioramas. In this installation of four inhabitable dioramas, Turan stages a mise en scene of ordinary construction practices within the vast dimensions of global supply chains and logistics infrastructure. Each diorama combines prosaic aspects of the building industry (stone quarries, logistical warehouses, maintenance facilities, and formwork scaffolding) with an imaginary story written by Turan. The story takes place in Turkey and is about the survival and solidarity of different animal species, including humans, as they migrate from Earth to “the new land”. Four Dioramas genre-busts the archaic format of the fable by combining it with science-fiction and posthuman characters named “the first inhabitants.” It is a literal mythology, as well as an origin story of a new people in a new land.
The migration of Four Dioramas’ first inhabitants mirrors today’s widespread migrant crisis and takes place among ruins of the fossil fuel industry. Its industrial spolia ranges from crumbling nuclear cooling towers to the immense interiors of derelict manufacturing facilities. In her 2019 book Architecture as Measure, Turan writes that the “ultimate origin” of these large-scale interiors is found in Archizoom’s 1969 project No-Stop City. The non-figurative language of Archizoom’s mutable horizontal city imagines urbanism as an infinite network of flows overlaying a strict grid structure. Archizoom drew many variations for these endless interiors combining primitive objects with modern electronics; campgrounds and clusters of vegetation are scattered among plug-in electronics. This jarring contrast in No-Stop City protested postmodernist interpretations of historical figures and returned the generic horizontality of urbanization to its primitive, non-figural conditions. Indeed, one lesser-known version of these interior vignettes shows Archizoom’s own primitive hut, complete with a precarious array of trunk-like posts bearing a hammock, ladder, and platform. If Eisen’s primitive hut depicted the originating conditions of architecture, could this image of No-Stop City – a “city without architecture” – depict instead the originating conditions of the city?
If all of nature has become territory, then it makes less sense to talk of an embattled ecological crisis. The ground is increasingly slipping beneath our feet, and any attempt to rediscover or reoccupy “new land” is an attempt to rediscover inhabitable land. The meaning of “the first inhabitants” in Four Dioramas becomes layered: the first inhabitants of many lands have already been eliminated by the colonial ideal of modernity. This modernity produced globalized industries that have thrust the Earth into a state of extinction. This existential threat now jolts everyone everywhere into a state of planetary crisis, albeit more slowly and less perceivable in the short-term. The narrative territory of Four Dioramas and the primitive metropolis of No-Stop City use design as a tool for reimagining the twin crisis of global urbanization and climate catastrophe, and the moral of their fabled stories are the same: the origin of architecture is not the primitive hut but the marking of ground.