Seed, kernel, source, starting point. I am beginning 2019 attempting to develop the idea of a building whose final form is not known. The building in question would be a place for the production and presentation of culture in all its manifestations – past, present and future – in Puan, the small village where I was born, in the middle of the Argentine pampas, more than two hours away from Bahia Blanca, the nearest city by car.
Designing without a definite idea about the final product runs contrary to expectation. Even if the construction of a building is phased, the completion of each successive stage is supposed to lead to its envisioned conclusion. Instead, I am thinking of a structure or a space whose starting point is known, but not its ultimate resolution. Even though building is not an organic process, it is tempting to think of a seed, containing in its smallness the potential of a large structure. Or a kernel, its most important part. Or a source, the place where something originates. Or a starting point, a place that marks the beginning of a journey. At the project’s inception we might know what kind of activities could take place, but not how they will develop, or be changed, or replaced over time. Why am I thinking of a building in these terms? It is an experiment. A way of imagining the possibility of an object and a space that grow from a process, slowly increasing the involvement of the people who could benefit from its existence.
The village (population of about 5,000) had its origin as one of many encampments of the infamous 1876 “Conquest of the Desert”, a military campaign launched to kill, expel, or subjugate the indigenous tribes that populated the region of Patagonia in order to establish governmental dominion over their lands and turn them over to foreign powers and private agricultural exploitation by European settlers. It was, and still is, a small urban settlement that reminds me of the frontier outpost it once was, surrounded by vast agricultural fields. There were very limited opportunities for cultural exposure there during my childhood, mostly through books, adventure and far-West movies, and piano lessons by an old-fashioned teacher. Today that exposure is exponentially enlarged by television, internet, the workshops organized by the town’s librarian and the cultural programs circulated by a regional authority among the villages of Bahia Blanca’s area of influence. But I am interested in how a child’s creativity can be aroused by ambiguous spaces and unpredictable experiences when playing with others, where she can realize, without the judgement of an adult, what she is capable of thinking, imagining, doing. That is why I want to avoid the typologies of cultural spaces at the inception, and think instead of identifying the seed(s) and the rules for its (their) growth. I am hoping that, in this way, the process could become an example of how communities in countries with a tradition of top-down interventions and “high-brow” bourgeois culture, can generate places and activities that defy inherited assumptions about what “culture” is.
A structure whose starting point is envisioned as a seed is inevitably symbiotic with its site, a currently neglected property near the lagoon, the village’s most important natural feature. And thus, it must be more than a building kernel. Above all it should be a seeded field.
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