“Evolution is toward more life
and it is irreversible
and incompatible with the hypothesis
– Ernesto Cardenal, Coplas on the Death of Merton
There is a forest of crooked maple trees in Gryfino, Poland. No-one can explain how they became so crooked. Some say they are bent because of the crushing tread of military tanks during the Second World War, while other stories have it that farmers and foresters deliberately stepped on the trees when they were still young. Meanwhile, in the fields of Hiroshima, twisted daisies grow out of nuclear soils, their heads engorged and conjoined. Trees are growing ancient in our fast cities, bending and crouching into their strange forms as they emerge through the concrete poured over their roots. A crooked nature of beautiful mutants is born every day, learning to move in new ways, learning new bodies that are shaped by accidents of both joy and grief.
The surface of our cities is a porous skin, tender enough to be bruised, resonant with its arteries and deeply rooted canals. This skin takes on an imprint of everything outside, transforming, and returning to our touch in new forms. This skin is cleaved open by the incisions of our material demands, which require more of the earth to make more of ourselves. Fine scaffolds of our dwellings collapse equally under inevitable movements of rock and water, as under missiles of greed and hate. And yet, in the slow-burning breath in between, we see that this skin remains, reddened and stinging, its material finding any possible means to grow over.
Forest in Gryfino, Poland (Artur Strzelczyk / Wikicommons).
Tree roots in Gastown (West Cordova & Water).
Violence does not occur ‘within’ a place; by taking on the material trauma of contamination, extraction, assault, and violation, space suffers as our bodies do. In his 1993 Pamphlet Architecture issue, War and Architecture, Lebbeus Woods wrote about an architecture that does not deny, conceal, or destroy the traces of its damage. Words like ‘scar’, ‘wound’, ‘new tissue’ empathize with an architecture that is hurting. Woods dedicated the text to a vision of rebuilding a beseiged Sarajevo in a way that respected the way all surfaces carry the mark of violence against them, without erasing the trauma or eradicating its memory from public conscience.
A scar is something that can inform new shapes. It exists in an intermediary state, as both wound and healing — and never more one than the other, until its memory outlasts or releases the physical trace. The healing state of a scar is not a cosmetic process, but something that deeply divides and joins together by articulating a wound.
“They build upon the shattered form of the old order a new category of order inherent only in the present conditions, within which existence feels its strengths, acknowledges its vulnerabilities and failures, and faces up to the need to invent itself as though for the first time, thus sizing the means to continuously refresh and revitalize itself. There is an ethical and moral commitment in such an existence, and therefore a basis for community.”
– Lebbeus Woods, “Building on the Existential Remnants of War”, War and Architecture.
Daisies of Fukushima ( Perduejn / WikiCommons).
A sapling crushed underfoot, or under the metal tread of military tanks, grows into a tree that is no less strong and persistent than its siblings that stand with straighter spines. A daisy leans its head against its neighbour, growing quickly together from the seed, simply an unquestioningly, as it knows no other way to be. What we see as grotesque damage is the only possible way to continue being. Continued existence is to pass through the monstrous, because it is unknown and strange. What awaits us? From the outside, we are trees bent at our ankles, our knees crumpling forward. From other eyes, we are like the nuclear daisies, familiar and entertaining, but finally repulsive.
But this unsettling, strange form is only here because it has adapted to its scars, it has learned to envelop them, it works with them and through them. In the process of mutation, maybe we can see the essential note of a beautiful, irrepressible, and continually re-imagined existence. Mutation is, after all, persistence. What appears as deformity is an insistence to exist.
“You cannot go against nature. Who wants to? You are nature.”