With regard to the event of the month (prior to the sad events related to the coronavirus pandemic), I am referring to Rem Koolhaas’ Countryside exhibition at Guggenheim, New York, I find that there are at least two reflections that must be done.
It is true that modern and contemporary urbanism have always dealt with the city and not with the countryside, and that it is urgent to consider the possibility of inhabiting not only within the limits of our national borders -that empty Spain we talk about so much now- but the planet itself, in a more harmonious way, if you like, and evaluate other densities and groupings, other probably mixed arrangements in the form of a countryside-city hybrid that may overcome the problems embedded in low density urban models in terms of facilities and infrastructures, perhaps observing some examples from the Nordic countries that are very popular in the Europan proposals we see every other year in this competition for young European architects.
The Guggenheim Museum exhibition -it has been said- is very ambitious and does not speak of one thing only but goes deep into the agricultural technological processes and the farm industries that provide food to the enormous and growing planetary population. Nothing to object to that opening of the black boxes of that knowledge, hidden to a vast majority of the population that, surely, will generate greater awareness about how we feed ourselves and what actions are necessary to improve those processes based on a change in our habits as a consequence of these new gained knowledge.
Yet, it is harder for me to believe that a bucolic look at the countryside can significantly push people who inhabit the large urban cities into a kind of rural exodus in search for a simpler and healthier life. I remember the words of our former mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, when she explained how us, people, find refuge in the city because the city protects us, in a pragmatic and indisputable way, for example when we have a health or safety problem and an ambulance comes (SAMUR in Madrid) or the police or the firefighters, something so simple and so common in the big city, something that we are so used to and that many of us would not want to give up in exchange for a country setting where these services are not always guaranteed, and since it is known that the response time in a domestic or traffic accident is key for people´s survival, something that cities, again, provide faster than in a small town or village.
As much as we have suffered the gentrification or hipsterization of our neighborhoods, we still continue to enjoy the proximity of bars, restaurants and shops of all kind, and their availability and variety of offer, something that the countryside does not always suit, neither cultural life or leisure, which are limited or enjoyed in a different way at best.
We need architects to lead these new approaches –having in mind a scientific perspective as it seems that the Dutch architect has had- and they must search for attractive solutions for those citizens who could be seduced by that return to the rural, understood in a contemporary way that underlines the already known values of a peaceful and sustainable life, but fleeing from picturesque and Disney-like infantilizations such as those that the New Urbanists continue to propose in some American cities with disappointing results borderline with absurd fantasies of a deceptive paper-mache suburb. Leading that change and offering a real rural option could be the beginning of a re-encounter between architecture and territory that this planet needs.