City Planning and Electronics - Zenetos Ch. Takis
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City Planning and Electronics - (Urbanisme Electronique)
Zenetos, Takis Ch.
(b Athens, 1926; d Athens, 28 June 1977).
Technology properly used may be the only short-term answer to the city problems because it will take time to check population growth. More significant than old cities in the long run are the brand new cities in which man and machine are no longer at each other’s throats… The penicillin for urbanitis, the sure cure, though, is either population reduction or the complete elimination of the city. Why cannot people live wherever they wish and congregate electronically? ... Thus the title of this [editorial] spans the spectrum: from old cities refurbished to brand new cities to no cities at all.
18 February 1972 Science Magazine Volume 175, No 4023 - Editorial
Takis Ch. Zenetos was a Greek architect and urban planner with a deep belief in technology as the medium for liberation of man. His early works “Prototype of Anti-Centre” will evolve to “City Planning and Electronics” and will be established as the general framework of all his projects. He strongly opposed the general apparatus for cheap habitat and believed that the house should be the society’s most elaborate and luxurious product (because houses account for 75% of the built environment). Ironically enough, he didn’t have the opportunity to design houses for the masses except on the level of regional planning. His primary goal was to integrate the interior with the exterior space and to dissolve the boundaries of the handsome boxes of the masters of modernity. His main concern was the impact of human activities on the natural and human environment. Being faithfully interested in the advanced technologies, he always tried to be up-to-date with scientific experiments around the globe. The main part of his work was to combine recent technological achievements to reinvent the architectural space.
Born in Athens in 1926, the Second World War was inscribed in his early adolescence. During that time he joined the United Greek Organization of Youth (Ε.Π.Ο.Ν.) a left oriented party opposed to the German occupation. This act of his early years can best describe his general ideological and political position during his rather short life. In 1945, 18 years old will be in Paris, in January of ’46 a scholar architecture student in the Ecole des Beaux Arts and, although no direct relation is yet established, he will be educated in a space/time context that could be described as the matrix of ideas that leaded in 1957 to the formation of the Situationist International. He graduated in 1954 and returned to Athens in ’55 where he organizes his architectural office. During his studies in Paris he worked for several firms and started working on the “Prototype of Anti-Centre” (1952). The following years he will be working in Greece where he chooses to end his life in the late 70’s (28 June 1977). The project “City Planning and Electronics” was published in 1969, yet he continued writing and publishing on it until the end of his life. His projects and texts became a deposit still “hunting” young Greek architects to the day.
His work is separated into professional and research activities and although some of his professional work would get built, none of his research proposals will be directly implemented. Some of his most famous built projects are the Fix Brewery (1957-1963) part of which was destroyed from the Greek government in the ‘90s and where now the National Museum of Contemporary Art is hosted, the Amphitheatre on Lycabette’s Hill functioning to the day for summer events (1964-1967 “Temporary theatre in Athens”) and the School Building in Agios Dimitrios now being renewed with a new program willing to adapt to contemporary technologies available in education systems. All these projects (also others) as well as their “lives” in time’s transition are to be seen within the framework established from his visions for the future city of advanced technologies regime.
The city is the most perfect creation of man’s effort to better his life through a system of social interrelations.
The city here is met as the ultimate cultural product; the good that aims to serve the individual’s desires and needs. This social invention, this form of collective had to be re-invented and re-imagined after the industrial revolution and still to the day, has to constantly be re-constructed to adapt to its primary goal: its best usage from its citizens. In the planning of the cities, the tautological demand is to satisfy the individual’s need for socialization. In the same time the collective apparatus for the human body is directly projected onto our cities.
But yet something was missing from the modern cities according to Zenetos; something had gone wrong; the constant growth of the population and the space-time compression were leading to an unprecedented reduction of social encounters. The city was ill and city planners had to figure out a cure. Zenetos in his work predicts the catastrophe for our cities in a very near future. The over-growth of the city [and the predictions of his time for even more growth (megalopolis)] was destroying the natural environment and producing a feeling of estrangement of its inhabitants. The structures of his recent past had no concern over the energy and environment they were consuming in order to product a certain result.
His work is to be seen as a contradiction to certain ideologies and strategies of the time on the field of city planning: he clearly states that his contemporary city planners when trying to give an answer to the emerging city problems they often came up with even more destructive solutions. These plans, only attempting to have immediate success, lead nowhere because they are not addressed to the core of the problem. “New cities are equally doomed if their planning is again based on existing systems of tertiary production.”2
His proposal is to re-distribute our cities taking advantage of the advanced communication technologies with a deeper respect over the energy consumption of our structures and of the material being used. His early works of the anti-centre is the trace of this idea; we should construct major infrastructures of communication technologies that have no impact on the environment (instead of massive highways for the automobile) to introduce an era when the periphery will have no distinction to the centre. This vision of the omnipolitan periphery (Paul Virilio) was common those years; what is significant within the texts is how different individuals administer this idea: Zenetos main concern is the use of flexible temporary systems at all times, recyclable, with the minimum effect on the natural environment (as well as the use of energy) and the maximum perform on people’s variable needs. For the design of such structures several design strategies have been stated:
1 make the least possible use of the earth surface
2 minimize structural loads
3 taking into account all existing and anticipated technological advances2
Zenetos is making a clear distinction between two kinds of city’s structures with which, then, organizes the space; there is the city, as composed from the domestic and tele-working space (and all the other social activities), and the space required for the machines of total automation. With the advanced remoteness established the machines of production can be placed far away of the city, in spaces not useful for inhabitation. Then the actual cities, freed from their supporting machines, will form networks of small centres and spread. There is a notion of optimum size to be reached: the size and population of the city has an optimum limit at which it functions perfectly. This optimum size is never described in detail; I suppose that is a field for further research.
A possible structural answer to these demands from the post-industrial society could be a system of three-dimensional supporting structures containing vertical garden-cities and dense networks of improved telecommunications media (mainly for tertiary processing), freeing man from the necessity of transporting his body as an information-carrier, to the actual location of processing.
This structure is elevated from the ground in order to leave intact the natural environment. Its elements work in tension. A span of 100m is proposed for the grid with decks 12m wide. The squares in-between the decks are either filled with tension structures that provide equilibrium to the general plan, as well as public spaces, or are to be left void in order to establish a more direct contact with the natural environment at the ground level. By this way each deck is in direct contact with the social activities as well as with the forest.
The re-introduction of the immediate/direct contact of the citizen with the natural environment is of great importance in Zenetos’ work. Machines are driven away of the cities in order to establish this kind of contact. His demand of re-unification of the interior with the outdoors space can be traced within all his designs. Everyday life of the post-industrial man is re-naturalised with the use of advanced media.
Everyday life in the “city of Urbanisme Electronique”
According to Zenetos’ text there are two basic human characters: “Settled, the Farmer” and the “Wanderer, the Nomad”; he predicts that cause of the increasing interconnection between spaces the second will eventually disappear. In the city he describes the advanced technologies have given man the possibility to be virtually anywhere he desires and cause of that the notion of travel lacks meaning. This notion of uniformity we also find in Heidegger’s work by the name of distancelessness (The Thing – 1954). In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan describes a similar process as "implosion" as people are more closely unified through networks in the electronic age. Zenetos uses this vision of lack of meaningful displacement across great distances to organize the everyday life inside the city within the distance you can walk to.
Everyday life is consisted according to Zenetos by five basic activities:
1 creative activity, tele-work at home (basically education), “play”
2 Bodily exercise on the spot or in the natural environment at ground level
3 sexual life, rest, “instant” sleep
4 consumption of goods, disposal of wastes
5 social contacts and activities
In the city of total automatization, as described, it is hard to imagine work and from what would this social function be consisted of; still Zenetos implies that there would be some kind of creative activity that the citizens would be part of. The space that serves this necessity is either the domestic space itself, or some kind of space with even greater communication systems; in both cases the inhabitants are foreseen tele-working: “An adjustable joined “body carrier”, a second “body” – a multi-purpose posture chair equipped with a tele-activities control switch and a combination of optico-acoustical contact accessories.” Isn’t this vision of liberation by the technological means and of “play” that we also find in Constant’s New Babylon? What is interesting with this correspondence is that Zenetos is not rushing to eliminate the notion of work in this creative activity, although he states that it would be better described as “education” and I would add “research”.
This sedentary life of intense mental activity is to be balanced with the strong encouragement of sports. Sports that are also part of the game; that complete the notion of “play”. Bodily exercise, mainly sports and walking consist for Zenetos another point towards the re-naturalisation of the human body. These activities are to be fulfilled in the natural environment literally under the city inside the forests of the ground floor. The human body, once understood as a machine and again literally supported by a machine, is yet envisioned pure young and athletic.
The release of man from useless travelling for everyday routines is to consult with abundant free time of wandering in three dimensional spaces that will permit infinite opportunities of random encounters. People will meet and exchange information and knowledge. In addition to traditional contacts, virtual encounters will complete the socialization of the citizens: The old TV screen is in the future empowered with the capability of complete real-time representation in 3d space of an event or a person with all its sensory perceivable attributes. A “realistic” recorder reinsures the repetition of pleasant virtual meetings as if they were happening for the first time. Again this virtual drift and this replica of traditional meetings are presented as a natural extension of social life. The interesting latent idea in the vision of virtual encounters is that everything is “real”: there is no description of fiction as part of the projected media; nor the future of mass media is to be described.
In this town of total information flow, privacy is achieved by minimum means. Here, a misunderstanding is usually made: the information hubs – bubbles are NOT the future houses; instead they are only indicative of skins protecting the various organs of everyday life, envisioned here to be constructed with the use of a double membrane and a liquid material in-between. This structure will have the ability to manage sunlight and transparency according to the individual’s real time desires. The urban environment is controlled by air screens containing reflection particles of adjustable density in order to define the degree of insulation from sun radiation. Inside this controlled environment citizens wander naked with only the need of cloths perhaps in the case of visiting the outdoors and only when the weather conditions enforce it . People’s need for insulation – the house – will be addressed to their senses: special earphones and eye spectacles. The need of privacy in terms of “not to be seen” doesn’t exist in the future, nor does shame; the citizens will be living in the manner of ancient societies. Therefore the house becomes just the ability to switch off.
As mentioned earlier, the temperament of the man of the future will make it possible to use immaterial systems for the creation of his environment. In the distant future, apart from a very simplified “carrier” (possibly suspended from “motionless” satellites), and from wave-generating units, the application of such systems will cover all components of the living sector, the “simulated situations” sector etc. The desired environmental conditions will materialise through the achievement of a precise separation between the various wave areas, magnetic fields etc.
The next generation of “carriers” (to follow the ones already mentioned) could, depending on popular pressures, be “continent-satellites” stabilised over parts of the oceans. Subsequently, a comparative cost/benefit study would show whether it would be better to extend systems near the nucleus earth and beyond the atmosphere, or whether it would be preferable to move on to other celestial bodies.
In any case, practical as well as psychological considerations (small distances, easy travel with “conventional” means of transportation) indicate that the first alternative is more probable. Even the exploitation of resources on other planets is unlikely to require on-the-spot human presence
The desired situations will “materialise” instantly by means of thought telemission, with no intermediate steps-actions. Naturally, it will be possible to create hallucinatory situations without hallucinogens etc.
Finally, the “conventional” robots, along with the “intelligent” animals of A. C. Clarke, will be completely useless, because technological developments in the immaterial fields will proceed at a much faster pace (and will be more effective) than what we usually expect them to be.
Zenetos’ “City Planning and Electronics” project had the same fate as all other visions of the period: although never realised directly, it stands as an early illustration of some aspects of the world we live in today. Apart from his other projects that can be seen as extensions within the same framework, the interface he kept designing inside his urban drawings, that is the body carrier, or otherwise stated as the multi-purpose furniture participated in the “Interdesign 2000” competition for the best furniture designs of the future and was actually constructed. A sketch published in 1969 is probably the only one that actually contains the form of a man operating in it; all his other designs contain human shadows rather than persons.
So, where are the people? Are they trapped inside their media devices rather than walking on to this world-wide grid holding hands as best described by Superstudio drawings? But of course the citizens inside Zenetos structures don’t have to better ways to walk that much; they are not nomads; they are rather self-organized small groups of people, and that is a notion we have to hold from that project. Although Zenetos states that his town plans could be used from any kind of state structure his drawings and texts have a direct political position within. Another popular idea of that time that we also find in this project is the idea of floating planes in the horizontal; an opposition the idea of the skyscraper. In the case of Zenetos drawings the continuous monument is eventually inhabited, because that’s what the city of Urbanisme Electronique implies: the city is the monument. The important distinction between the two projects is that Zenetos is pointing a kind of flexibility almost without motion. In the same time he had a deep belief that this was they only path to follow and that is why all his drawings directly imply construction; they aim to be constructed immediately.
By the time he starts publishing his work, the Delians have already began their conferences. Zenetos thoughts are very close to theirs, yet he tries to oppose himself to the idea of Doxiadis’ idea of the linear growth of the city because he believes that it will have the same implications as contemporary cities have. The important distinction here is that Zenetos proposes to literally inhabit the net rather to make it work and although the genealogy of his spaces can be traced to Buckminister Fuller’s idea of the house as an apparatus for receiving and broadcasting, yet houses don’t exist with the traditional sense of space inside his town. The “Urbanisme Electronique” and the “Ecumenopolis” have such similarities, as differences: political, economical, ecological, spatial(?): What has not been clearly stated is the notion of optimum size, an idea whose origin is an article of Athelstan Spilhaus in the science magazine called “ecolibrium”(18 feb 1972), but as Zenetos’ grid is growing and taking over the entire planet, ideas start to dissolve into one another and distinctions can no longer been made.
The impact of advanced communication media over the space-time general apparatus was also a versatile subject at the time, but why should all places look the same? When we look at it from some distance it is hard to make an argument wherever it was the apparatus’ shift that produced this notion of uniformity we have now or rather the actual projects that were supposedly produced from this shift. What made people believe that Heidegger’s distancelessness would result to the death of all travels? If we take a close look at the everyday life in Zenetos’ city we find the first trace of a virtual socialization, yet we are not instructed: How do people socialize inside the virtual space? In this place of everywhere/nowhere why do people need to virtually meet with others in great distances? How do they first meet? This adoption of the advanced technologies is presented as the most natural thing, and framed by pure nature at the ground level, yet is not so evident even today. People still feel more conformable with a strike of estrangement in their cities and certainly even when they operate all the time inside the net they still enjoy travelling and meeting each other in person; maybe there is the “optimum” size yet to be met.
• Aesopos Yannis & Simeoforidis Yorgos “Landscapes of modernisation : Greek architecture, 1960s and 1990s” Athens : Metapolis Press, 1999
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• Loyer F. “Architecture de la Grece contemporaine” diss., U. Paris III, 1966
• Lefebvre Henri “Everyday Life in the Modern World” New York: Harper & Row 1971
• McLuhan Marshall “Understanding Media: The extensions of Man” NY 1965
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• Architecture in Greece Press: “Zenetos, Takis Ch.: Furniture for Living and Working in the Year 2000 – All-purpose Furniture” Archit. Themata, iii (1969), pp. 294–295
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• Architecture in Greece Press: “Zenetos, Takis Ch.: Town Planning and Electronics”, Archit. Themata, vii (1973), pp. 112–119
• Architecture in Greece Press: “Zenetos, Takis Ch.: Town Planning and Electronics”, Archit. Themata, viii (1974), pp. 122–135
• Barcelona : Promedia, S.A.; Libreria Internacional “Quaderns 223: Loops Elastic Time, Flexible Time”
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• http://www.groveart.com/shared/views/article.html?section=art.034223.2.3&authstatuscode=200 Greece, §II: Architecture After 1945.
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