The fluid nature of modernity is a TED talk by the Brazilian architect, Carolina Nunes. Currently living in Germany, she is actively working on preserving nature, especially rivers, and their paths and courses, and increasing their interaction with the public. The talk provides the audience with an insight on the cultural and historical role of rivers, what they have now been reduced to and how they play an essential role in the development of better and ‘more human’ public spaces; all while keeping up with the current time, along with reminiscing the culture and essence of a space. Despite being just a short talk of approximately 12 minutes, it provides a thorough insight into the connection that has always existed between rivers and cities, how that is coming to rest because of human interventions pulling it down, the drastic impact it can have as well as what can be done differently; not just for preservation and sustainability, but cultural appropriation too.
Ar. Carolina starts the talk by explaining the role that has been played by rivers in the making of cities. Providing a sharp comparison between the first cities to come and those that they have now evolved into, the talk helps understand the change of thought- portrayed as premature, in the talk- that led to the public losing interest in the happenings of the environment and distancing from it, bit by bit. She starts with elucidating on how the river cities, essentially referring to the rivers that came into existence because of the origination of these soulful rivers, represent the values of the city’s ancient history, its existence, its time. She tries explaining this change in course by the planning principles of cities, then and now. While the cities from the past can be considered organic, need-based and accepting, our current cities can be put under the category of strict, defined and constricting. She further moves ahead to highlight how the contemporary cities associate happiness with mobility, urban planning with traffic control and modernity with wider avenues and higher buildings; leading to an overall gloomy, anxious and more often than expected, depressing tone. Requesting one to picture these segmented and decidedly functional cities, she raises the question of what kind of a city one wants to live as a part.
The natural question that not only arises from this talk, but also helps understand its validity and importance is whether the points raised, and the facts stated stand true. Are we neglecting our rivers? Are we leading to our source of civilisation, our ‘Zeitgeist’, in the backdrop, to pride over an artificially curated atmosphere? She makes this very clear through not more than three sentences and four pictures, in totality. It is, woefully, well accepted, that the supposed development of a city or an ‘urban space’, in the words of Nunes, is of utmost importance while planning. This leads to the straightening of rivers, narrowing their embankments and hiding them behind walls of concrete. To add to this discomfort, the then constricted rivers are then posed as local attractions and celebrated. With embankments not considered as important spaces requiring flood control and rivers with abundant waters being construed as ‘wild’, the cities are, arguably, becoming less human and a lot more artificial.
As the validity and need of the talk are approved, Carolina talks about the lack of human involvement and scale present in the current planning of cities. While this point has been raised by a man and fairly proved by just as much, what makes this talk stand out is its association of the human scale with the idea of inclusivity of nature, rather than heights and diversity in mobility. Referring to cities as a magnet for social life and hence, suitable public spaces, she puts a firm foot on the need for there to be increased interaction between streams, rivers and other forms of water with the public. The points laid in the talk are precise and crisp; with the visuals doing justice by applying a strong basis for the loss of cultural heritage and dehumanisation of spaces.
The talk proves itself to be even more important for designers as well as planners; not just for reiterating the need for better and more human spaces but for the way it can be done. In a matter of 11 minutes, it provides the designer with the existing problem, its root cause, the effect on its roots as well as beautiful ideas that can be adopted, with incredible ease. While these are 11 good minutes that every person must spare and invest, architects, planners and designers should convert it into 22, to develop a collective conscience and work on this pertaining issue.