IMPERFECT HEALTH – THE MEDICALIZATION OF ARCHITECTURE

imperfect_health_gGiovanna Borasi & Mirko Zardini (eds.), Imperfect Health. The medicalisation of architecture, Canadian Centre for architecture: Lars Müller Publishers 2013

Review by Eleni Tracada

This is a captivating collection of chapters/papers edited by Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini who offer us a valuable and well-structured overview on a variety of architectural and urban solutions, currently aiming at reassuring human beings that, their well-being in contemporary cities depends mainly on a metaphor becoming reality; that is “the city as a body consisting of variously functional organs” (p. 17). Therefore, the human bodies’ physical and biological and even socio-cultural functioning depends on how we can offer today a series of positive solutions to urban problems by avoiding super “sterilisation” processes.

Most metaphors in cities today strive for the “green” regeneration of the urban body, whereas the authors of the critical writings and projects in this book have attempted a comprehensive survey to find and evaluate links between healthy architecture and urban fabric and the natural environment (although the latter has been systematically damaged up to the point to become a heavily poisonous and deteriorating ecosystem. Thus, editors and authors argue that, by immersing ourselves in “green architecture/nature” we can offer a cure to modern cities today. But, this is a paradox, if we consider that, plants and animals can also spread deadly diseases at any time; we are constricted to inhale toxic landscapes in cities, as one of the authors argues in their project.

Today architects and urbanists try to create “therapeutic architecture” by introducing therapeutic functions in both the built environment and surrounding urban landscapes. According to the authors, for example, “placebo architecture” and “trees in the city” do not only contribute to the ecosystem’s well-being, but above all to the social ecosystem’s stabilisation and “sanitation”. Instead of providing inhabitants of cities with drugs, surgery and specialist treatments, the response should be the development of prompt strategies and campaigns in response to environmental and health concerns, such “globesity”, swelling of buildings and cities because of rising standards of living and over consumption of goods in need of increasing surface of houses which is merely dedicated to storage and, often waste materials. In response to this problem, we see that, Waste Treatment Plants, such as that of Copenhagen, become clear case studies/examples of the potential innate in architecture and landscape design: an incinerator becoming a public park, where people can exercise on skiing slopes surrounding it. The city’s inhabitants can enjoy themselves and “burn calories” through social interaction.

However all authors argue that, we have now surpass the so-called “medicalization of our society”; we do not need any more a medical framework or medical intervention, but, instead, architecture and urbanism should apply a “demedicalization process”; the paradigm shift for architecture and urbanism “will be from the idea of cure to the idea of care – in the process of taking care of our bodies and our environments” (p. 36). Most of the authors, if not all, strive on ideas and practices relevant to Biourbanism principles; they cover areas, such as urban design, sustainable environments and communities, investigation of old and new theories in architecture and interdisciplinary connections of architecture with arts and design.

The book refers to an exhibition of concepts and projects and it is presented with modern graphics and wonderfully effective illustrations throughout. The editors and authors come from a broad and varied background of disciplines, such as architectural theories and practices, urbanism and even preventive medicine. Giovanna Borasi, Curator of Contemporary Architecture at the Canadian Centre for Architecture since 2005, is an architect and editor. Mirko Zardini, Director and Chief Curator of the Canadian Centre for Architecture since 2005 as well, is an architect and theorist. Both curators are heavily involved with research in urbanism and architecture since several years; they have published very important articles and books.

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