The New Alchemy Institute

Prospekt VI - New Desires

The New Alchemist Institute - fotografi, tegning og journals, 1971 - 1991 (redigeret af Sofie Højgaard, 2023)
Tekst 'New models for Urban Abundance' (En fortsættelse af 'Decentralized Agriculture' publ. i 'Radical Technology') - Lars Holdhus, 2023

Prospekt består af en serie på ni online udstillinger, der udfolder samtidige spørgsmål gennem tre forskellige perspektiver: nutidige arkitektpraksisser, historiske værker og andre praksisformer. Et prospekt (fra latin: prospectus = udsigt, udsyn) er en topografisk skildring af landskab, byer eller arkitektur. Formatet udvikledes i 1400-tallet og var en saglig og nøgtern gengivelse, der gav overblik og nye udsyn.
Formålet med 'Prospekt' er, at undersøge konkrete problemfelter gennem kunstneriske frembringelser inden for arkitektur. Målet er ligeledes at pollinerer vores arkitekturkultur med perspektiver, der går på tværs af tid og medier.

Hvor de tre første udstillinger i Prospektserien beskæftigede sig byggeriets enheder og formater, beskæftiger de tre næste udstillinger, 'Remote Nature Cam(era’), 'Basisk Vækst' og ‘New Desires' i Prospektserien, sig med landskab og kontrol.
'New Desires' viser illustrationer, en serie af fotografier og et kort over The New Alchemy Institutes haver og bygninger for aqua og agrikultur, hvor der forskedes i bæredygtige lav-energi forsyningssystemer. The New Alchemy Institute udgav deres forskning som artikler i 7 journals fra 1971-1980.
Lars Holdhus tekst 'New Models for Urban Abundance' reflekterer over The New Alchemy Institutes praksis og metoder og med afsæt i NAI's arbejde foreslås nye modeller såsom at implementere Skovhavesystemet (food forests) såvel som at 'desire the world differently'. Modeller som vil forandre vores tilgang til, kontrol af, ressourcer fra og fællesskaber i vores landskaber.

Stor tak til Earle Barnhart og Hilde Maingay for rettigheder og adgang til arkiver.
Stor tak Statens Kunstfond, for at støtte projektet.

The New Alchemy Institute

From 1971 to 1991, the New Alchemy Institute conducted research and education on behalf of the planet:

To Restore the lands, Protect the Seas, And Inform the Earths Stewards.

“Among our major tasks is the creation of ecologically derived human support systems - renewable energy, agriculture, aquaculture, housing and landscapes. The strategies we research emphasize a minimal reliance on fossil fuels and operate on a scale accessible to individuals, families and small groups. It is our belief that ecological and social transformations must take place at the lowest functional levels of society if humankind is to direct its course towards a greener, saner world.”

"Our programs are geared to produce not riches, but rich and stable lives, independent of world fashion and the vagaries of international economics. The New Alchemists work at the lowest functional level of society on the premise that society, like the planet itself, can be no healthier than the components of which it is constructed. The urgency of our efforts is based on our belief that the industrial societies which now dominate the world are in the process of destroying it."      

- Bulletin of the New Alchemists, Fall 1970.  

New Models for Urban Abundance

The ongoing climate crisis (pollution, biodiversity loss, global warming and more) clearly warns of what’s ahead. It’s time to take a new look at New Alchemy Institute, its experiments and what we can learn from them. How can we evolve the ideas to transition to a post-capitalist society of abundance?

New Alchemy Institute believed we had to abandon high-input solutions so we could repair broken ecosystems. A “holistic” approach without a socio-political perspective and careful consideration of energy input often leads to unwanted side effects such as biodiversity loss due to intense urbanisation, soil degradation, pollution and exploitation. Typical examples of “holistic” systems are green growth initiatives that often turn to hydroponics and urban farming to build an idea of the future. These systems demand high material input and resources and lead to outcomes that mainly serve capitalism because the pollution, labour and resource use are not accounted for.

More profit-orientated capitalist solutions for living made the New Alchemy Institute's proposed solutions less desirable, and the Institute only reached a limited audience with particular interest in the topic. Hence, solutions from the institute were never fully explored nor scaled up to get the potential for system changes. Profit motives driving agriculture and extraction of resources are another reason we face several crises. A genuinely holistic system requires post-capitalist or degrowth politics aligned with systemic change because building an eco-socialist society is not necessarily profitable.

A common argument against a more ecological organisation of urban settlements is how to have enough space for all citizens and increase the number of green spaces. In a capitalist society, people are distributed after production and profit. Would you live in a city if you weren’t tied to capitalism? Under and after COVID-19, we saw that people reconsidered their values, and some who could afford it moved away from the city.

In a post-capitalist society, we can assume population distribution will be different than in our current model. We can plan for a low-input urban agricultural model for a post-capitalist city by keeping an urban infrastructure and reinventing its purpose. Taking a food forest-based urban agricultural model and combining it with the New Alchemy Institute's leading ideas constructs the foundation for a post-capitalist city. This also extends what many Degrowth proponents propose for a degrowth transition of urban environments. We can also look at other eco-projects and ecovillage models (Findhorn, Damanhur, Friland, Dyssekilde and CLIPS) and apply what is helpful for urban settlements.

Food forests use the forest's inherent properties /abilities, e.g. transform energy (input) to produce nuts, greens, berries and fruits (output). The food forest can thread itself throughout the urban city and out in the periphery, eventually merging with the wild forest. Existing structures could be repurposed with New Alchemy Institutes ideas (supplemented by many other contributors) and John Todd's later ideas for treating wastewater.

By focusing on forests as ecosystems supplemented by natural farming techniques (Korean natural farming, bio-dynamic farming, JADAM, etc.), you create a low-maintenance and low-input agricultural system that can yield enough for a city or area.

A food forest is more than just a place to grow crops. It’s also a social gathering space to connect with wildlife, other humans and plants. From the perspective of the New Alchemy Institute, a forest is also a place to heal.

By changing the foundation of society from organised around capital accumulation to organised around well-being for all species, new desires will emerge. Desires in a society in the global north are based on the global supply of goods rather than a local supply. Shifting desires will be one of the most essential tasks in transitioning from a high-energy consuming society to a low-energy community. This is a socio-political task and requires politics and culture to align. This shift will eliminate many transport and supply chain emissions and introduce new types of food based on local ingredients such as nuts and perennial root crops. There’s not a lack of edible perennial crops to grow; there’s a lack of knowledge, desire to grow them, and a lack of experience with how to use them.

While these ideas are not necessarily new, the current situation is new. With the climate crisis, it’s a matter of time before growth is no longer a possible path (it was never a viable path in the first place!) for societies in the global north, and we will face existential questions and become desperate for other solutions.

While this is no complete vision of a post-capitalist society in the global north, it’s a contribution to a long social process for what can become a plan to transition to a post-capitalist society.

Herunder fotografier af Hilde Maingay, Fritz Goro, John Cressey, Alan L. Pearlman, Ron Zweig, Joan Pearlman, John Todd, Robert Todd, Albert Doolittle.
Illustrationer af Camas Lott.

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