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A Double-Dyed Nature

After seven years in the making, on March 27, 2011, the people of Seville, Spain, and the world, have witnessed the birth of another landmark. The Metropol Parasol had quickly gained the status of The World's Largest Urban Wooden Structure. This Honeycomb-like formation stands 85 ft tall, 492 ft long and 292 ft wide. The ceremonial title is also supported by some impressive numbers: a total budget of almost 130 million dollars was spent to use 8000 unique and non-repeating timber elements to hover over the area of 16404 square feet. It looks just as impressive as it sounds. And in addition to its grand title it had also established the world record for being the largest structure held together by glue. Composed of undulating parasols, the giant latticed timber canopy provides valuable shade during hot days in Seville. It houses a farmers' market, performance stage, and a plaza with bars and restaurants. Underneath, there is an archeological museum exposing a fragment of the ancient Seville that dates back to the Roman Empire and which was found by accident during excavation of the structure's foundation. Metropol Parasol's boisterous title surely will attract visitors from near and far abroad during the forty years of its planned lifespan, and the economic benefit to the city's budget is obvious. Nevertheless, the structure's appearance spurred some criticism from the local people and few architects. While locals claim that the problem with it is that its wonderfulness does not connect with the medieval-inspired surroundings, architects are criticizing the aesthetics of its forms with some of them stressing on the choice of wood claiming that wood pertains to another architectural period and contradicts with its ultramodern look. On the contrary, the positive feedback can be best summarized by its own designer, Jrgen Mayer H, who said - "Realized as one of the largest and most innovative

bonded timber-constructions with a polyurethane coating, the parasols grow out of the archaeological excavation site into a contemporary landmark, defining a unique relationship between the historical and the contemporary city." Admittedly, its location on the Plaza de la Encarnacion (The Square of Incarnation) played an important part, as the architect confirmed later that the building's form was inspired by the square's trees and Seville's expansive cathedral and that he wanted to create a cathedral without walls". Consequently, the structure is the manifestation of the religious, economical, and cultural values that collectively produced this new landmark for Seville and indeed for Spain. But just when it seems that the discussion of the structure's significance should and can revolve around these values, one important aspect comes up. Should we assess the structure not only for its aesthetic appearance, economic potential, and religious projections, but also in light of its potential environmental impact? The domination of these values obscured a very important concern for environmental preservation and if this fact is emphasized it could help to better understand the contemporary relationship between humanity and nature as a whole. The Mushrooms of Incarnation, as Sellivanos nicknamed these parasols, reflect the influence of Spain's Catholic majority on the interpretation of the structure's meaning. What is interesting about the religious aspect, is the concept of the sublime which the structure is implied to embody according to the architect. A very good example of a sublime seen in nature is given by William Cronon in his essay The Trouble with Wilderness. Cronon writes ... sublime landscapes were those rare places on earth where one had more chance than elsewhere to glimpse the face of God, and ... vast, powerful landscapes where one could not help feeling insignificant and being reminded of one's own mortality" (87). Although Cronon's main tenet in his essay is the necessity to find the middle-ground, which will be discussed

later, his interpretation of the sublime experience translates into an actual encounter with nature, and appreciation of how the multifaceted arrangement of ecosystems peacefully coexists and creates synergy. Both Cronon's and Mayer's sublimes revolve around nature. But where the former suggests an encounter with it, the latter required nature's destruction. Mayer's effect of the sublime was achieved by an arrangement of several thousand tons of dead trees into an intricate shape, which was calculated and engineered by an advanced modeling software. Cronon's description of the feeling of insignificance, when one confronts the nature unaffected by man, connects to the immanence of complexity and simplicity of vast natural landscapes where a person might think that only by the divine plan could this harmony be put together. Such an overwhelming effect nature's beauty can have. On the contrary, despite the fact that these "mushrooms" are almost fifteen times the size of an average man and made of complexly arranged unique timber elements, one would not feel insignificant in front of this wooden structure, just as the conqueror does not feel insignificant in front of the defeated. The nature in this case is the defeated party, because man took away from it, manipulated with it, and created this visually astounding structure. It seems that what was inspired by, and meant to model a place of a religious sublime, had diminished the importance of the aspect of environmental preservation. The new era of economics began with Industrial Revolution and had forever changed the way man interacts with nature. Rapid urbanization catalyzed by the technological progress caused many people to migrate from the country side to the city - where the nature is only represented by a few parks and vegetation along the roads. In the urban setting, trees and grass exist for decoration - they can easily be removed, trimmed, replaced, and manipulated like a set of furniture in a house. Consequently, in the urban setting, the sense of the tree's right to

exist for its own reason, like in nature, may disappear and become completely replaced with the will of a man. Constant exposure to such treatment of trees that represent nature can shape certain attitudes in people and translate on the nature as a whole. In his book "The End of Nature", environmentalist Bill McKibben writes "... indeed, over the last few centuries we have forgotten, to our peril, how connected we actually are to the rest of the fabric of creation" (XXI). Our sustainment, comfort, and the economy in large depend on an ever increasing use of natural resources. Driven by the desire to propel the technological progress and economic gains further, we treat the nature as an endless fount of resources. In doing so, we have reached the point best described by McKibben - "... we have ended nature as an independent force, that our appetites and habits and desires could now be read in every cubic meter of air, in every increment on the thermometer." (XIX). Not only do we exploit the nature by constantly taking from it, but we also affect the earth's climate. We pollute the air with byproducts of fossil fuels and further strengthen the negative effects by active deforestation. The economic factor of The Metropol Parasol is in the desire of the city's authorities to revitalize the dead spot between more popular tourist destinations. Also, the choice of the newly cut timber might have been dictated by its cost-effectiveness versus the cost of other materials. The advocates of this particular timber material called Kerto would argue that all the trees used for production were specifically grown in a certified forest by the company named "Finnforest". And McKibben flawlessly addresses this point of view when he writes "Nature, while often fragile in reality, is durable in our imaginations" (class handout). The Sustainable Forest initiative was enacted by the United Nations in 1992, but according to the latest Global Forest Resources Assessments (FRA 2010), the total forest area in the world had decreased during the last twenty years by some 135 million hectares or nearly 335 million

acres, which is enough to cover the area of nine states of the size of New York. While sustainable forests are a good trend, they cannot completely satisfy the rising needs for timber. And the overall decrease of the global forest reserves is still alarming. Essentially, dictated by the principle of cost-effectiveness, the choice of the raw-cut timber to construct The Metropol Parasol even from the certified forest may give people an illusion about the Eco-friendliness of this structure. To understand how the prevalence of the economic, religious, and cultural values had contributed to the birth of this structure, Cronon says ... everything we know about environmental history suggests that people have been manipulating the natural world on various scales for as long as we have a record of their passing" (100). Since the time when humans learned about the benefits of fire for staying warm and cooking food, through the invention of the wheel, and up to the fission of an atom, nature has been seen as the purveyor who will always satisfy all of our needs for resources. A cultures' blooming is funded by the economic activity and the comfort of human civilization mostly comes at a great cost to the environment that we inhabit. Throughout the world, landscapes are modified by urbanization, deforestation, mining, and draining underground water resources. Both human and industrial waste is being dumped into oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. The dependency on thermal energy derived from combustion of gas, oil, and coal releases thousands of cubic tons of carbon dioxide and methane-rich smoke and creates a greenhouse effect which consequently alters the Earth's climate. And as McKibben said we are no longer able to think of ourselves as a species tossed about by larger forces - now we are the larger forces. (XX) The extent of our force reaches as far as the melting of glaciers on mountain peaks and on both poles, to the extinction of entire animal species for their fur, flesh, and presumable healing power of their

pulverized bones. Before humans became such forces, wilderness and therefore nature, as Cronon described it, was seen as a savage place, a place where saints would go to battle and prevail over demons, a place where man's courage and spirit could tremble (85). But as long as the technological progress continued, people were able to pierce deeper into nature, eventually becoming the ones who decide its faith. When looking at The Metropol Parasol, do people see trees and nature that needs to be protected? Or does this structure imply that we can further exploit the nature? The answer could be in the development of new ethics which Cronon introduced as middle-ground. He argues that we need an environmental ethic that will tell us as much about using nature as about not using it (103). It turns out that The Metropol Parasol could have been The Largest Urban Structure Made of The Recycled Wood or other Eco-friendly materials. And if this were the case, the sustainability concept could be promoted by the emphasis on a complete withdrawal from using natural resources, and the synergy of the religious, economic, and environmental preservation values could have evolved into a new cultural value. However, the accumulated momentum of the past exploitation of nature cannot be undone immediately. People may be reluctant to give up the comfort or adopt strict environmental sustainability values unless influenced by the power of authority which is always reserved for the governments of nations. An excerpt from John Muir's essay Our National Parks says it the best Any [one] can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed - chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides. ... Few that fell trees plant them; nor would planting avail much towards getting back anything like the noble primeval forests. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries God has cared for these trees, ... but he cannot save them ... - only [government] can do that" (61). Historically, the largest cultural changes

were incepted by governments which de-facto are the monopolies of power in any state. Either triggered by positive or negative actions of their government in virtually every country, people's minds were influenced and great changes followed. The birth of The Metropol Parasol in its substance could be a great opportunity for the people and the government of Seville to reflect on the values it was built upon. In light of the environmental preservation values, for the people of Seville and for the rest of humanity this could be a symbol of the exploitation of Mother Nature, the last one.

Works cited: J. Baird Callicotl, Michael P. Nelson, Eds. "The Great New Wilderness Debate". Athens, GA: U. of Georgia Press, 1998 471-499, Cronon, William, "The Trouble With Wilderness" McKibben, Bill. "End of Nature", Anchor Bootte NY, 1990 (second edition, 1999) Jurgen Mayer H Architects, < http://www.jmayerh.de/home.htm> Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Global Forest Resource Assessment 2010, <http://www.fao.org/forestry/fra/fra2010/en/> Dean, Robert D. "Urbanization, industrialization and the development process." Monticello, II., Council of Planning Librarians, 1971 Muir, John. Selections from "Our National Parks", 1901
photo Fernando Alda <http://www.fernandoalda.com/> , taken from <http://www.yatzer.com/MetropolParasol-The-World-s-Largest-Wooden-Structure-J-MAYER-H-Architects>