Rotterdam Study Abroad Seminar: Designing and managing worlds in the Countryside

This Course is for students in the Rotterdam Study Abroad Program.

One of the best medieval copies of Vitruvius’s De Architectura is in the codex Mediceus Laurentianus, where it was bound together with the two classical treatises of agriculture by Varro (De Re Rustica) and Cato (De Agri Cultura). 14th century copyists apparently held the two disciplines, agriculture and architecture as two complementary sides or components of the same concern for the management, culture and embellishments of territories.

As is well known, subsequent history, particularly since the industrial revolution, was that of a more and more pronounced divorce, a true “metabolic rift” between the respective fields of those two disciplines, nowadays completely addicted to fossil fuels and to a condition of cheap and abundant energy from which – like it or not – they will soon have to be weaned off. Urbanism, in particular, as both a concept and a specific discipline, was coined during this historic rift, and the fact that it was never seriously challenged or balanced by a “ruralism” that would have been its counterpart is significant in itself.

To confront the coming energetic descent, and the considerable environmental “transition” that lies ahead, might thus require a deep and inspiring effort at rebinding and reconnecting those two disciplines (architecture and agriculture), and thereby recharge and reinvent both of them.

A significant portion of that path has been cleared, in the past decades, by the active visionaries of the permaculture nebulae who are among the most genuine “revolutionaries” and beacons of hope of our time. The main hypothesis of our seminar is that it it is now high time for architects and urbanists to start learning from their thoughts and experiences.

Adopting both a retro- and pro-spective viewpoint, the course intends to explore the history of the relationship between architecture and agriculture, cityside and countryside, but also, and more importantly, to confront the contemporary theories of architecture and urbanism to the strong hypotheses and highly stimulating lessons of the pioneers of permaculture and agroecology, who are currently reinventing worlds in and from the countryside.