In praise of saprophytes
The main character in a novel by W.G. Sebald, architecture professor Jacques Austerlitz, wonders why the history of architecture has left such an extraordinary inventory of buildings and constructions, but completely ignores the sentiments and sensations associated with these built spaces and their “lived” aspects.
Where does this historical dismissal of the idea of architecture, wholly identified with the production of object-buildings, originate?
Can we still trust and rely on a history of architecture that urges us to accumulate objects in museums.
To regain a truly contemporary concept of architecture, we might instead opt for a different choice: to reject untidily the voluntas aedificandi and gain a lateral, more immaterial, mobile perspective of the horizon’s extent. Architecture would be regarded, therefore, as a crossover, an unstable and impermanent discipline, a saprophytic machine capable of incorporating and metabolising at different levels the physical and cultural materials of today’s space, in order then to put them back into the cycle of life reassembled in different sequences.
A saprophyte is an organism that lives on the deconstructive manipulation of existing materials. By retrieving and organically processing decayed matter, saprophytic organisms produce living eco-environmental contexts where none previously existed. By adopting this approach, the Cartesian place of architecture shifts from production and accumulation to the interception and transformation of objects and concepts already present in our environment. And its aim is to find solutions and contexts not yet thought of or tested.
The saprophytic attitude relentlessly dismantles and puts together systems of economic, human and symbolic relations rooted in space. The purpose of this ever-changing task is not to produce finished objects but an uninterrupted flow of materials, suggestions and concretions. These, in turn, are ready to be reused and rescheduled, in an infinite process of appropriation and release.
Flavio Albanese

[At the Venice Arsenal, 14 September – 23 November in conjunction with the 11th International Architecture Exhibition, Domus is organising DomusLAB, a workshop-container of saprophytic events devoted to a survey of contemporary space and focused on the theme of food].