Absolute density: the mass of a substance per unit volume. Population density: the ratio between the number of inhabitants and the portion of the territory they occupy. Nearly half of our planet’s population passes life in those huge agglomerations of beings that are the modern metropolises. This is a structural trend of our times and the term “density” has become the keyword for this endemic phenomenon that is being consumed before our very eyes.
The variety of formulas with which spaces are organised and are giving meaning by the needs of the living and the social relations of those inhabiting them force us, however, to think non-univocally about the relationship between the quantity and the quality of these expressions. The identity of the contemporary city only makes sense when seen as a huge receptacle of complex multiples, i.e. the fact that it consists in a variety of possible links made of factors that interact with each other and are constantly re-forming and reinventing themselves.
The question posed here is not a mere return to the classic problem of the relationship between suburbs and centre, but that of the relationship between the system and the bosom of the city, the system being “the bosom become spirit”. The way the suburbs come together in complex informal combinations – by accumulation, concretion, friction, tension and opposition – illustrates a “rhizomatic” growth, to use the words of Deleuze, that no longer corresponds to the idea of functional organisation of the plurality governed from above. Indeed it represents its most concrete and striking alternative. But is a social space signified simply by everyday living routines a less sensible space for those living there? Or, as much contemporary thought tells us, are heterogeneity and mobility, disorder and non-form not the places where the greater risk is also accompanied by the most unforeseeable concentration of possibilities? “An experimental action is an action with an unforeseeable result. As it is unforeseeable this action is independent of what provoked it. Like the earth and the air, it needs no one.” (John Cage)
This issue of Domus again examines about the spaces on planet Earth, focusing on the huge density of human presences in the suburbs of today’s megalopolises, narrated in terms of their ability to create bonds, intelligence and economy – and, for better or worse, be the true experimental laboratory of our future society.