The first day of my work on the Kennedylaan started late because I got lost cycling around Heerenveen. I am still yet to conquer what I suspect is a very simple town layout. Peter Wouda and Thomas Richard were already working.
The Kennedylaan is a traffic island running along the center of a street (or lane) in a housing area. It is bounded on two sides by roadway, 2 lanes wide. The strip is about 4 lanes wide. It is cut across in three places, creating four strips. Most of these are filled with mature trees, growing amongst the work Louis did there in 1973 approximately. He created elevated terraces with a path running down the center. Louis walked off the job acrimoniously for reasons that I still need to decipher. The Stichting Tijn, fo which Wouda is a member has begun working with the Council again, who are keen to continue to deal with Kennedylaan as it had been originally intended, but are suspicious of Le Roy due to their previous relations. Le Roy in turn does not want to deal with authorities so the society does this for him and both parties win. THE society is a negotiating devoce between Le Roy’s concepts and the practical urban project. The section that Peter and Thomas were working on was one of the few open sections of bare ground remaining. For the rest of the project workers have been working underneath the original canopy that resulted from Louis previous work, eathier cutting back into vegatation and soil to uncover previous work, or exacavating to make new areas. Wouda noted that the Kennedylaan was the playground, the place where you had your trainer wheels on. Mildam was where the serious stuff happened and
I interrupted Peter and Thomas and suggested that we start documenting again from scratch what we intended to do, and who we were. After this , with the camera still running, I asked Peter where one starts and he said that the basis of the project is sorting, and beginners were generally encouraged to start there. That said, he suggested that most people however wanted to build something visible. And so he said “Well, what we do is we just start work and take it from there!” “Albeschrift (?) (There you go then). I made my first Ecocathedral Technique Observation (ETO).
ETO 1. THE STOCKPILE LOCATION DETERMINES EVERYTHING
The stockpile is the pile of dumped masonry spoil for the demolition contractors who stupply Le Roy or the Stichting with their material. It is deposited by dump trucks in great piles on the edges of the strip, and is then sorted to grade material. The grading is for half bricks which are for filling or for putting behind walls. The different types of full modeules are also graded. In general the bricks are thrown as close to where they will be used as possible. On the whole all the work is done with the hands, because the piles are a mess of soil and bricks that does not surrender well to the shovel.
Correspondingly most of the work is within throwing reach of the stockpile. Maybe three metres from the edge of the flattened stockpile is going to be its final dimension. The total cubic metreage flattened will determine the size, added to this throwing factor. In many ways then the determination of the the location of the dumping is the critical design decision. Additionally each dump block the path of the truck for another dump and so this sets another type of geometry. Perhaps the design act is in determining the path of the truck, since this will set the trajectory of what is possible afterwards regardless.
I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, otherwise why do this, and so I jumped in and started sorting bricks. It has a mindless quality to it as an activity that I find attractive, and so I started throwing bricks around. I was impressed straight away by how clean the fill was, there was no rubbish amongst it and most bricks were not broken. I was sifting through the dirt on the hunt for goodies, scraping and tossing. I thought I was making pretty good time of it when Peter came across and said “Its faster this way”. He bent over the pile and began throwing bricks backwards through his legs like a dog digging: dodgy half bricks to the left against the wall that was coming up and full ones to another side. I wondered, for what I am sure will not be the last time, how my back would take the return to physical labour, which had been the reason I stopped originally. As I moved into the stockpile I began digging with my hands into soil looking for bricks and pulling out weeds. I had another revelation:
ETO 2. THE PILE IS THE FOUNDATION
Piles are not always dealt with immediately and so they may get submerged under a mound of clean fill. As it rains the soil moves in amongst the bricks and the whole lot beds don into a mound of material. This material gets colonized by vegetation if its left too long. A neat pile and a messy pile are irrelevant to the plants. Both the finished table and the pile function in exactly the same way, and since the basic mode of the project ois that mothing happens mostly (that is more time passes on site when nothi9ng by humans happens), these piles are the default treatment for the project. This material will ideally get dug into for material bit may not. On the other hand some of the work at Kennedylaan has been about uncovering and using 20 year old piles. The foundation of the projects is therefore the pile.
I was very interested in how this orientation stage would progress because I was interested in this as a design stage, that is I was interested to see how the “system” got taught and what influence this orientation would have in how the system could be interpreted. In conversation with Louis I always have tested a speculative extension of the system into an area that I had not heard him address before, with an idea already in my head of what the answer would be. I have never found myself incorrect. This is just to say that the system is close to a fully fledged ideology, it makes sense and is predictable. In starting work on the project at Heerenveen I was interested to see how the theory worked in the field, whether the principles were practical. I was expecting that thre would actually be a strong deisgn vision in the orientation and that we would follow a certain set plan, albeit mental.
Instead what I found with both Peter and Sieber was that they spoke of “What I am doing is this”, with an emphasis on THE DOING of it. This seemed to be more about being told what they were doing so that you could position yourself in relation t it, negotiate around it. When instruction was provided it was into little tricks of bond, batter or pattern – practical stuff. There seemed this respect of making ones own choices, but the reality of negotiating around what is already done. Peter suggested not getting worried about productivity but to enjoy and use thoroughly all the time you had available, regardless of how long it was. “In time” one might say, the constriction would happen, and you have been involved in it regardless of whether you had formed it as such. Participation is in the process and the final form produced is only the evidence of that process. The process on the other hand is about your experience of it, and a trust that that particular experience has measurable productive outcomes. During the morning a couple of people from the local paper turned up to write an article about what we were doing. Before we had even done anything we were being photographed and instructed ‘Can you pick up that brick..”, “…and put it down facing the camera”. When the journalist talked to us about it he was interested in how the innovations we discover might be able to be used back how, the international flavour of an Australian and a German doing the work was a popular favorite amongst the Dutch generally.
The process is about working, but for what? After Peter, a visitor from the construction site over the road came to ask us about the work. Thomas is studying Dutch and also the Dutch and the Germans can understand each other, so Thomas talked to him. As I saw his expressions change I imagined what a construction worked in NL would say about this compared to Australia. From my own time on construction sites in Sydney I could see the labourers react as they did to wearing work boots socially: only someone who didn’t work with dirt all day long would want to wear boots out. They are tools, and unless you are in the Village people you don’t wear tools for ornamentation. Work stuff is work stuff, and recreation is recreation. Thinking about what I had seen of the people I had met who worked on the Ecocathdral, I noted that most are white collar workers, for whom physical work is something of an abstract idea. As I watched Thomas talk to the construction worker I was impressed by the fact that he did not judge this work as workless but he was perplexed by why you would do it. This is one of the questions I have myself and I suspect that it is an indulgence for office folk, but even so it is a philosophical activity with a physical component that is quite personal.
The philosopher Hannah Arendt described the labouring human not as a person but as an animal “Animal laborans”. For her labouring is the basic human act because it is through the labour of the body that sustenance is provided. For her labour was animalistic because nothing showed for it apart from survival. As a process labour is visceral and fluid, with things taken in and expelled and no productivity to it. In a sense the way that the work on the Ecocathedral works is partly to enjoy that intangibility of this activity in the sense that Arendt uses it. Its like the Monks who make sand mandala’s just to have them blown away by the wind. There are some interesting contradictions in the project because in its doing it seems like its closest to either gardening, or a sport like Karate or something. It is an activity that is about its doing and learning from that doing. Over time one gets better at it. With time the dsire for an immediate impact changes and it becomes more of a continuum, a discipline. Along the way people will intervene in your work and change it and when you turn up next there will be some change that you will then have to deal with. Indeed what you are doing is just dealing with change from one visit to another, whether that be the change of the thing or ones own change that affects what you will do next time. You are changed by time.