Archē and Architecture of a Bog


Archē and Architecture of a Bog

Table of Contents







Table of Contents

Rinder am Waldrand. Photo: Fabian Stöhr.

Archē and Architecture of a Bog

“Architektur bedeutet das Bauen (tektainomai) eines Anfangs, eines Grundes oder Prinzips: Arché. Vielleicht auch die Freilegung einer Quelle.”1Schwarte, Ludger. Philosophie der Architektur (Kapitel: Arché). München [u.a.] 2009. p. 17.

“In der lebendigen Natur geschieht nichts, was nicht in einer Verbindung mit dem Ganzen stehe, und wenn uns die Erfahrungen nur isoliert erscheinen, wenn wir die Versuche nur als isolierte Fakta anzusehen haben, so wird dadurch nicht gesagt, daß sie isoliert seien, es ist nur die Frage: Wie finden wir die Verbindung dieser Phänomene, dieser Begebenheiten?”2Goethe, Johann Wolfgang. “Der Versuch als Vermittler von Objekt und Subjekt”. 1792.

The moor… It was supposed to be the object of this research but over time it also quietly became a metaphor for the body of work itself – a layering and accumulation of sketches, notes, files, thoughts, discarded ideas, memory fragments, and scientific data. As long as the ‘peat of thought’ is submerged and covered with water the work preserves, condenses and grows. The following pages are intended as an approach to cut and expose the accumulated matter in order to burn it and release its buried stories. The great challenge in working with such an elusive bogland typology like the Ried is not to get finally lost in the fog of obscurity or to sink into one of the countless black pools of doubt and distraction, since the place bears so many facets that would be worth of investigating further. Each element of this strange landscape reveals a trapdoor — a portal leading deep into its very own history and origins and draws the explorer into dark realms of the past so that one could easily loose track and orientation in the morass. So we must always remember to return to the main path as we wander over the surface of the moor, and as we do so we should take notes and map all the phenomena in the moor and all the ideas that the landscape evokes. So in the course of this project and during countless forays into the bog, a collection of sketches, photos, drawings, text notes, discovered artefacts, reactivated memories, field recordings and scientific resources accumulate in an ever-growing swamp of stories. To keep an overview one sometimes has to leave the physical as well as the mental moor completely in order to observe it in its entirety from and elevated and distant position, even if most of its treasures may remain hidden beneath the surface. Ultimately, the work was created precisely between these states – being in something – or outside. Leaving and forgetting, coming back, re-searching and remembering. Between ‘long gone’ and ‘not yet there’. A search for traces of the origins of the landscape and distant ancestors that already approached the place millennia ago, and finally our very own existence. Through various methods of ‘reading’ the landscape, the work endeavours to understand and connect the individual stories of the land, and not least to learn more about the relationships of oneself with the once familiar ground. What does it mean to grow up and with(in) a certain place? What is the spatial and immaterial nature of a term like ‘Heimat’ and what are the horizons that construct such ‘inner landscapes’? Are there traces I left behind in the soil and in how far is my own biography interwoven with the story of the bog?

Traubenförmiger Hochmoorkomplex

To face such questions, we have to venture out into the foggy field – into the indistinct vastness of the moor but also of our own subconscious and the strange realm of collective memory. First we begin to explore the morphology and spatial layout of the peat bog Pfrunger-Burgweiler Ried— its former and contemporary extent and the stunning variety of different wetland typologies, respective inhabitants and ecosystems. Starting from its visible appearance we begin to gain insights in the bogs role as an organic archive, that not just stores peat as a form of preserved and condensed past (an aggregate of sun energy, once processed by ancient vegetation and stored in the wet repositories of peat strata) but also traces of natural histories as well as anthropogenic interventions. The body of peat could be considered a hyper-object3Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, University Of Minnesota Press Minneapolis, London, 2013., shaped by deep-reaching processes along deep time scales and by spatial practices of extraction and cultivation. Through the bog, we can unveil the ominous entanglements of human networks and environments in the so-called Anthropocene with the bodies of peat. Here, all the current crises (such as climate disruption, land degradation, flood and drought, species extinction and loss of habitat – signs of an ongoing “war against nature” but also the attempts for reconciliation) are condensed into a single space and become here in some cases visible for the first time. Boglands bear witness to human hunger for energy and the fateful connection between the gigantic amounts of buried organic carbon and global heating, but more recently they also reflect a turning point in awareness of the importance value of such ecosystems.

“Before the last wetlands disappear I wanted to know more about this world we are losing. What was a world of fens, bogs and swamps and what meaning did these peatlands have, not only for humans but for all other life on earth?”4Proulx, Annie: Fen, Bog and Swamp – A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis. London, 2022. 

Pursuing such questions, which stem from a subtle sense of loss of a landscape but also of homeland, the thesis considers the Ried as a field of experimentation and a concept that allows one to gain insights into deep repositories of the past and suggests speculative paths to the future. The Ried is a field that spans between topological objects (mountains, hills, flanks) and temporal events, thus creating a volatile interspace in which the liminality and border phenomena of a landscape history and its multitude of actors can be experienced and reconstructed in order to learn more about the interconnections between natural and cultural environments. The mapping consists of the repeating attempts to survey this field and measure its dimensions and opens up a creative technique to discover and reproduce spatial narratives – in continuation of the stories already written in the soaking soil and with the intention of portraying the dark aesthetic and mystical spirit of the moors and the desire to revive them to their once pristine splendour.

“The Architect is responsible to create the spirit of a thought. And to translate through whatever medium is available a sense of place, whether it be in a text, in a drawing, in a model, in a building, in a photograph, in a film. The Architect concerns himself/herself, with the mysteries of space and of form, and is also obligated to invent new programs. It is essential that the Architect create works that are thought provoking, sense provoking, and ultimately life provoking. Or more precisely, life giving, to what appears to be at first inanimate materials. The Architect enters into the social contract in the deepest sense.”5Hejduk, John. Berlin Night. Rotterdam: NAi Uitgevers, Netherlands Architecture Institute, 1993. p.18.

A strange “sense of a place” is certainly something one can feel when entering a bog and thus always existed as a “spirit of a thought” in cultural memory, but it is nevertheless quite difficult to fathom and even find words to describe. How could this ‘spirit’ be approached, deciphered, and translated into a rather architectural language? ‘But what does a moor have to do with architecture?’ — That question was often the first I got asked when elaborating on the thesis project. In the process of mapping and drawing to approach the Ried, profound spatial implications came to light again and again, which are also reflected in the layout of the villages, farmsteads and roads. In a way, the moor seems to elude integration into spatial networks and spatial planning and thus sets a counter-narrative to the built environment. But it also contains a variety of hybrids, transition zones, and interlocking areas where built structures, spatial interventions, and natural forces interact. A question that has occupied me for a long time is how the essence of a place (“Ort”) manifests itself — on the one hand as a physical entity, with a geographical (and even a cosmic) coordinate, a geological and ecological history, and on the other hand, as a mere mental space, a culturally rendered and purely imaginative world, held together through the physics of collective thinking and memory and shared through language and continuous storytelling. This is often evident in the names of the surrounding villages, parcels of land, bodies of water and landscapes, which frequently refer to the moors and marshes that once occupied the depressions of the alpine foreland, but which today exist only as a vague memory through these names. As the research area in question is the place where I grew up and lived allows to approach the moorland also through personal experiences and memories. So while my biography seems to be interwoven with the fabric of the land, it has also captivated countless generations of people since the dawn of humanity. Its deep history ranges from the first human settlements on the shores of the long-gone post-glacial lake, over its transformation into a large bog and its later reclamation and industrial exploitation, to today’s conservation efforts. The moor itself is thus a witness to various stages of civilisation and climatic phases. The project unfolds on several levels of investigation: Initially, it looks at the origins and conditions that once led to the creation of this place, and attempts to trace the dynamic evolution of the natural bodies in a spatial investigation of the bog itself — as a multilayer typology, rich in stories and strange phenomena and as a collective object of anthropogenic modes of land-use and natural forces. Further the project asks how a place is constructed in the sense of connecting an individual human with a landscape and its history, and how this different threads of meaning could be weaved into narration. The particular moorland has been a stage of my own biography, but at the same time it has tended to elude my own “world” – and thus existed mainly on the fringes of consciousness. Its bewildering character disconnects it from social and civilisational realms and creates a sphere of different laws and intentions. But in this sense it bears the possibility to work as a mirror or outpost that observes and reflects the anthropocentric world and thus can offer us to cast a view from an outside perspective onto the human world, we are captivated in. This ability to put oneself in other perspectives and really try to be and think as something else seems to me to be a fundamental condition for ecological thinking. So the following pages shall work as a tool for the reader to imagine the perspectives, time scales, and dreams of entities that differ very much from our selves. This could be a bird seeing the bog as a last refuge in the landscape, a sphagnum moss that is able to lift the whole body of peat towards the sky, or the soil as a multitude of life, death, organic matter, water and minerals, as a witness of countless time periods… Built architecture is always connected to the soil or ground as a foundation. At the beginning of every building activity, the question arises as to the nature and character of the respective soil. Not only does the type of soil shape the form of the architecture, but the architecture will also have an effect on the condition of the soil. In this context, the ground must not be thought of as a static physical state, but as an amorphous entity that is shaped by time and an infinite number of processes, growing or shrinking, and always reflecting human activity on its surface. Since we can imagine the bog as an archive – a device to store, translate and hide stories – the project’s starting point is a form of collecting physical objects, impressions, writings, and sketches. The items that are archived are from manifold resources, containing photographs (Self-made or historic images), botanic samples, textual descriptions, essays, poems, thoughts and scientific sources, Sounds, Visions, Stories, Objects, and so on.

The research started with digging and collecting site-specific research and cartography. The scope of the work is next to the research approach a personal confrontation with the landscape and the terrifying beauty of its individual fragments and particles, stories and phenomenons which often remain hidden in everyday human life. So I was looking for biographical signs and events that took place on a particular ground. The precise research and mapping of one’s own traces embedded in the landscape, work as kind of a reinsurance of our very existence in past times. Maybe it is also a strategy to cope with a looming future that is able to alter every place we know in unprecedented ways. The past and present land use and the anthropogenic influence on the global climate have effects on all environmental phenomenons like the temperature, soil condition, vegetation and fauna, hydrology, and even the geology of the earth’s crust. The work does not claim to provide a scientific exactness or to produce empirical data but sees its contribution more as a connecting element between the different sources of knowledge and research and as an experimental curation of narrative paths leading through the interlocking dimensions of landscape. It is not so much an objective collection and listing of data but a visual interpretation of the discovered phenomenons, with the aim of creating some kind ‘Naturgemälde’, that combines data with emotions – matter and time with a narrative. The project is tries to revive a visual history of this wet-landscape, not as a coherent narrative but “more [as] a meandering thread weaving its way between disparate times and places”, as Stuart McLean formulates it in his consideration of intermediary states of matter in “gelid ,semiliquid, semisolid environments such as bogs, swamps, and marshes [that are] lying on the fringes of human settlement.”6McLean, Stuart. BLACK GOO: Forceful Encounters with Matter in Europe’s Muddy Margins. University of Minnesota. in: CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, Vol. 26, Issue 4, 2011. pp. 589–619. (American Anthropological Association) Mapping is used here as a graphical encounter with matter and further as a biographic tool, that allows tracing own connections with the land and its aggregates. Analogous to a city, the mapping regards the moor as a complex metabolism of biochemical processes and multi-species interaction and conflicts. The wetland is imagined as a living (or dead) entity that is constantly rebuilding itself, as well as a monument of collective memory, able to grow, shrink and transgress temporal and spatial borders. Its nature as some kind of ‘anti-architecture’ – a structure without foundations, without clear boundaries- constantly changing topography and hydrology – asks what spatial interventions and architectural typologies could be proposed to ensure further regeneration and resilience to an accelerating climate predicament.

Archē and Architecture of a Bog

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Hello, I’m Ferdinand –  architectural designer currently living and working in Vienna, Austria. I recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Architecture from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where I focused on the relationship between city and landscape, the motif of the garden, and the hidden worlds and ecologies that unfold in intersecting spaces.

Diploma Presentation. Mehrzwecksaal, Semperdepot. Januar, 2023

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