FLOWING AND FLOATING: The third edition of the Amazon Visiting SchoolProfile

by Nacho Marti, AAVS Amazon Director and AA Technical Studies Tutor

25 July 2017
Mamori Lake, Amazon Rainforest

 

“My body is like a sphere,” the great Japanese Judo master Kyuzo Mifune used to say when referring to the fact that he never lost balance or fell down in a fight. Mifune became one of the greatest judo fighters ever by using the opponent’s force in his favour and he taught his pupils that, with training, a person’s body can become just as capable of adapting their balance as the constantly transforming sphere.

 

Japanese Judo master Kyuzo Mifune

Japanese Judo master Kyuzo Mifune

Mifune practiced Itsutsu-no-kata or “Forms of Five”, a type of judo based on five sequences of movement that express the power of nature. The five forms state: “It is impossible to defeat something when it’s in its pure form”, “You can win without resisting”, “When two things turning come together, they continue turning and then naturally separate again”, “When a big wave rolls up onto the shoreline, it draws back out washing and filtering out everything in its path” and the last one, “When two forceful objects hit, they will destroy each other but, if they never meet, they can continue to exist stress free”. To me, these principles are not only extremely useful in life but also very relevant in architecture.

Every building, and every person, is subjected to forces, physical or abstract, vertical or horizontal, constant or intermittent. Forces can be dealt with in two ways: embracing and flowing with them or opposing them. Similar to Mifune, I have always preferred the first option. Several analogies can be used to support my choice: in white water rafting, the best is the one that better reads how the river flows and avoids any friction or obstacles; in a storm, the flexible thin blades of grass are more likely to resist strong winds than firm big oaks, and a shipwrecked person is more likely to survive in open water by floating.

 

The forces of nature are visible every day, and those like the weather are usually too strong to counter. This is particularly evident in Mamori Lake where the forest and river dynamics are omnipresent. Often, when they manifest, one feels insignificant. There is a force in the Amazon rainforest that has an upward direction and buildings that resist it have lost in the battle for supremacy. Water levels in the Mamori Lake vary greatly between the dry and wet seasons, when the river can grow up to 14 metres, flooding the forest and changing the physiognomy of the land. Currently, local houses are built on stilts to deal with tidal variations but in recent years, this has not always been enough to prevent the river from causing devastation. Conversely, and much like Mifune’s idea of being a sphere and winning without resistance, there are several floating plants in the Amazon that have developed clever buoyancy strategies to adapt to this ever-changing environment.

 

A section through the floating plant eichhornia crassipes

A section through the floating plant eichhornia crassipes

Sea-levels are rising due to climate change and it is predicted that hundreds of millions of people that live in areas vulnerable to flooding will have to abandon their homes. This August in the Amazon Visiting School, we want to explore new types of floating architecture that recognise this upward force exerted by water and embrace it. By learning from the judo master Mifune, from the great masters of architecture Otto, Gaudi, Nervi, Candela and Soleri and, most importantly, from nature, we will design floating buildings that will aim to help humanity to adapt to flooding. In this unique adventure, I will be joined by my friend Marko Brajovic, a brilliant architect and co-director of the Amazon Visiting School, and by Alessandra Araujo, an amazing biologist and expert in biomimicry who will make us see the astonishing Amazon rainforest ecosystem in a unique and new light. There are still places available so we invite you to come and float with us.

 

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