For millennia people have made journeys eastwards. Alexander the Great, with his phalanx. Pompeius Magnus with his legions. Richard Lionheart with his crusaders. Vasco da Gama, with his little Armada. Napoleon with his grenadiers, the Britsh with their Royal Navy and the Americans, let’s say, with a certain rhetoric. Asians, less frequent, also traveled the other way. Among them King Darius of Persia, Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, Zhengis Khan, and the contemporary Chinese diaspora. The first was stopped at Marathon. The second lost to Charles Martel. The third suddenly dropped interest. And the latter increasingly seem to ponder today if all the wandering has been worth it. If not their new homelands want them out.
Strife, hostilities and other profound misunderstandings have marked these journeys and campaigns in the past thousands of years. Even trade seldom occurred without violence. Right now, in the middle East we are witnessing another chapter in a history that goes back to biblical claims. But today Eastern and Western antagonisms are dwarfed by the universal threats of our global climate break down. East and West need to come together as never before. A bridging between East and West has already been necessary for mutual inspiration and cultural rejuvenation. Mutual recognition also engenders peace in a political landscape increasingly marked by uncoupling and finger-pointing. But the most existential reason for east and west to stand together is to prepare for the looming existential climate disasters which only our joint efforts will be able to address. The challenge is re-weaving a thread of curiosity and re-fostering a sense of collaboration to bridge political and cultural divides. It’s the precious fabric we need for our current age. A new Silk for the 21st century. A new Road for sustainable and lasting connections.
I volunteer to contribute to such road. In its ideal form, the road should be tangible, interacting with the planet and with real people. The road also needs be traversed at a slow enough pace to perceive, digest and accept realities on the ground. Finally, the road should be staged, allowing the experience of crossing the boundaries between languages, customs, religions, historical scars, world systems, and fashions. I envision this road with a transport that depends on my own energy and efforts at a pace that permits each of these encounters – with the bicycle.
I will therefore embark on a bicycle tour from Amsterdam to Shanghai, my current workplace. I will start on my own, but hopefully not travel alone. This platform connects me with many people. Some of them maybe be located somewhere on this road, in Amsterdam, Vienna, Istanbul, Tehran, Samarkand, Urumqi, Luoyang and Shanghai or somewhere in between. I welcome engagement, encouragement, and discourse. If there are any designers, curators, historians, or creative individuals on this path, who would like to meet, greet and perhaps collaborate, I most appreciate their contribution. For example, hosting an event revaluing the place as an indispensable cornerstone in the architecture of connection and understanding. The nature of such meetings, content and format, as well as timing and exact location, can be openly discussed, no doubt heavily determined by local circumstances.
I teach at the architecture school of Tongji University, Shanghai, which allows me to frame my expected experiences with architecture, the medium of culture that combines the volatilities of life into a piece of undeniable reality. Architecture is as metaphor of the relentless human effort to make better, or at least meaningful places in this world, with gardens, buildings and cities. This is the architecture we need the most today, providing guidance on the tricky road we are on. Architecture is what connects the beginning and the end of this journey, from a first event at the KU Leuven, to an unpacking ceremony at Tongji University. Let’s see how it transforms as our oldest civilizational medium, across the vast landmass called Eur-Asia.
Welcoming your feed-back.