The Tomb and the Monument

“Only a very small part of architecture belongs to art: the tomb and the monument. Everything else that fulfils a function is to be excluded from the domain of art.”

– Adolf Loos, architectural theorist

There is an elegant truth to this statement. Whilst I might argue that all built structures have architecture in their DNA – that architecture is an inclusive aspect of society rather than something relegated to the realm of the privileged – architecture is also something that carries a gravitas with it. It forms a sociocultural marker in time; it is a manifestation of this very abstract of human comprehensions that forms an indelible mark on our landscapes and cityscapes.

Monuments are an important part of our collective architectural language. More than anything, they serve as these markers in time: as iconic images that remind us of particular periods in our history. Parts of that history may be good and parts of it may be bad, but it is history and as such serves an incredibly intricate and vital purpose of the human experience. History teaches us: it teaches us how to live, it teaches us about the mistakes made by human beings driven by passionate purpose and ideology, the great triumphs of mankind and how they were achieved. But above all else, it equips us with the cognitive skill set requisite in making complex decisions as we chart a brighter future for our society.

There are far greater issues at hand that plague society than the idea of mere destruction of landmarks. Yes, the argument for destruction in order to create something new out of that debris is a rather romantic and thus enticing notion, especially for someone of a creative inclination. But selectively destroying portions of history in order to create a tailored version of it siphons-off valuable intellectual energy that could be employed to better effect in actually doing positive work that can uplift our existing society.

The eradication of these edifices is therefore counterproductive to building a stronger, intellectually healthier society. Instead, it diminishes all that was done to achieve the present victories. We cannot be selective when it comes to something like history. History, time… these are entities far greater than any single human being. All we can do as citizens keen on architecting a better society is to learn from them, both the good and the bad, to internalise those lessons, to properly comprehend them, and then begin to formulate our blueprints for the future.


Red Civilisation: Our Future among the Stars

Maybe we’re on Mars because of the magnificent science that can be done there — the gates of the wonder world are opening in our time. Maybe we’re on Mars because we have to be, because there’s a deep nomadic impulse built into us by the evolutionary process — we come, after all, from hunter-gatherers, and for 99.9% of our tenure on Earth we’ve been wanderers. And the next place to wander to is Mars. But whatever the reason you’re on Mars is, I’m glad you’re there. And I wish I was with you.

–Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Contemplating a life on our neighbouring Red Planet has always fascinated me. In 2009, I presented a talk for my English class on colonizing Mars, and the research I gleaned from that exercise has fuelled my imagination ever since. After reading Carl Sagan’s excellent book Cosmos, and watching the brilliant reboot of the series hosted by one of my favourite scientists, Neil deGrasse Tyson, I have once again begun to think about what it would be like to build a society on Mars.

Earth’s human population is increasing at an alarming rate. This is having significant spiralling effects on other aspects necessary to sustain life: the depletion of natural resources, subsequent environmental damage, and myriad health problems. In essence: our planet is being hotly contested for the sustenance of our precariously built civilisation.

Thus we have two options: to seek out solutions to our current predicament (which is hastily being done by passionate people from diverse professions). And to seek out other possible places for habitation.

The latter option is both absurdly outlandish and deeply compelling to those with an affinity for the creation of something new.

Human beings have always been nomadic – we’ve always had the impulse to explore, to go beyond the horizon and discover things. It makes sense, then, that the quest for Mars has always been on our roadmap. It’s just the challenge of getting there that’s been the obstacle on our path. We’ve made significant steps, though: NASA’s Mars rovers, the most recent of which, Curiosity, is doing a sterling job of understanding Mars. The robots getting us closer to that ultimate goal of finally stepping on this mysterious red world…

But when (and not “if”) we get there, what will our civilisation be like? We have the opportunity to start fresh. To reimagine our politics, to create a new culture – to develop, if you like, a “Society 2.0.” After a generation, we will be the Martians. And the shaping of anther planet will take our species from being shaped by the evolutionary forces of the Cosmos to being the shapers of worlds, the creators of entire planets, and disseminating our species further amongst the stars.

It’s an exciting and immensely frightening prospect. Perhaps there will be friction between those who dwell on the “home planet” (Earth) and the new society developing on Mars. What will interplanetary economics be like? Could there be a possibility of trade between both planets? And, of course, management of resources has the potential to spark the fires of war. The surface area of Mars is equal to the entire landmass of Earth; if our population continues its exponential rise and we end up shunting a fraction of that off to another world, there will inevitably come a time when Mars itself will be facing similar challenges. And discoveries of precious resources could be another reason for planetary invasions and dissent between both worlds… Of course, issues of religion will also be a major factor: religion was, after all, a major component of historic expeditions to new worlds. Now, with the momentum of science and the advancement of technology, would we be able to transcend such things, or to effectively update our philosophies to encompass dual-world inhabitations?

The contemplation of future societies amongst the stars is filled with rhetoric. But it is these questions that can spark further debate about the sociocultural aspects of inhabiting other worlds. Imagine travel brochures offering getaways to Olympus Mons… “experience fabulous Valles Marineris…” New architecture for a new world, new means of transport, living, working, entire professions rewritten for a red planet…

I leave you with this message for Mars by Sagan:

“The gates of the wonder world are opening in our time…” –Carl Sagan