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Amsterdam - 14, 15, 16 November 2002

New Arcania

Willem Minderhout

Two and a half millennium ago, Heraclitus, the crying pholosopher, wrote down that everything changes. In these changes certain flows can be observed.
We looked at existing ways that the major flows of the present are predicted and coped with. We then asked ourselves: what would happen if we did not try to either resist or contain these flows but rather would utilize them as architectural principles?
Firstly I will briefly describe three ‘flows’ that shaped our thinking. I will then describe our design for New Arcania: a concept for water based urbanization that goes with the flow rather.


The effect of climate changes on the geophysical reality of the Netherlands is potentially very dramatic. This country is already for the larger part under sea level, rising water levels means that we are living on a slowly sinking raft.
The response of the Dutch thus far has followed an almost genetic determinism: lets fight the water by harnessing the rivers in a corset of dikes! Presently, as a second line of defence, the Dutch have now identified polders that can be ‘inundated’ in order to ward off greater disasters.
We asked ourselves: what opportunities would be created if we did not threaten to sacrifice the ‘inundation polder’ communities in times of crisis but gave these polders to the river permanently? Can we enrich these communities by creating a water based urbanisation?


Could water based urban forms contribute to present day socio-economic flows?
Network organisations are increasingly popular strategic responses to crumbling, bureaucratic, hierarchies. Lifetime employment seems to be something of the past. The welfare state is under strain.
The standard response has been to create an ever-larger shield of collective arrangements.
We think that an effective response could be: not to fight the increasing atomization of the workforce but rather to focus attention on generating new kinds of links and connections between workers.
The flexible worker needs a flexible city. Water and digitak networks could be the main media to form such a city.


Shifting work roles require a fluid construction of our individual identity. As the self becomes more fluid and contingent, the freedom to choose an identity may translate into the obligation to choose multiple identities.
As Castells notes, the legitimising identity of the nation-state is in decline, resistance identities, based on race and ethnicity are on the rise. We should be looking for what he calls a ‘project identity’. In this, individuals strive to build a new identity on the basis of present day shifting, cultural forms and, by so doing, seek the transformation of the overall social structure. This is what we envision in our society of New Arcania.


At least two fundamental design elements of New Arcania support this future:
Firstly: Arcania is composed of ‘self-organizing complex systems’.
Whilst people have increasingly become drifters, the primordial yearning for a place to call home has not waned. Thus why not cure homesickness by carrying your home with you as a hermit crab does? Within New Arcania, when people move they do so not as drifters but from within their homes. The Arcanian homes are semi-autarkic units that can be seen as fractals recombining into ever changing configurations.
These water bound trailer parks have an advantage over their land bound counterparts. Water is not only a perfect medium for mobility, but also envelopes the urban space; stimulating the formation of self centred, ‘arcane’, communities in the sense of ‘Gemeinschaft’.
In chaos theory fractals organize themselves around ‘attractors’. In New Arcania the housing units also organize themselves around an attractor or giant docking station.

Secondly, within Arcania pervasive and parallel computing provides the infrastructure for social and political cohesion. Pervasive computing is primarily about making connections. Parallel computing is aimed at making the whole more than the sum of its parts. In new Arcania digital connections should allow a society to become more than the number of its citizens.
Thus the digital networks are the enablers of the social dream.
Around the attractors an Arcanian archipelago will emerge. The connecting digital networks are the carriers of administrative, social and economic processes. They allow shifting neighbours to ‘log on’ to each other in order to share not their computing power, and other utilities. They allow a form of direct participative democracy based on the ideals of the ancient Greeks.


In short: New Arcania is about creatin a new water based environment.


That protects the existing river system against water abundances.


And gives room for new, flexible urban forms.
The artist’s impression behind me provides a visualisation of a New Arcanian colony premised on current technological know-how. Around a land-based core with apartment buildings and public facilities, we see floating greenhouses and arc like homes in a basin whose water level rises and falls based on the needs of the water.
Praatje bij plaatje.

‘The Arcanian way’ is about using major flows in order to connect and combine our knowledge, dreams, computing power and willpower to shape a common future. And, the Arcanian way is about going with the flow rather than trying to harness and constrain it.

Will we ever get there? Who knows, but we certainly will enjoy the journey.

Thanks for your interest.

updated Monday 31 March 2003
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