Albina Nurgaleeva, Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, December, 2013
"Cities of the future will be like the village today" The world is experiencing explosive dynamics of urbanization. These processes occur in Russia too. It seems that the traditional village on the verge of extinction, at least in Russia. People are forced to move to the cities for various reasons, primarily economic and socio-cultural. Some see the solution in the development of so-called eco-villages. According to various sources, there are from 150 to 300 eco-villages in Russia today.
One of the oldest Russian eco-village Nevo-Ecoville is located about 20 km from the Karelian town of Sortavala, founded in 1994. Nevo-Ecoville became part of a global network of eco-village, and in 1995 received a grant of $50 000 from the Danish organization "Gaja Trust", supporting Ecovillage Network worldwide. On the funds settlers built the section of road from the village to the highway and power line. Part of the money was invested in the architectural and construction company "Mir", which allocates money for basic needs: fuel for tractors, firewood, building common areas, road repairs, organizing cultural and educational programs, etc. Nevo-Ecoville try to cooperate with the local authorities and the Government of the Republic of Karelia. Currently there are draft of program which will help develop this area as eco-tourism and educational. Earn directly in settlement only two farms: one is zoned nursery seedlings of fruit trees and berry bushes. Other - experimental orchard and garden, cultivated with alternative agricultural technologies. Some residents of the settlement works in architectural and construction company â€œMirâ€?. Today there are the 11 families have the land with a total area of 14.6 hectares, 6 winter (capital ) and 7 summer (insulated) houses, 4 baths , greenhouses, cleared springs and a chapel. Among the settlers are the architects, engineers, teachers , geographer, gardener, forest engineer, designer, biologist, blacksmith. Inhabitantâ€™s ages are from 3 to 84 years old. The development program involves the central manor with socio-cultural infrastructure (education center, shop, hospital, communication center, public-hall, hostel) and several separate settlements.
There are expected to develop ecological tourism, fisheries, forest nurseries, craft workshops. Income from their activities must support the entire infrastructure of the settlement.
I spoke with an architect Ivan Goncharov, a founder of Nevo-Ecoville, one of the oldest Russian eco-villages, founded in 1994.
Ivan, how you got the idea to create exactly the eco-village? You are an architect, this profession is urban, and you used to live in the city. From which you run away? What kind of motivation was moved you? I escaped from unjust world. But we were likely not running from something but to something. I leave the city [St. Petersburg] being motivated by two things. First was the desire to recreate the space in which I spent my happy childhood [holidays in the countryside]. Second were the mental constructions which were based on Eastern philosophy. This is something of which was woven my inner virtual world that I just tried turn to reality. We were the three families. The courage of our human qualities has allowed us to find the bravery. So we made this step from conversations in the kitchen about sweet dreams to starting to build this world in reality. How to build it was not written anywhere. Which ideology we have been based on? We are [the organizers of the settlement] the children of the sixties, grew up in this ideological thaw, people are not pressed by the system internally, I do not really understand what it is. I grew up on those books that were in my parents' house: Indian philosophy, yoga... We were wondering how the world works in a global context, rather than any human psychology, rather, we needed to understand man's place in the world. Our principles of teamwork were based of the ideas of Carlos Castaneda, plus integral and Agni Yoga. Many more ideas were, occult even, but these three ideologies were basic. These doctrines guided us in trying to understand how to make our world. How did you imagine the organization of life in the community at the start? Did it follow on some existing model? What happened in practice? The image of project was like this: the most beautiful location, away from the civilization, the large common home where several families live. There are workshops, gardens, of cause. So, our first form was based on the construction of a closed, all-sufficient, spiritual developing world for the elite, advanced people.
The trouble is that professionalism is not claimed in the initial stages of this kind of community. As a rule, new worlds are built on the principle of negation of the existing world, isolation inside a cocoon. In the foreground are the self-sufficiency and radicalism: "you are all the fools, I know how it is right". Doctors are fool because medicine treats incorrectly, builders, because they do not know what kind of materials they have to use, others do not know how to engage in agriculture and so on. In fact, this alternative, eco-village in the first stage of creating "their world" usually immediately casts professionalism, which is the basis for creation the forms of environment and society in the “unjust outside" world. Following the above, we established the construction of a rigid structure: without a plan, without a clear idea ... We planned a very short time to construct this world, just 2-3 years. It was such a monolith with strongly integrated subsystems. So, what came as a result after these 17 years? Looks like life settlements today? Now all is absolutely vise versa. It's almost the opposite. Every family has built its world that it sees fit. We base system network, not made of reinforced concrete and self-sufficient family of spaces. Each family, in accordance with its ideology, resources and opportunities, rebuilds own world. Further these families began to build networked relationships. However, we have some basic ideology and clear criteria: the unity of the territory of the settlement, life in goodwill, cooperation, self-reliance, and freedom of religion, the openness and active integration with the outside world, ecology and creation. In addition, we do not set ourselves any rigid time limits now. We understand that it is impossible to have a baby in month, even if we all decide that this should be. Nowadays is 10 families is the residents of the Nevo-Ecoville, it’s about 70-80 people (adults with children is about equally). But we do not consider it is important to permanent residence. We are not determining “alien” by how long has person living there, we have only defined the attitude of man to the space. If someone comes there just for a month, but try to improve the space, the physical and social as well, for us this individual is a team member. Previously, we took a collective decision, and everyone had a hard part of the determination of these settlers live. Freedom of choice is our main principle today. If you have opportunity to visit Nevo-Ecoville even just once a two year, you are welcome, we are glad to meet you if you really feel happy here. What is the principle of life is different from your settlement a dacha community? There is also temporary place to work, relax and enjoy nature. Firstly, the dacha is surrounded by fences, there another feeling of space. Secondly, our village is not a place of temporary stay it is the place to live. On the contrary, for us a city is the place of temporary stay, actually. For example, I spend 4-5 months in the village, and the rest time of the year in the city 20 km away from my house in the Nevo-Ecoville. The reasons are that I need to give children an education and my own professional development. But my home is in the village. Your children raised and born in the settlement, where they want to live? Freedom of choice should be at all levels, including in children. If our world is not so interesting to children as the city, then it is our fail. I am glad that my oldest son, he is 31 years old, returned to the village. Pleased that the second, he is a student,
studying in St.Petersburg, said recently: "You know, Dad, but we did better in the village". There are a few families which living permanently in Nevo-Ecoville, they teach their children at home, but we opted for our children traditional schooling, socialization, alternatives. But in our village development program provided infrastructure, including schools and social center. This is a potential. Speaking of potential. Ivan, did your settlement is an alternative to the suburbs or the something alternative? I find it difficult to classify. Easier to talk about the quality of the environment in different levels. The first is the infrastructure level, the comfort level of life support. Second is a social environment, the quality of society. For instance, we have a tradition to spend the holidays together in Nevo-Ecoville. We have a common ground for it where is a big public hall where we organize different events such as festivals, seminars. There is totally different quality of environment. We even have our own fairy-tales, very deep mental relationship in our villageâ€™s society. And we all build our own image of the future, which is associated with our country. Do not interfere with the prefix ECO? Previously prevented, we do not use it now. We have a â€œmodel of sustainable and innovative development of the territoryâ€? now. Tell us about your project of this scale? What is the result will be? We create one of the key generators of innovation; it is called eco-techno-park. We tried every possible way to generate human potential that will develop space technology is laying the powerful social development, not nanotechnology, not genetically engineered. We now have a few complaints from the authorities, to cooperate on the development of such models. They started look at us differently, we are not marginal with an alternative way of life for them now. We are professionals; people who are serious, competently and responsibly offer a solution to the problems of ordinary people, our country. We are a real working system, muscle mass. If the program is run, then in two or three years 150-200 families we are willing to accept to build their own world with us. There is a problem in Russia, the people, the land is abandoned, the degradation in the country for me is obvious. If this process is not stopped, then the end of the ball game. My grandchildren will no longer speak in Russian, like the Romans, they just died. So, I do not want us to be gone. So I understand that we need to create a project that we can do only in the collaboration with authorities, scientific community and society. So again, the difference to the fact that we started with is a very principled. We do not oppose ourselves to anyone; we are actively working to interact. What positive changes in the urban environment can attract you to live in permanently? Nothing, only urgent need.
Did your professional architect’s background influence on the principles of settlement environment? Without an any doubt, the professional deformation of mine is played a role. Moreover, I also grew up in an environment of architects. In my opinion, an architect is an amazing, universal profession; it’s on the border of technical and humanitarian activities. We studied very practical things, like metal constructions, for example, and the history of art at the same time. We were accustomed ideal combination of things that appear mostly in the arts, with very practical. What is an architect? He is the one who designs and builds: create a virtual image, and then you have to build it. Here you are not an individualist, alone you can do nothing. Furthermore, the architects are often involved in social experiments; this is a very interesting profession, giving a wide choice to realize the ideal in the material. So, the profession of architects let me to make the first step in very beginning. What in the future awaits us in context of the cities and villages, in your opinion? In what space will people live? I can say as an architect and urban planner with the experience of living in different spaces. So, as a person, consciously watching these environments, I have an inner belief that the existing city is absolutely hopeless in creating livable, innovative model. Most likely, they will play the role that is the village played today. City will be auxiliary, temporary, secondary forms of spaces. It is absolutely clear to me. City absolutely has no future, why? This conclusion is compared to richness of life which gives us the organization of space countryside and urban area. It's hard to explain, but when you start to live in the land contact with the alive nature, the inner world gets a huge amount of information and experiences ... Alive people need alive environment. For me, the city as a radioactive zone in which people have to stay a short time, to achieve certain goals as education, professional, for some temporary missions. Cities are like spaceships, closed systems. Letting inside these ships some lively environment, we can somehow reduce these destructive processes. After all, the city was established because of the complexity of communication, it is purely a matter of crowding communications. Once communications are addressed, and they are already almost on the verge of solutions, the city will cease to be effective in humans. Well, maybe the city can still remain under severe climatic zones, where the issue is not communication, and energy efficiency will stand sharply - to create comfortable spaces in hostile environments. But this, again, will be the place of temporary residence. A human in need of the living space instead of in artificial environments, others formed, wherein the amount of various bonds at several times smaller than in the natural environment, and more aggressive in humans. The further we think of human as the human, not just consumer, the city in the form in which it now exists, will be doomed. Well, if the ideas about the future of cities by Ivan come true at least half, I hope, the alternative urban life will allow us to not only enjoy nature and subsistence farming and the revival of crafts. I wish that the human will have the opportunity to develop with a much higher quality of life on the nature, both physically and intellectually. I hope the really innovative models and more advanced alternatives for the cities will replace the any ordinary “so-called eco” village. That is what I sincerely wish personally. A.N.