Monday, 17 November 2008


The Anarchist Gardener is planting the fragments of a new layer - a Human Layer - into the urban environment of San Juan. He shuns self-induced stress and the dominance of inorganic power not based on real reality, which are destroying the ecological balance and the health of modern man. The Anarchist Gardener is working the city towards kindness.

The Anarchist Gardener believes that people are good in the end. Kindness and other real realities will always find a way to reassert themselves. Like the air around us, we notice it when it gets polluted, when we run out of it. New air always comes in - the house is drafty. The Anarchist Gardener works to fill the void in today's valueless society with ethics. The real reality of kindness is now smothered by material nonsense.

The Human Layer is an urban-planning macrostructure implanted in San Juan, Puerto Rico, by Casagrande & Rintala, Finland, together with 5th-year students at the New School of Architecture / Univ. Politecnica de Puerto Rico: Marel Del Toro-Cabrera, Omar Muniz-Munoz, Francisco Arco-Alonso, Ferdinand Rodriguez-Santiago, Marcelo Lopez-Dinardi, Sonny Maldonado-Amill, Herik Tomassini-Suro, Josue Rivera-Gandia, Ronny Marini-Goris, Pedro Claudio-Montalvo, Oscar Oliver-Didier.


The Anarchist Gardener for PR'02 / m + m proyectos.
Curated by Paula Toppila for Open Marks.

- Plan for a tram network connecting Bayamon and Hato Rey that uses the unfinished Light Rail system.
- Human Layer macrostructure in San Juan.
- The cityZEN_book
- A series of 12 industrial Zen gardens between Bayamon and Hato Rey. Procession by The Anarchist Gardener from Bayamon to Israel. (3-9pm, Sat. October 12,2002)


As architects, artists and urban planners we want to find out, what tools and methods can help us understand the subconscious social layers of a city, and to react to them with designs or multidisciplinary activities combining art and science. We want to work with urban problems from the viewpoint of basic human realities, such as kindness.

Coming to San Juan was a shock because of all the cars. The entire city is planned for the private car. The cityscape is not human scale, but car scale. The city is experienced primarily from inside a vehicle.

Cars don't need vegetation - parks or trees. Pedestrian areas are viewed as no-man's land and are dominated by cars. The city and its people have already given up. Of course, cars also pollute the air (7am smog, 5pm smog). Nature, including human nature, is a loser if the car-city.

The Anarchist Gardener wanted to react to this and looked for ways to do so. Together with the students we started the urban planning of a Human Layer for San Juan. We produced plans for a public transportation network for the hoped-for Light Rail link between Bayamon and Hato Rey. Strategies were also devised for winning back the waste land for pedestrians and cyclists. The plans were shown on television and were further worked on for publication in the cityZEN_book.


On Saturday, October 3rd, the Anarchist Gardener walked from Bayamon to Israel (neighborhood in Hato Rey). Because of the fanatic nature of car driving, we wanted to respond on the same level of intensity by having a quasi-religious parade to escort the holy pedestrian from the suburbs to the city centre.

The Anarchist Gardener dressed in white was surrounded by black uniformed followers and marched into the town. 12 cityZEN_gardens were created during the walk. The materials lay camouflaged in the surroundings or on previously chosen sites, and these Zen gardens of industrial waste were made so as to encourage post-industrial meditation. Each garden was the size of a car parking space - 2.5 x 5 metres.

Strangely enough, the walk had an unpredicted spiritual impact, when the presence of Eleggua, who for followers of the Santeria religion is the guardian of crossroads and like Mercury, the messenger of the gods, was seen in the procession. Eleggua is the Yoruba Orisha of chance, standing at the crossroads, opening and closing the doors to all possibilities.

Like the material for the cityZEN_gardens, Eleggua lives on street corners, or sometimes in woods or on riverbanks, ocean shores and garbage dumps.

The Anarchist Gardener was acting to push the people to do the almost impossible: to win back human influence as a leading factor in urban planning.


In Puerto Rico Casagrande & Rintala were once again to collaborate with architecture students, this time from the New School of Architecture at San Juan Polytechnic, where the opportunity to hold the crucial workshop with the students was taken so as to brainstorm about real problems of city planning in Bayamon.

It was soon clear that the biggest problems have to do with the defective or largely non-existent infrastructure for pedestrians and public transportation. Thus, at the beginning of the workshop, the students and the architects walked all the way from San Juan to Bayamon (15km) along Route 2, the most hectic highway connecting the two towns, to live out the experience of a pedestrian, to get the motivation to look for solutions.

The students spent long days in their "office" at the school during the 13 days the process lasted - studying maps, making models and drawings, trying to figure out possibilities for constructing a commuter train line, etc. An essential part of the workshop was also planning the presentation of the project to the audience. They were to arrange another public appearance, a procession, march or demonstration, this time from Bayamon to Israel in Hato Rey.

During the procession, the 11 students and Marco Casagrande would stop 12 times, each time to make a Zen garden the size of a parking space out of soil, gravel and abandoned car parts. This could be done at the side of the road, but also in the middle of the street, disturbing the traffic.

The students were dressed in black cargo pants, black T-shirts and black caps, and walked carrying red umbrellas. Casagrande was dressed in white, carrying a white umbrella, playing the role of Hernando, a character invented during the workshop and encountered many times during the first practice walk - the little white man who gives you permission to walk at Puerto Rican traffic lights.

To the audience it seemed obvious that this was some kind demonstration or performance for more ethical city planning, for preserving nature, or a demonstration against cars and traffic pollution. But I realized that some people also took it as somehow being a religiously charged event. I heard that some followed the performers for a long way in a religious trance-like state.

Antonio Zaya, independent curator and editor and himself a Santeria priest, helped me understand some of the signs and symbols that from a very broad perspective seemed to match those of Santeria - the colors of the clothes, the number of participants, the materials used in the composition of the Zen gardens etc. Suddenly I too realized that my arms had come out in goose bumps and the atmosphere changed totally for me.

There was an incredible synchronicity and the work became much more than was planned from its initial earthbound, practical, ethical starting point, and it offered a more profound understanding and interpretation of life.

The Anarchist Gardener
Connections between cityZENs from Japan, Finland, and Puerto Rico

For an upper-level Design studio, architecture students from Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico and an architect from Finland explored suburbia’s possibilities through the interpretation of Zen philosophy and the writings of Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, Finnish contemporary social critic, also translator of medieval Arabic literature. Myriad explorations culminated in the development of a master plan for a most “aggressive” metropolitan/urban context in the Caribbean island, and the design and construction of ephemeral installations around different locations within its capital city.

An intensive charrette turned students into “anarchist gardeners” committed to increase public awareness of the car as an act of imposition in Puerto Rico, where geography makes urban space scarce. A six-hour walk through one of San Juan’s most congested automobile routes – at peak hour - provided the opportunity to publicly decry the lack of an effective urban pedestrian network and to engage in a symbolic reclaiming of space now devoted to parking in the city. Ad-hoc (and short-lived) Zen gardens were erected along the route: their 2.6 x 5.5 meters proportion made reference to the standard parking space which, in contrast, pollutes the land with asphalt.

The anarchist gardeners advocated planting a new “human” layer in the city - one of kindness - in clear distance from today’s self-infected stress and dominance of invented powers indifferent to true human concerns. Being now deprived of kindness by material nonsense, we need to fill the void in today’s valueless society with ethics, no matter how naïve, passé or merely schmaltzy it may seem.

City dwellers view urbanity through the lens of a deep-rooted anti-urbanism. Urban life is generally understood as a disturbance of the carefully negotiated balance between the individual and society, between part and whole. In Puerto Rico’s capital city, disturbances are the result of understanding the metropolis in terms of its process of diffuse suburbanization. Conflictive elements come into play; long routes are traveled between suburb and work, relying heavily on cars and not on urban spaces of flow, cohabitation and correlation.

For eight years now, Puerto Rico has been engaged in its most ambitious urban project ever, the establishment of a Light-Rail Train System in San Juan, a first for the Island’s capital. The so-called Tren Urbano Initiative has provided a unique background to understand how change unfolds in the city: demolitions, roads retraced, vistas both discarded and newly opened, land abandoned, lots reclaimed… the pedestrian forgotten, large areas of suburbia ignored. Being confronted with this condition, students devised a master plan through which a tramway system would be integrated to the urban train project, in the interest of connecting the so-called Bayamón area to San Juan, in order to compensate for the difficulties which arise from urban sprawl and pedestrian disconnection.

The Tren Urbano project aims at appeasing growth and sprawl problems plaguing the city, the impact of parking, and other environmental and traffic congestion dilemmas. However, in order for this scheme to succeed, elements in the vicinity of the train stations must be integrated to the proposed plan. Even though, the train project will implement bus circulation and parking infrastructure around the stations, little attention has been given to the re-structuring of pedestrian alternatives in the city. Those who live far from the train stations or have to walk through obstacles to reach it (avenues, freeways or car territories) will be discouraged from using the system if no alternative is offered to them..

The Anarchist Gardeners developed a project that integrates a light tramway system to that of Tren Urbano, thus reducing walking distances to a minimum. Several routes connected diverse areas and stations. All of these were to be accompanied by an express line and a circuit line which would link the suburbs and important commercial and activity sectors to the diverse train stations. The tramway would arrive in intervals of 3 to 5 minutes to foster the use of the train system and reduce the impact of the car in the city. In our urban landscape, the complexities and factors which define its patterns and behaviors are greatly influenced by external forces. These include economical and social conditions which, more than often, are beyond the architect’s hands. Urban ecology, social exclusion, crime, local economics, community development and urban culture, all influence the outcome and general conception of the city.

Faced with said situation, the students (Anarchist Gardeners) (re)created themselves as cityZENs committed to participate in a rich, fluid and multilayered dialogue to improve the city’s urban fabric. As a first strategy to rescue territories for the pedestrian, a process of deterritorializing areas was promoted. Single uses were discouraged, exclusivity in purpose denied. Car and pedestrian were (re)conceived in terms of possible vertical relationships.4 Clear distinctions between the territories of the car and the pedestrian were studied. Elevated and underground walkways underlined the empowerment of the city’s multiple possible levels, diminishing the conflict between humans and their surroundings. Zones and territories of the pedestrian and the car were weaved to generate an environment of mutual respect. If the car recognizes the need to coexist with the pedestrian and, in some instances, even share spaces with him, a feeling of coexistence and harmony can befall the city. Zen gardens were chosen to best represent such possibility.

After rehearsing it, students engaged the public in a six-hour+ walk across the city’s most car-congested routes, to denounce the lack of an urban pedestrian network of significance in San Juan. Sporting black uniforms with the phrase “Who cares wins”, students paraded several kilometers in total silence, adding to the ritualistic nature of the event. Red umbrellas, opened and closed in unison, highlighted their presence at all locations. Finnish architect Marco Casagrande disguised himself as Hernando, an allegorical figure representing the pedestrian today ignored by planning. The march of the Anarchist Gardeners lasted from early afternoon until past sunset.

Encounters with bystanders, drivers and even the police, were many. Having previously hidden equipment and materials near each chosen garden location, the gardeners could quickly set up each Zen installation as if choreographed. Each garden a different theme and name: Genesis (where the event started); Money (next to a banking institution); Lost (under an overpass); Roof (below elevated train tracks); Flux (fighting traffic with ice); Shopping (in proximity to a mall); Park(ed) (at a parking area); Lost Link (validating an unused street segment; and Promised Land (the last garden, in a community originally named Israel). Tectonics underlined the message: straw, wood, sand, glass, rust, found metal objects, fire and ice, were among key garden construction materials.

Tram, walkways and Zen gardens introduced a new layer to the existing urban context: a human layer. An organic matrix of “democratic” infrastructure was thus installed over the existing city, supporting humanity and sustainable development - a culture of slowness, communication, conversation, and contemplation. The Anarchist Gardeners urged their audience to distance itself from over productivity, self-inflicted stress and the dominance of invented powers which are destroying the ecological balance and mental health of modern man. When the car no longer dominates urban planning and urban space, there is room for people and humanism. This leads to kindness. Slogan-like expressions like this one impacted the public.

How did this project come about? Architect Marco Casagrande, from Finland, led the effort in Puerto Rico. He is a partner of Casagrande & Rintala, a firm based in Helsinki, noted for translating ideas originated in other fields of knowledge into works of architecture. Casagrande was one of several avant-garde artists invited to an international event held last October in San Juan, Puerto Rico, concerning linkages between conceptual art and contemporary architecture. He worked together with students from The New School of Architecture at Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico: Marel Del Toro-Cabrera, Omar Muñiz-Muñoz, Francisco Arco-Alonso, Ferdinand Rodríguez-Santiago, Marcelo López-Dinardi, Luis Maldonado-Amill, Heryk Tomassini-Suro, Josué Rivera-Gandía, Ronny Marini-Goris, Pedro Claudio-Montalvo, and Oscar Oliver-Didier.

Professor Rigau is the Head of the New School of Architecture, Puerto Rico Polytechnic


1 comment:

Marcelo López-Dinardi said...

Marco, is Marcelo from San Juan, in a random search i found this page, good to see it and good to know from you in a way, best! Please visit and it's blog to see some stuff we're doing here.