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Regress or Progress? A return to the roots

The adventures of a Polish couple in Portugal and inside themselves

The decision to step ” back” (to apast life style) certainly isn’t very easy. The contemporary way of life is inmany aspects  too comfortable and too predominant to start considering resignation fromit for even a little while. Today's society consciously and subconsciouslyrefers to the past way of life with a kind of disapproval,  but still doesn’t have enough determination (or motivation) to separate from it.

We also had doubts – being a  pair of polish architects, who three yearsafter graduation and work in architectural offices, decided to make a stepbackward, i.e.: to step out from the cycle of consumption, dependence on the "high"technology in search of the space, which would provide us with a sense offreedom - however relative, but still - freedom,and in our opinion much larger,than the one which offers us contemporary city life.

Why do we call such a move a step backward? Our idea was to find the “lost land”, both: in regard to the place devoid ofred tape and the network of illogical dependences, as well asin respect to the method of work, which we applied in the time of our studies,but have unfortunately lost along with their ending.

Certainly, working time at the architectural-town-planning offices enabled us toacquire the practical course, not merely theoretical skills. However, we were lacking in the coefficient of flexibility (or freedom), workingmethod structure: “idea – execution”, and finally a distance to constant deliberationsof financial and legal aspects, which in our opinion restrict stimulatingcreativity and innovative thinking (especially in Poland).

Thus, interrupting indefinitely ourprofessional career, in the early autumn of 2009 we found an organic farmlocated in southern Portugal called Monte da Cunca.
Its residents -Dania and Klaus -with the help of volunteers, are trying tocreate a self-sufficient structure, experimenting with all techniques includinglow – tech ones, above all bearing in mind the respect for the environment.
This place is one of many on the network map WWOOF program (http://www.wwoof.org), whose idea is to exchange experiences in the field oforganic lifestyles in return for non-profit aid.
Unlike the hierarchy thatcharacterizes modern firms (client> employer> employee), on this farmthere is a principle of the common (host = volunteer) making decisions for the implementation of joint projects under the guidance of passionate and experienced volunteers in the construction field.

We had achance to learn building techniques (mainly “low-tech” ) from clay / earth,straw, adobe brick, wood or bamboo, from construction to decoration.
In addition, you can explore the knowledge concerning different devices, which use renewable forms of available energies, or proposeyour own solutions, because, as it was already mentioned, the program assumesthe EXCHANGE of experience. One can see how solar energy, using devicesdesigned according to ones own or others projects, heat water for daily baths,generate electricity or simply serve to cook food. Additionaly, one can learnhow to produce energy from biomass using gas generators or compost digestors.

"forgotten knowledge " is certainly found here.
The strategy taken by the residents, which is directed toward autonomy,translates also into producing their own food, energy production for their ownneeds (electrical, heat), also to the  sale of the surplus energy and surplus food,to make best use of their products (to minimize possible losses).

So far (in the last three years) thehosts managed to jointly renovate the old building intended for residentialapartments for rent. In addition, a volunteer’s residence was also build, including: kitchen, dining room, bathroom and a common space. there is ongoingwork on a greenhouse. Above all, besides the construction work volunteers workon the cultivation of organic food.

The possibilities given to us by Cunca’s hosts, were what undoubtedly fascinated us as architects.

It was not only turning toward environmentally-friendlysolutions, but also experiencing pure creative pleasure again. We had theopportunity to participate in decorating a straw bale building and restoring a half-destroyedand abandoned caravan.
Jobs, in spite of being non-profit and often heavy, enabled us to pursue ourown “live” ideas  and  we were required to have constant creativethinking in order to find unusual solutions.

Those so called unusual solutions were indispensable, due tothe limitation of available materials found on the site or just reused.materials.

We were struggling many times with a situation inwhich the availability materials dominated the idea.

Throughout the entire time we felt that the most important aspects of our workare the values found in the personal and direct communion with architecture.

This short note on „return to the roots” aims to raise awareness of how muchinfluence is exerted on reevaluation of the way of thinking about the contemporary lifestyle ... it´s aim is to provoke the search.

Our experience, short, but already rich,enabled us to come to some personal conclusions that  the step back to the roots is not, as it iscommonly understood, an alternative way of life.

In our opinion, this is the traditional and properway, having been forced out by the present lifestyles and found as second-rate or inferior.
John Zerzan calls this return as a “dance on the ruins of clocks, computers and of what our notion improperly expresses as a job”. However, lets just stay with a simple statement „ the step back brings back thepure satisfaction of symbiosis with nature, a marker of human beings”.

Thanks To Dania and Klaus and all woofers we met Joanna SówkaSowińska, Tomasz Sokolski