Walking into the Countryside and its Future at The Guggenheim

An innovative, continuous exploration about rural areas along the futuristic ramps

Want to go for a trip around the world? Visit out-of-the-way places? Meet interesting people?

There’s no better trip than hanging out with Rem Koolhaas and his think tank, AMO, in their all-encompassing exhibition, Countryside, The Future, on display at The Guggenheim through February 15.

It’s a colorful, engaging, data-driven, and provocative show that began as a response to the fact that population projections show indicate that in the not-too-distant future only 20 percent of people will live in the countryside.

1909 photo of three peasant women in Kirilov, Russia

Rem, Samir Bantal of AMO, and their university collaborators believe that many of the most important, exciting, and radical innovations are happening outside cities, and this is their way of taking you there.

You’ll zip into the past, zoom into current village experiments, watch videos, and meet robots as you swirl your way up the Guggenheim’s ramps.

Listen to famed architect Rem Koolhaas explain the context for the project and research that make up this extraordinary experience:

As this promo notes, this exhibition opened just a few days before New York City and all the museum shut down to mitigate the pandemic. The team did not foresee the impact that the pandemic would have, but the exhibition could not be more of the moment.

1,000 Koolhaas questions about the countryside and society

In the audio guide, the curators say that you can view the exhibit like a buffet (just snacking on this and that) or dive in and read/see everything.  When we experienced Countryside, everyone was digging in, reading, watching, absorbing, and interacting with everything.

View part of the exhibition in our Flickr album.

The show begins with Rem’s 1,000 questions about the world and the future. He makes it clear that he and the team are not there to provide answers – that’s up to you.

How “countryside” has been equated with leisure since Roman times

There’s a walk through history on the next level by way of fun floor-to-ceiling collages filled with Romans from murals, Chinese people from scrolls, quotes, and fun facts – all to drive home the fact that for 2,000 years, major urban sophisticates have seized upon the idea that city people need to visit the country for peace, quiet, contemplation, leisure pursuits, and artistic inspiration.

The history walk continues by exploring Marie Antoinette’s decision to create a rural “hamlet” on the Versailles grounds, the desire of Sixties Hippies to create communes in the country, and the emergence of today’s rural “wellness” spas and retreats.

Qatar’s solution to achieving national food security after the June 2017 border closure

The story continues by presenting details about efforts by famous political leaders to “redesign” their countries rural regions on a large scale – Jefferson’s adaptation of the 640-acre grid for developing the West, how the Soviets scaled up collective farming, FDR’s “shelterbelt” policy to minimize soil erosion in the Thirties, and the agricultural emphasis in Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

The most startling story is how Qatar, which imported the majority of its food, did years of research into ways it could be self-sustaining. When the Saudis jammed Qatar’s border in 2017, the country already had a plan. Within 36 hours, it airlifted in 4,000 cows and milking machines, a move that immediately (and successfully) started its domestic dairy industry.

Chinese service that lets city dwellers select apples from trees

The exhibition takes you to villages in China where interesting things are happening – a dying farming town that transformed itself into a “wellness” tourist destination, and an apple-growing region that uses livestreaming on mobile phones to let city-dwellers pick out the specific apples that the villager will pick and ship to them overnight.

The exhibition includes mini-galleries on the move to “preserve” nature, presenting facts and posing land-use questions related to mountain gorilla habitats in Central Africa, permafrost melts that are exposing mammoth fossils, and American billionaires buying and preserving Patagonian land.

Humanoid PALRO robot from Fujisoft in action

The top floor is alive with roaming robots powered by Roombas, who invite you to enter mini-theaters to see worlds beneath the ocean, developments of industrial facilities run completely by robots, and vast expanses of industrial-level agriculture. You’ll even meet PALRO, Fujisoft’s humanoid robot who hangs out with seniors in Japan, and Prospero, a little robot farmer that’s designed to work in swarm teams.

Hear all about the research and collaborations behind the exhibition and how the exhibition design brings it all to life:

To take a leisurely stroll through the future, listen to the audio guide.

For the full report, purchase the book (a steal at $12).

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