Historically, medicinal gardens reflected a transcendental understanding of the cosmos. Being living archives of a well-established knowledge, their architecture was the materialization of a precise political order, in which man and creation were given a stable position. What kind of knowledge should be mobilised in a contemporary medicinal garden? What kind of political assembly should be articulated by its architecture?
The Garden of Active Ingredients is an attempt to provide an answer to these questions. The garden is designed to establish a dialectic relationship with the complex of the new Bergamo hospital, of which it aims to represent an unofficial – and perhaps sightly thorny – en-plein-air pavilion.
Its introverted architecture hosts a parliament of humans and plants, where forms of co-existence between different curative practices – and the natures/cultures they mobilise – are represented, discussed and negotiated. A such, its vocation is not didactic, but strictly political: how can we find common rules through a better articulation of differences, instead of through their normative erasure?
The garden provides a real-time representation of techno-political controversies currently bonding humans and plants around the problem of healing. The different areas of the garden are organized around a series of overlapping criteria of classification.
The first of such criteria regards the legal status of each plant, vis a vis current EU protocols of authorization and commercialization. If the meaning of the term pharmakon denotes both medicament and poison, such criterion regards how the risks connected to the use of herbs – both in western/clinical and in so called alternative or traditional medicines – are currently being managed.
A second criterion regards the process of production of drugs – be it herbal, semi-synthetic or synthetic – and its economic and ecological implications.
Finally, plants are positioned in different areas of the garden following a principle of cultural and geographical representation.
However, the borders of each area are to be considered as fluid, that is, subject to gradual transformation in time: this entails that well-known plants may be moved following changes in the legal framework, or depending on the emergence of new fashions and cultural hybridizations; in addition to that, new species may ask for representation as a consequence of unprecedented migratory fluxes and demographic transformations in the EU. Thus, differently from what happens in traditional medicinal gardens, the same species can be found in several different places around the garden, making visible shared genealogies and ongoing cross/pollinations between different traditions of cure.
The garden is surrounded by a walkway that provides access to three small buildings – three light pavilions loosely hosting different functions: a café/restaurant, a multifunctional hall (gym and auditorium) and a small office with a depot annexed. The pavilions are light, modular constructions, adapted from standard industrial greenhouses modules, and they are therefore very cheap and quick to build.
Facilitating the discussion, divulgation, trade and consumption of herbal products, the three buildings work in synergy with the garden, disclosing its use to the patients of the hospital and to all the inhabitants of the city of Bergamo.