same as it ever was

Collective imaginaries

* An updated and edited version of this text has been published in the book “Designing in Coexistence – Reflections on Systemic Change”.

Collective Imaginaries workshop was hosted by the Study centre of the Zagreb Faculty of Architecture in Motovun, September 2023. Reflections by Tonči Čerina, Vedran Kasap, Niko Mihaljević, Ivica Mitrović, Mia Roth and Ozana Ursić.


This workshop explored the pasts and futures of coexistence between humans, animals and nature, focusing on the symbolisms used to represent these relationships. They present a collective imaginarium embodied in beings and shapes communicating beyond their origin, legible on a subliminal level. The workshop posed the questions of how architecture, design and art can become tools for transforming the way people interact with nature, specifically which formal idioms facilitate this interaction. Can specific languages of objects facilitate communication and understanding of fragile equilibria of systems we belong to? How do collages of the existing and the imaginary interpret coexistence, and how do they contribute to the development of a new approach to the physical environment? The workshop aligned with the concepts of “presence”, “ongoing and effective care that stays alert to many sorts of history”.[1]Triggering the desire to gain this understanding comes through intervention and artistic interpretation, which communicates on levels of inherited collective memories and subconscious recognition. 

Triggering discussion and thinking about the topic of the workshop, instead of concrete problems that need to be answered object-wise or project-wise, the students were presented with a series of associative art works of different architects, designers and artists: Doug Aitken’s Migration series, Marcel Broodthaers Interview with the Cat, Brötzmann and Beenink’s Schwarzwaldfahrt, Casagrande and Rintala/Eggertson’s Land(e)scape, Gusmão and Paiva’s Papagaio, John Hejduk’s Victims (Berlin memorial), Alan Hook’s EquineEyes, Patricia Piccinini’s Long Awaited, Ben Rivers’ Origin of the Species, Schulz’s Inclusion Model, Thomas Thwaties’ Goatman, Pinar Yoldas’Petronephros, and local masquerade customs.

Collective imaginaries in Motovun (Photo: Hrvoje Franjić).

Process as outcome

Bringing together a design and architecture group consisting of Croatian students, teachers, and guests, the workshop invited projects that combine traces of nature and culture and strive for a new approach in design practice. Shortly after the start of the workshop, it became evident that avoiding the imperative of the outcome, i.e. solutions by which we measure “progress”, made room for the oh-so-needed “idle hours” in which it was possible to exchange intimate thoughts and experiences about the processes that we are part of, sharing them with other participants. 

Volumes of the indistinct, hidden, sensed and unarticulated are trapped in our subconscious. In order to release them, it is necessary to create a space and time in which, relieved of the burden of delivery, we can reach new (or reestablish neglected) connections by communicating with other people, beings and objects. This sharing led to a number of different and unexpected approaches to the workshop theme: whether it was about embedding one’s own personality in other beings, phenomena or plants, raising awareness of the known or simply erasing outdated canons and recognizing new ones, the participants enabled new readings of our reality as the first step towards changing the way we interact with the world and symbolically represent these interactions.

The participants were instructed to change their roles from problem solvers to examiners of the essence of ubiquitous relationships. They were invited to reimagine relationships between the inanimate and living. The usual educational procedures: task/problem – project/solution, were replaced by an open process characterized by observation, intuition and empathy. By reaching inward, drawing from their own experience, memories, myths, intuition and imagination, the participants came up with tools and methods that re-established new imaginaries of nature-culture relationships.

Collective imaginaries in Motovun (Photo: Tonči Čerina).


One of the goals was to make participants aware of the width of the the scope and agency of design and architectural practice, stressing the importance of stepping out of the imposed professional frameworks of the material, tangible and measurable. Crucial to this release is engaging one’s imagination, aligning to Alfred N. Whitehead’s description in his essay on education: “Imagination is not to be divorced from the facts: it is a way of illuminating the facts. It works by eliciting the general principles which apply to the facts, as they exist, and then by an intellectual survey of alternative possibilities which are consistent with those principles. It enables us to construct an intellectual vision of a new world.”[2]

Through questioning the human and non-human relationships, giving voice to invisible or neglected actors with whom we share the planet, in order for them to surface, and renouncing the “man-is-the-measure-of-all-things” perspective, the participants examined the processes of becoming-animal, becoming-earth and becoming-machine, intuitively realizing the idea of “post-anthropocentric posthumanism”, as Rosi Braidotti describes it.[3]

Collective imaginaries discovered glitches in bonds with our environment, taking on the identity of neglected beings or natural phenomena, redefining rites and rituals stemming from elements no longer existent, giving voice to forms of guerilla resistance of plants, challenging relationships to our subconscious fears and triggers. 

Collective imaginaries in Motovun (Photo: Ozana Ursić).

Artificial landscapes

In this work, the role of interiorized, highly stylized clips of nature is recognized as the key to establishing everyday escapism in the life of a contemporary individual. These extracts are no longer in any relationship with their real nature and fulfil their given limited role regardless of their context. Nature is reduced to a mere picture, a faded representation of the whole. The meaning and position of nature in the general environment is questioned, redefined, set free. Stepping backwards, treading the tracks towards the point when things went wrong.

Students: Nikolina Meter and Sandi Terzić.

“Mycorri fight through strong resistance”

Plants were stripped of their natural habitats in which they grew and bred, and communicated without interruption among themselves and with animals. Plants are reintroduced into these artificial environments, replanted and reshaped to enhance the human experience, reduced to this simplified role. Cutting roots, branches, pulling, pruning, limiting growth is an inevitable negation of their natural state during which we perceive them as quiet sufferers. This perception relies on the context of human measurement of time, our rhythms of life being the rule against which we consider change fast or slow. In parallel, plants slowly fight back to regain their natural reign. They raise concrete, penetrate roofs, crawl into cracks and turn walls into sand. A slow fight is happening below our feet, a fight we are unaware of. Plants are given agency as guerilla fighters. They unite and print leaflets calling for struggle and resistance. Humans are unaware of the slow yet steady progress towards reclaiming what was taken.

Students: Dora Mihinjač and Klara Čopec.

The Subnatural Calendar

Resettling legacy baggage is the first step in establishing a new reading of our environment, and this open proposal challenges the seasonal definitions and natural phenomena embodied in a calendar whose origins are rendered abstract, obsolete and removed from their sources. Starting with the analysis of one’s relationship with nature in the context of a subnatural urban environment, the project proposes a new calendar using the same principles as the traditional calendar. This cyclical calendar maps the simple and everyday routines, elevating them to the level of seasons and rituals, and in that form highlights the absurdity of our everyday habits. With loosely defined seasons that overlap, the “new subnatural year” has periods of different densities, which are marked by ceremonies calling for a new way of communication. Derived from the form of old runes, new symbols emerge. 

Students: Nika Čerina, Helena Hlišć, Karmen Ivančić, Bartul Krivić and Fran Polan. 

Rupta Via

Is there a mechanism by which people can deal with feelings caused by wild natural disasters like floods, so that feeling can be intensified and in a certain way lead to the awe of nature as a force? Flooding is a claustrophobic phenomenon that reduces operating space, making us disoriented, insecure, and unstable. By evoking this feeling through a specific construct and linear movement, an attempt is made to achieve a spatial experience that leads to those elements, intensifying their experience. The project’s speculative construction is conceived in the form of a long tunnel that is laid along the bank of a river (Sava). At one point the tunnel enters the river itself. The entrance to the tunnel is placed in the form of a triangle, which becomes the section, gradually reducing the geometry of the tunnel in two dimensions (width and height). The exit from the tunnel is narrow and one has to crawl out of it. An outgrowth (a sound installation in the form of a long tube that takes sound directly from the river and transmits it to the inside of the tunnel) is attached to the structure from the outside.

Students: Lucija Nemet, Viktorija Paljug, Petra Pedišić and Luka Nera Sibila.

The Crumbs

This project’s primary objective was to explore methods for giving a voice to nature, which is frequently marginalized and disregarded. Inspired by the Croatian magazine “Ulična svjetiljka” (“Street-light”), which amplifies the voices of marginalized individuals, particularly the homeless, the project embarked on a creative endeavour to shift the narrative in favour of animals. By using parody, this approach involved giving voice to universally reviled animals by taking newspaper articles and reframing them. In this reinterpretation, the boundary between the human and non-human realms becomes blurred. Readers are encouraged to question their relationship with animals and nature as a whole, prompting a reconsideration of the article’s focus and the identity of its central subject. By leveraging humour and satire, the aim was to stimulate critical reflection on the human-animal dynamic and challenge preconceived notions about the roles and perspectives of all beings in our shared world.

Students: Stela Brkić, Alen Marković, Slavko Petek and Eva Rezar.


  • Doug Aitken, Migration (Empire), 2008.
  • Etienne-Louis Boullée, The Temple of Death, 1795.
  • Marcel Broodthaers, Interview with the Cat, 1970.
  • Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink, Schwarzwaldfahrt, 1977.
  • Marco Casagrande and Rintala Eggertson, Land(e)scape, Savonlinna, Finland, 1999.
  • João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, Papagaio, 2015.
  • John Hejduk, Victims (masques in competition entry for Berlin memorial), 1984.
  • Alan Hook, Equine Eyes, 2019.
  • Patricia Picinini, The Long Awaited, 2008.
  • Ben Rivers, Origin of the Species, 2008.
  • The Inclusion Model by Schultz, 2002.
  • Thomas Thwaites, GoatMan, 2016.
  • Pinar Yoldas, Petronephros: Kidneys for the Plastivore (Ecosystem of Excess), 2014.
  • Halubajski zvončari (photo by Domagoj Sever, 2023).

[1] Haraway, D. J. (2022). Speculative Fabulations for Technoculture’s Generations: Taking Care of Unexpected Country. In: Van Dooren, T. and Chrulew, M. (eds). Kin – Thinking with Deborah Bird Rose. Duke University Press, pp 70-93 (originally published in Artium Exhibition Catalogue, Vitoria, Spain, 2007).

[2] Whitehead, A. N. (1967). The Aims of Education and Other Essays, The Free Press.

[3] Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman; 1st edn. Polity Press.