Utopia in Honduras

Over the last 18 months, as governments around the world used the China flu to diminish already limited freedoms of the ordinary citizens with lockdowns, mask mandates and restrictions for those who do not wish to use an experimental medical treatment, many liberty minded individual are wondering, where can I go to?
The answer could be a Free Private City in Honduras.

The private city concept is an effort let by Titus Gebel to persuade governments officials to allow for autonomous zones where business & employment can develop freely. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this idea is more likely to gain traction in poor countries that have failed their own citizens the most. In 2015 the Honduran government adopted a law that allows for the creation of autonomous zones called ZEDE’s, where taxation is limited to 5% and the owner is responsible for all infrastructure and services including security.

View on Guanaja Island from one of the outer cays

On paper the potential is huge, which business owner doesn’t dream of a low tax, low regulation environment? Yet after 5 years not a whole lot has happened on the ground. Even when the legal framework allows for the creation of little Hong Kong’s, Honduras remains… Honduras.

Latin America is, apart from Africa, one of the hardest places to do business. Contracts mean little, handshakes even less, promises get broken, court cases go to the highest bidder and business partners rob each other without shame or remorse. Latin-American countries are called ‘Banana Republics’ for good reasons.
In addition to that, the ZEDE concept is constantly under fire from left-leaning press eager to defend the vested interest of some of the richest and most powerful men in Honduran society. There is no telling how many ZEDE’s have been tried, but one thing is for sure, only very few will succeed. Two that have broken ground, Ciudad Morazan and Orquidea, both are industrial oriented free zones backed by major Honduran industrialists. A good development, especially for unemployed Hondurans, but not much use for covid refugees. After all, moving to a crime ridden big city in Honduras is not a way to increase your personal freedom.

What about the ZEDE’s out on the Bay Islands, a world-famous tourist spot for divers and popular cruise ship destination? Here we find two groups trying to establish a ZEDE: Prospera on the biggest island of Roatan, and Guanaja Hills, located on the stunning island that goes by the same name where I find myself writing this article. Neither one has buildings you can move into at the point of writing, and it will take a lot of effort and investments to reach that point.

The cliché Caribbean beach including Instagram model

Caribbean islands are the zenith of idyllic relaxation, a dream shared by many living in more northern parts of the world. But as you might have read in one of my previous articles, reality doesn’t always match the dream. First there is the weather: some months of the year are extremely wet, with as much precipitation in a month as continental Europe or North America receives in a year. Other months wind is strong making it difficult to go anywhere by boat, and every ten to twenty years a hurricane trashes the place. As a tourist enjoying the pleasant weather while being spoiled in a resort you would never know and think it is always perfect.
Furthermore, there are practical problems of building remotely: the ZEDE’s will have to built their own water & power systems, docks, roads. Supplies have to come from far, the logistics are complicated and skilled labor is limited. Nothing that cannot be overcome with investments, but it means the end-product will not be cheap.

Which brings me to back to the main question: how good will a ZEDE do for freedom oriented utopia? Truth be told, not much in the near future. You’re looking at a minimal investment of $100.000 to build a small house and buy a boat. If you don’t work online or have some passive form of income you’d be traveling back-and-forth between places which isn’t a joyful experience due to covid-hysteria and increasingly more expensive and complicated. And even if you have your own income, the bay islands are small, it’s easy to get bored, and not so easy to visit friends & family.
Not doubting the good intentions of the investors, they are really trying very hard, but they still risk creating a resort for a small group of wealthy, middle-aged, liberty minded individuals, instead of creating a community for freedom loving people of all stripes.

Perhaps after 5 years a community will have grown here to a size that it can offer more job opportunities and entertainment. But that is of little use if you are in a country where your liberties are being taken away right now. So if ZEDE’s in Honduras can’t provide an immediate need for freedom, what can?

Launched with the best intentions, Galt’s Gulch Chile quickly turned into a scam by one of the group’s founders

Over the years, many libertarian ‘states’ have been tried, from the Minerva project in the seventies to more recent endeavors in Chile and Argentina. It is a list of tragic failures. Only one such project has achieved a level of success: The New Hampshire Free State Project. Unlike any of the other projects, the aim of the Free State Project never was to find sovereignty in some remote and challenging location, but to simply look at a US state that was already fairly free and not too densely populated, so that a small group of libertarians moving in could have a serious impact. The first efforts were made in 2003, and since then at least 5000 people have made the move to the state of New Hampshire. Many of these members since got elected into state- and local legislature, and the impact the group has is huge with events being organized year round.

The main reason FSP succeeded where others failed, is that they launched their project within the same country as their main target audience, in a place that has jobs available, infrastructure, houses and so forth. It wasn’t a huge step for its members (yet it still took a while to attract serious numbers.)

FSP members have upheld gun rights, decriminalized marijuana use, and address a host of other topics in New Hampshire

Considering all other attempts have failed, it stands to reason to copy the FSP model and to apply it in Europe or Asia, with a few modifications. Rather than focusing on a state, we should aim smaller at the municipal level. For no random group of Europeans is going to make an impact on the politics of Portugal or Slovakia. And while it would be great to for example prevent a nationwide mask mandate, it is already a vast improvement when you have no such mandate in your own municipality and can shop and send your kids to (a Montessori) school breathing freely.

Another modification would be to make sure that the location has a more pleasant climate than New Hampshire, which is one of the coldest states in the US. For people from neighboring states which are overtaxed, over-regulated and densely populated but have a similar climate it wasn’t such a big step, but for many Californians, Texans or Floridians that was a big drawback. Therefore a place in Scandinavia would not make it on the list. But something in the south of Europe would certainly appeal.

Three years ago my wife and I spent a summer in central Portugal traveling and doing volunteer work and lived for a while in a village called Santa Comba. The area is fairly pretty but doesn’t attract much tourism. The larger town of Seia has about 20 thousand inhabitants and most of what you need in terms of groceries and materials.
The region has seen an out-flux of people, many have moved to France for work or even further, and only old people remain. When my wife and I started attending mass on Sunday, the old people were delighted and soon started donating fruits, vegetables and homemade wine. We rented a three-bedroom apartment for $150 per month and gave serious thought to living there. However, with no passive income nor luck getting work online the summer eventually came to an end.

Yours for €15.000

Southern Europe is full of such dying villages. But you might wonder wouldn’t a project there suffer from the same limitations as a ZEDE in Honduras? There are several factors that make our village in Europe much more appealing:

  1. Existing infrastructure: most of these places have water, electricity and good internet
  2. Cheap real estate: even people with little money can buy a ruin and fix it up.
  3. Cheap flight or a long car ride away from the rest of Europe. People who have a job elsewhere can still spend a lot of time in the village, or perhaps only keep a small apartment where they work.
  4. Good holiday destination: even if the project fails, it is still a pleasant place to visit so you won’t lose your investment no matter what.
  5. Little political opposition. On the contrary, some countries even have programs to stimulate new residents moving to dying villages.
  6. Not too extreme: people are creatures of habit, most of us prefer something familiar over something exotic. Spain/Italy/Croatia is much more appealing than Honduras for 99% of the public.

We could also choose a village in a central region of Europe, more expensive than Southern Europe but much closer to major industrial and commercial areas. In the east of Belgium for example, close to the German and Dutch border, there’s a village that until 1920 was its own independent country: Moresnet. A historical anomaly that was simply ‘absorbed’ into Belgium after the First World War but never by official agreement. Europe is full of such anomalies and while these places are unlikely to regain full sovereignty, at least you can make a strong case for it and win in the court of popular opinion.

This entire Italian village was listed on E-bay for 300.000. There are more where this came from.

With a large number of liberty loving individuals concentrated in one municipality we would be able to create a parallel economy in the same way the Amish manage to do in their territories: no matter what the federal or state governments decide, the Amish find ways to maintain their lifestyle and protect their members when necessary. It’s a successful model we can copy (without the religious aspects.)

Now imagine we start on a campaign for a European Free State Project, what could we achieve? Would it be possible with a lot of publicity to attract a hundred, two hundred, or even one thousand people to move to one village? I’m confident that out of the 744 million Europeans, we should be able to persuade a few hundred people to make the move to a village which would quickly become a beacon for the liberty movement and an inspiration for others to do the same.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

FROM NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TO INSTAGRAM PART II

Last April I completed a project which had taken me almost a year. For those who haven’t read the first article let me give you a recap: on the mostly uninhabited and remote Caribbean coast of Panama, a group of investors acquired a large piece of land, with several beaches on it the biggest stretching over 300 meters. However behind that postcard pretty beach is, or was, a massive swamp. And the first step for draining a swamp is contracting a Dutchman, yours truly.

Because of environmental concerns and logistic constrains the project relied exclusively on muscle power, my team averaged between 12 to 22 men and one woman for diversity purposes (just kidding, she was our cook). With the exception of chainsaws and boats no motorized equipment was used. Even the workers accommodation was entirely built out of wood, with chainsaw, hammer and nails.

Over the course of the project we dug two channels each close to one kilometer in length, and changed the course of a stream. A steady flow of water now debouches into the sea where there was none before we started. One thing I learned from the experience is that we as a society have a tendency to over-complicate (construction) projects. Here we are, no electricity, no cell phones, just a group of strong men with the most basic of tools. I drew out a simple plan with pen and paper, we map it out (ok I did use GPS there) and simply started working. Work hard consistently and eventually you get the job done.

By contrast: organizing the logistics for the use of heavy equipment not to mention permits would most likely have been more expensive and probably taken just as much time.
In addition to the canals and housing, several hectares were cleared and planted with coconut trees, and many ornamental plants were planted for future gardens.

Architecture as a cure for nihilism

Last year I wrote about the reasons why modern/contemporary architecture is so often dreary, devoid of soul and downright ugly. I used Malta as an example since at the time I was studying Maltese architecture and meeting with many architects and artists working in Malta. Now you can read my long overdue architect manifesto in which I present solutions to this problem.

Perhaps first and foremost I should point out why bad architecture is much more important than bad visual art or music: It is much easier to turn off music or not visit an art gallery than it is to avoid huge hideous buildings. Shelter is a prime essential human need; other art forms, while also essential, are lower in the hierarchy.
Any art form is an expression of our values. Our appreciation of beauty and the aesthetics we develop are an expression of our highest beliefs. Physical ugliness in art and architecture is a sign of spiritual poverty, in the same way an unkempt house tells something about the mental health of its occupant.

Without venturing deeper into the philosophical causes for our present state it can simply be summarized as nihilism as the prime mental disease of our time. Society worships nihilism, but man cannot live in it.

Good architects can help cure this disease, and this is how:

Appreciation of beauty

For thousands of years the pursuit of beauty was the prime motivation for artists to create stunning, timeless and priceless works that centuries later people still appreciate.

Philosophers who attempted to rationally explain what is beauty, from Aristotle to Kant, wrote about the golden ratio, Fibonacci numbers, the Vitruvian man, symmetry, mathematics such as the Pythagorean view, harmonious shapes & colours, imitating nature, and the organic whole.

From all this wisdom we can derive reasonably objective standards of beauty. It is not just in the eye of the beholder: no one in their right mind would claim the Wicked Witch to be prettier than Doroty, nor choose a dog turd over a dog. Artists and architects can play within variables but to completely ignore beauty standards equals self-denial and only leads to inhumane creations. Perhaps in the context of an art museum such explorations can be interesting, but when it pollutes the public space it constitutes a crime against humanity.

Timeless beauty

Usually large public works projects are are introduced with the most profound words, fancy renders and mock-ups presented during lavish buffets. The experts are easily fooled, for it takes a certain level of intelligence to fool oneself that something ugly is in fact good, and group-think settles the consensus: few dare to say the emperor has no clothes.

The public at large, confronted by an abomination on a daily basis, is much harder to fool. People cannot live in a fancy discourse, we need beauty, the kind of which our ancestors lived in for countless millennia before the birth of civilization.

One of these houses is designed by a world-famous architect, the other by a virtually unknown. Which one would you rather live in?

To acknowledge that the old masters knew better how to achieve beauty does not mean we should copy their work or style, rather we should rediscover the principles on which they are based.
Beauty, after all, is not a relative -ism but an eternal absolute.

When Louis Sullivan coined the maxim: ‘form follows function’, he did not give architects a free pass to abandon every stylistic touch or ornamentation that isn’t strictly necessary. One casual glance at any of his buildings would tell you that he obviously believed beauty is also a function. And as such, there are very practical reasons, even financial ones, to give importance to beauty.

Beauty is timeless: what was beautiful 500 years ago we still find beautiful today. A beautiful woman, such as the model for Botticelli’s Venus, we would find equally stunning today. Superficial fashions changes, but beauty is lasting.

Door knockers have long lost their function but who would remove these?

Most other functions, by contrast, are much more susceptible to change. A beautiful building from centuries ago has outlived its functionality many times over, but every consecutive generation made efforts to adapt it to the necessities of their time, rather than tearing it down.

A beautiful building is lasting, for today’s spiritual needs as well as those of future generations. Rather than only building for our immediate material needs, we should heed the words of the ancient Greeks: “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

Romance

Life is worth living when ideals such as love and beauty redeem our suffering.

Romantic images can be found in many households, nostalgic landscapes of times gone by, still-life’s, fairy tails and religious depictions. This type of imaginary is one form of expressing an existential human need. Romanticism goes beyond the beautiful by depicting the sublime. The idealization of men and nature offers us a glance at the divine. For a brief moment, it allows us to forget our suffering and feel at peace.

By contrast, poor art and architecture increases our stress. This has even been demonstrated scientifically.

Architects take note: this is what we book on AirBnB.

Romanticism often expressed by kitsch: it is easier to copy a proven recipe than to create something new. But by examining the staying power of such objects we can develop a contemporary architectural language.

Central to romanticism is an element of surprise, to show that we are more than just creatures of flesh and blood, a building is more than just a collection of walls and roofs. Every years millions of people visit the castle of Neuschwanstein, a prime example of a building full of gravity defying towers, secret passageways, splendorous halls, intimate inner courtyards, balconies each offering a different view, and so forth. Many more millions visit Disney parks with the same aim of being surprised.
But when was the last time you were surprised in an office building or mall?

It’s easy to object that Neuschwanstein was built by a maniac who exhausted a kingdom’s treasury with an insatiable appetite for kitsch. Or that most projects do not have a billion dollar budget of a renown entertainment corporation. Indeed very few architects would find themselves in such a position.

However, the point to take home is that architects should see themselves as artists first and foremost. The process of designing a building is an artistic process, not simply fulfilling the basic technical requirements. Any fool can sketch a floor plan. To a true architect, that is just a starting point.

Many of today’s famous architects like to pretend to be artist, by adding one gimmick to their buildings: an interesting shape OR one element such as an arch or spire OR an interesting choice of material; in an otherwise totally boring building. The gimmick is then made a selling point, called ‘daring’, ‘innovating’ and “spectacular” during hour long talks dedicated to it. Stripped from all this wordy praise it is nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.

Two boxes with a gimmick made by two celebrated architects

A true architect aspires to use many different elements, experiments with colours, patterns, materials, shapes and so forth. Every part is examined and (budget permitting) done in a unique way. Many sketches are made to come up with the right composition. Models are made and torn down again. The use of colours, by far the easiest way to make a nondescript building look good, is examined until the right balance is found.

The result is a building that excites our romantic sentiments, nothing is predictable, everything is a surprise. A building that breathes life.

The curved line is divine

Antoni Gaudi wrote: “The straight line belongs to humans, the curved line belongs to God. There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature. Therefore, buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners.”
Is it any coincidence that Gaudi, along with Hundertwasser who shared a similar sentiment, are among the last architects whose buildings attract large tourist crowds?

Advancements of mankind, technological or otherwise are always inspired by nature. Architecture should be no exception. We humans are at best only capable of approximating nature, not improving on it. Even our fastest rockets are incapable of providing their own fuel like birds do.

The curves give appeal to this otherwise ordinary bus stop

We would do well to listen to Gaudi’s advice and apply the divine curved line so common in nature. Unlike Gaudi, whose scale models are a marvel in itself, we can use computer generated 3D models to calculate more complicated curved structures. Curved lines are not only beautiful, they are also more structurally sound and energy efficient. While challenging to design and build such buildings, savings in materials and energy use can offset the added cost, with beauty adding extra value.

We must ask ourselves questions: is it necessary for a wall to be straight, or can we gain something by curving or bending it? Do floors, roofs and ceilings have to have the same level everywhere? Do all doors and windows have to be straight?

If something can be gained by not following the linear 90-degree convention, it should be considered.

Iglesia Milagrosa by Felix Candela

Eccentricity

People like to say: diversity is strength. This is true for many things: a diverse gene pool, competing ideas, competition in business, (peacefully) evolution in culture and religion: all lead to human advancement. The same is true for architecture. It is preferable to have streets with vastly different structures, even including bizarre creations, over the mind numbing monotony of dreary contemporary architecture, which after 80 years without any evolution save for technological advancements, should more aptly be labelled old fashioned architecture.

No person dresses exactly the same as the next, nor does fashion remain the same as 80 years ago. Similarly, architects/master builders should be allowed and encouraged to experiment instead of copying. Budgets surely put limitations of what is possible, but not, for example, on the colour in which a building is painted. There are plenty of variables which have little to do with budgets, but a lot more with (lack of) creativity. Beautiful houses have been made out of discarded materials. Doing a lot with a little is in fact, a form of creativity in itself.

Hundertwasser gave a lively middle finger to the architecture establishment. 40 years and millions of visitors later, the snobs still haven’t learned from it

Not every eccentric creation will be beautiful or even very functional. Quite a few would in fact be fairly ugly, like a Frank Gehry building perhaps. Only a morally strong and confident society can manage to suppress its conformist urges in favor of the unique and unusual, even when it includes occasional misfits. For it is the trees that make the forest, from the sickly little rotten tree to the majestic giants reaching the heavens.
In the same way it is diversity of buildings that make cities attractive. Look no further than any major tourist city, without exception, these are places with a diverse range of buildings often but not necessarily constructed in different styles and time periods.

The harbour of Copenhagen wouldn’t be quite the same if these houses were painted in the same colour

Cultures, like forests, are adapted to climatic conditions that have shaped diets and habits, but with technological advancements the challenges posed by climate have become less relevant, allowing for a one-size-fits all approach to modern urban development.
Now that most of us are further removed from nature than ever before many people simply don’t know any better than the extreme artificiality of city life and it’s dreary contemporary stables. Like well domesticated animals, we don’t like to venture out too far from the shelters built for us. Members who do not walk in line with the herd have always been regarded with suspicion. It seems an odd contradiction that in a society that is safer than any civilization that came before us, people are more unwilling to take the slightest risk.
Perhaps it is no wonder that architects rarely create anything noteworthy. Doing so is an uphill battle whereas simply doing as told by stakeholders and create something inconspicuous will earn you a decent living as a well respected member of society.

But a society that closes the door for its most creative and productive geniuses is doomed in the long run. Instead we should break the status quo in architecture and embrace the eccentric individual who dares to do something different.

Bring back ornamentation

Early modernism was partly a reaction on excessive ornamentation of neo-classisism en vogue in the late 19th century. Industrialization further cheapened ornament which caused the elite to favour more minimalist design. Ever since clean buildings became the norm, ornamentation has become a dirty word, as something only paupers in slums use to decorate their house with.

Who could object to a small artistic touch?


But ornamentation is far more than a lion statue, a Greek column or a torso of Venus. It is the easiest way to give a building identity. Venture into any historic city center so universally loved and you will notice plenty of old buildings are very much like the next one, but a range of details are different: names, dates, doors, windows, structural elements with patterns carved in it. We do not have to turn a building into a tacky wedding cake, only give it a little dose of a unique flavour.

Unfortunately by doing away with ornamentation we have thrown away the baby with the bathwater for many old trades are lost and the few people that do know such trades are now highly skilled specialists charged with maintaining our historic buildings. It would take a while to teach a new generation of builders but we do have one advantage: a 19th century woodworker or ironmonger could only dream of the tools we have today.

Functional art

But where do we start? A Dutch saying goes: it is better to borrow a good idea than come up with a bad one. We could pick up the pieces where the last true architectural movement left them: Art Nouveau/Deco & the early modernists and look at the way how they created functional art. That is the true meaning of form following function, to look for the function of an object and then give it a unique artistic form.

Architectural language

The word architect means master-builder, in other words, the head of a construction crew. The architect as someone working in an office building far removed from the construction site, only involved with the design phase and never getting his hands dirty, is a rather new phenomenon.

Furthermore, the difference between architecture and engineering is being obscured. Architects are primarily artists, who have a lot of engineering knowledge, in the same way a painter needs to know a bit of chemistry in order to make his paintings. Simply throwing paint on a canvas does not make someone a painter. Likewise, erecting walls with a roof does not make one an architect. Any engineer can do that with great efficiency.

Any architect who wants to develop his own style needs to get down and dirty. Gaudi used to sleep at his construction sites, Lloyd Wright designed not just furniture but even a dress for the occupant of one of his buildings. The great architects of the 19th and early 20th century frequently ventured in to other art forms: furniture, stained glass, paintings, sculpture, ironmongery, mosaic, book illustrations. They were involved and invested in their buildings up to minute details. A prime driving force was the arts and crafts movement which brought about the concept of ‘gesamtkunstwerk’, the total artwork where all art disciplines came together to a harmonious whole. It led to some of the most beautiful creations the world has ever seen: buildings so magnificent only utter barbarians could tear them down.

In that light it is interesting to note that even Adolf Hitler tried to avoid the destruction of Paris, whereas Le Corbusier with his ‘Plan Voisin’ proposed Paris to be torn down and replaced with a series of similar looking communist style skyscrapers.
Let’s instead bury Le Corbusier and the nihilist school that has taken hold of architecture. Outstanding works cannot be created without a belief in higher ideals beyond pragmatism, combined with hard work. It is time to start creating again!

Feel free to comment below!

From National Geographic to Instagram

One day, you might put your feet on this beach, and take in the same stunning view. One day, but not any time soon. Because pristine views come with strings attached. In contrast to Disney movies, pure nature isn’t very friendly. It is an indifferent force, feeding you as much as it is trying to destroy you. And my job is to neutralize those destructive forces so that perhaps only a few years from now, you get to stay in a beautiful eco-resort in a remote region of Panama.

Continue reading “From National Geographic to Instagram”

Free T-shirt design: Sheep your distance

Sheep your distance sample

As highlighted in my previous post, lockdown measures are very harmful to society and do not seem to have much effect to stop the spread of the coronavirus. It is not a choice between the economy and our health. A healthy economy allows us to pay for good healthcare: a large economic crash means thousands of people will die. Both directly from anxiety, overdose and suicide, as well as indirectly: hazards and diseases for which we no longer have the funds to prevent or treat. In poorer countries some people are already starving.

The idea of quarantine is locking up sick people, so that the healthy population can continue to produce food and provide for their families and society at large. Only in Sweden that concept was successfully applied.

Now many power hungry governments are trying to introduce a ‘new normal’ of permanent social distancing. Simple math will tell you that that is impossible to maintain: if you are to keep 1,5 meters distance from other people, you will need at least four times as much public space – everywhere! Classrooms, buses, trains, planes, cinema, restaurants, waiting rooms, et cetera.

Not only is it impossible, it is unnecessary. Now that we have the facts, we know that the coronavirus is not more deadly than other type of flu – for young people it is less deadly than the last major flu epidemic of 2017/18. Only those over 70 and/or those with pre-existing health conditions should take precautions, and can do so on their own accord – the way it is done in Sweden:

 

People who don’t fall into those categories will simply have to man-up and face facts: life comes with risks, and in the end we all die. Meanwhile, let’s continue our lives without fear!

Tired of hearing the same fear based arguments, I made this T-shirt design, which you can download for free and print for yourself:

Houd 1 schaaplengte afstand

Sheep your distance 2

All aboard flight Covid-19

vertrekkenEven though most of the world has closed down in response to the coronavirus, flights are still leaving to a few destinations. Last week I went to Mexico City leaving from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. What’s it like to fly when the whole world is in fear? And how do they deal with the coronavirus in one of the biggest cities in the world? Continue reading “All aboard flight Covid-19”