Architecture and/for the Environment

Invention of the Environment in Architecture

As the effects of man-made climate change become apparent, it is now clear that architecture needs an environmental history. With the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the CCA is directing a collaborative and multidisciplinary research project to write such a history. From 1973: Sorry, Out of Gas in 2007, in which we highlighted the histories of specific alternative energies, to It’s All Happening So Fast: A Counter-History of the Modern Canadian Environment in 2016, which explored counter-narratives of progress in Canada, the CCA has come to understand the environment as not merely reducible to nature, but first and foremost as a battleground for social, political, and economic issues.

At the CCA, we propose to rethink the discipline of architecture by offering a different understanding of how architecture and the environment have been co-produced. While attention across disciplines, including architecture, has focused on the new realities of the Anthropocene, architecture’s complex historical relationship to nature has yet to be surveyed. We fear that the pragmatic, techno-utopian, or even environmentalist stances that have monopolized the subject do not equip us to face the challenges ahead, and that we must pursue a more critical engagement. With “Architecture and/for the Environment,” we propose to move beyond the narratives of inevitability and apocalypse that are encouraged by a positivistic discourse on architecture’s environmental history.

Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project

“Architecture and/for the Environment” is unfolding in two phases. In the first, the CCA invited sixteen shortlisted applicants to participate in a multi-day seminar, which took place in Montreal in July 2017. Seminar participants discussed their individual projects and debated the conceptual terms and the methodological tasks of contending with the environment through history. From these sixteen, eight applicants were selected through a peer-reviewed process to return for the second phase of the multidisciplinary research project.

The selected team is composed of Daniel Barber (University of Pennsylvania), Aleksandr Bierig (Harvard University), Nerea Calvillo (University of Warwick), Jiat-Hwee Chang (National University of Singapore), Isabelle Doucet (University of Manchester), Hannah Le Roux (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg), Kiel Moe (Harvard University), and Paulo Tavares (Universidade de Brasília).

The research project deals with unresolved, and perhaps irresolvable, problems in architecture’s environmental history, which point to its contradictions and ambiguities. The researchers ask how architecture manifests such problems, and through what kinds of narratives environmental histories are told and connected. Topics include the trade of fossil fuels at the London Coal Exchange; ragweed as an urban pollutant; the oil industry and facade systems; courses on environmental control systems in schools of architecture; the rise of air conditioning in Singapore, Doha, and Guangzhou; the globalization of the asbestos industry; buildings for multi-species encounters; and the Amazon rainforest as a cultural artifact.

The eight selected Mellon researchers will reconvene in fall 2017 to begin their eighteen-month project. Each Mellon researcher is supported by a research and production grant, which includes a CCA residency of twenty to thirty days, and participation in three multi-day workshops and seminars. They will contribute to various objectives and outcomes of the research project by writing a collaborative paper, producing individual essays in conversation with the group and with CCA staff, and critically engaging the CCA collection and library holdings.

This is the CCA’s third Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project; please refer here and here for information on our past projects.


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