Easing and Developing

A virtual exhibition for our carbon present

This text continues a virtual exhibition curated by participants in the 2022 Toolkit for Today: Carbon Present seminar, which highlights and rereads objects from the CCA collection according to various themes related to how carbon shapes our present built environment and ways of being.


Arièle Dionne-Krosnick, Iva Resetar, Christian Saavedra

How does urbanization—particularly the transformation of environments to meet human needs for comfort and leisure—channel and redistribute access to natural elements like vegetation, water, and air? And how do design practices then reconstruct or substitute these “missing” aspects of nature in the built environment?

This thematic cluster of objects examines how design provides comfort in ways that paradoxically exacerbate carbon production. Practices of reordering access to resources for human well-being operate diffusely and across multiple scales: from technologies like air conditioning for improving physical comfort and infrastructures such as pools in suburban dwellings and holiday resorts, to recreational landscapes in post-industrial urban systems. While providing grounds for leisure and greener living, and often underpinned by ethical proposals to repair faulty aspects of urban life, practices of easing and mitigating discomfort propose our retreat—and, to some extent, isolation—from the public sphere. However, the cumulative effects of controlled micro-environments, especially their carbon emissions, have more serious implications for communal use and experience.

Larry Sultan. Untitled from the series Pictures from Home, (Dad looking into empty pool), 1991. PH1998:0058, CCA © Estate of Larry Sultan

Blending documentary and staged photography, Larry Sultan often captured images of suburban family life. A man stands topless above an empty ground pool, while sprinklers and palm trees dot the lurid green lawn behind him. This is but one of ten million residential swimming pools marking the American landscape: one link in the global swimming pool market, a billion-dollar industry with still anticipated growth. The manufacture, transport, and installation of pool components indirectly produce CO2 emissions. A casualty of increasing weather extremes brought about by climate change, California has suffered historic levels of dryness; its pool owners are routinely cautioned to limit water waste and reduce their pool’s carbon footprint. In Sultan’s photograph, the cloudless Palm Springs sky and a smattering of palm trees stand vigil over a landscape transformed by human hands, with the swimming pool caught between competing desires for the relief of cool pool water and a warming planet.

Julius Shulman, Partial view of the façade, parking lot, and pool at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, California, USA (designed by Welton Becket and Associates), 1952–1955. Gelatin silver print. PH1998:0080:003, CCA. Gift of Elliott and Carolyn Mittler © J. Paul Getty Trust

The Beverly Hilton Hotel, a mid-century Los Angeles classic, embodied architect Welton Becket’s ideals of “total design.” The tri-winged concrete construction completed in 1955 offered every modern amenity, including private balconies separated by porcelain enamel curtain walls, a personal car service, and a swimming pool—pictured here at a dizzying angle by Julius Shulman. Swimming pools became prized amenities in hotels from the 1930s; the Beverly Hilton, whose patrons included movie stars and politicians, was no exception: American swimmer and actress Esther Williams, the so-called “Million Dollar Mermaid,” even christened the hotel pool. Yet it is worth highlighting that despite their comforts and pleasures, lodgings that offer modern services tend to produce the most carbon emissions since they are outfitted with energy-intensive systems like water heaters for showers, pools, and spas.

Practices of easing and mitigating the undesirable impacts of the carbon present are tied to everyday social conventions. The notion of “substitutability” plays a central role here: large-scale leisure facilities, which are often designed as compensatory green spaces in urban areas, can be seen as a public commitment to more sustainable and collective modes of managing natural resources. Even so, as Jeff Wiltse has charted, the “substitutability” of natural elements like greenery, water, and air in built spaces risks redistributing access to them from public to private spheres; for example, in the 1990s, “[m]illions of Americans abandoned public pools precisely because they preferred to pursue their recreational activities within smaller and more socially selective communities.”1 Similarly, air conditioning, as an early industrial and later domestic mechanism of environmental control, can heat, cool, and purify air “at the touch of a button”, in effect substituting a building’s climate by displacing its emissions outdoors. Writing about the commonality of breathed air, Luce Irigaray recalls the ethical tension of such a redistribution of air: “If breathing estranges me from the other, this gesture also signifies a sharing with the world that surrounds me and with the community that inhabits it. […] I can breathe in my own way, but the air will never be simply mine” —the carbon impact of such technologies is intrinsically a communal concern, even if it manages climate in disconnected spaces.2

  1. Jeff Wiltse, Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America (Chapel Hill University of North Carolina Press, 2007). 

  2. Luce Irigaray, “From The Forgetting of Air to To Be Two,” in Feminist Interpretations of Martin Heidegger, ed. Nancy J. Holland and Patricia J. Huntington (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001). 

Joe Deal, Fenced backyard with swimming pool, housing development below, Diamond Bar, California, USA, 1980. Gelatin silver print. PH1985:0198, CCA © Estate of Joe Deal

A freeform pool lies in the fenced backyard of a suburban California development, while empty chairs populate the deck that keeps the sparse lawn at bay. In a radical break with the tradition of romantic landscape photography, Joe Deal chose to depict scenes fundamentally altered by human development. The pristine pool water betrays the presence of unseen inhabitants who toil—aided by chemicals and machines—to maintain the cleanliness of the swimming pool. Post-war affluence accelerated the spread of residential private pools in the United States, as did easy-to-use chlorine tablets for water sanitation and advances in pool filtration. Yet, this vista conceals the extensive infrastructure of dams, canals, and pumps needed to extract and transport water for domestic consumption. The manufacture and use of chemicals like chlorine also negatively affect ecosystems through atmospheric emissions and the degradation of local soils. Drained into ponds, lakes, or rivers, chlorinated pool water harms fish and other aquatic life. This polluted water is then inevitably filtered again for consumption, perpetuating a vicious cycle human intervention.

The selected examples, spanning modern, postwar, and contemporary eras, illustrate ethical concerns and frictions over the management and ownership of natural elements, and the reshaping of boundaries between the private and the public in the carbon present.

Foreign Office Architects (FOA). Set of drawings for South East Coastal Park and Auditorium, Barcelona, Spain (2000–2004). ARCH402121_006, Foreign Office Architects fonds, CCA © Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera-Polo

The Southeast Coastal Park and Auditorium was part of the City of Barcelona’s urban renewal projects proposed considering its role as the host city of the International Forum of Cultures in 2004. The park was conceived by Foreign Office Architects (FOA) to offer recreational spaces, two open-air auditoriums, and access to natural vegetation. Over time, it has evolved into a communal site for musical events. As is visible in the photograph, the site for the park was in an area of reclaimed land at the edge of the waterfront. The topography of the project presents an alternative to the traditional, rational, and organic landscape forms, evoking the imagery of a dune through ramps, sloped ramps, and planted vegetation that protects visitors from the wind while opening a vista onto the sea.

The significant, and often invisible, carbon output of such recreational and coastal urban parks is emblematic of a more pervasive problem currently faced in sustainable development. Although ideas and projects for consolidating coastal areas into public spaces point to good intentions to improve urban environments and their communities, their design entails major alterations to existing natural environments, significant consumption of natural resources, and high levels of carbon emissions. Many of these renewal projects are still funded and driven by the business interests of stakeholders with global interests and little regard for local contexts.


Asya Ece Uzmay, Maria Rius Ruiz, Putrikinasih R. Santoso

From the late modern to the contemporary era, we have made significant interventions in natural and built environments. These range from oil mining and landscape modifications—like excavating underground tunnels and building artificial islands—to industrializing and developing infrastructures that organize global shipping and manufacturing. The objects in this thematic cluster focus on how humans have voraciously consumed resources over the past century in ways that have significantly—in some cases irreparably—transformed and modified our planet

Richard Arless Associates, View of loaded dump trucks, Expo 67, Montréal, Québec, ca. 1963–1964, gelatin silver print. ARCH255766, CCA. Gift of May Cutler © Richard Arless Associates

Expo 67 in Montréal showcased transformations to the planet and how architecture was being transformed from an anthropocentric perspective. The title of this world’s fair, “Man and His World”, reflected human-centred projects and championed technologies and innovations that, in the name of progress, often disregarded the resource consumption, pollution, waste production, and impact on non-human species involved in developing a world for human-centred use. The landscape design of the Expo 67 illustrated the tension involved in the transformation of nature for human benefit: the existing St. Helen’s Island was extended and the artificial Notre Dame Island was built using 15 million tons of rock excavated during the construction of the Montréal Metro underground rail in 1965.

At the same time, monumental transformation projects were entangled in key development projects of the post-war era. As a new paradigm introduced to stabilize the post-war global economy, development has produced and enhanced asymmetric power relations between the so-called “developed” and “Third World” countries. For nearly eight decades, developed countries have been using “development” as an umbrella term to rationalize industrialization in the Third World. This process follows the interests and priorities of the global economy, in which the production and consumption of goods and services are no longer locally bound. Employed to support certain paradigms of global transformation, development has led to a more pressing concern regarding resource consumption and scarcity in local environments.

“One hundred thousand sun-seekers gathered in Coney Island beach, New York in 1945” [original photograph from 1940], Zeit Magazine, no. 31 (26 July 1974): 4–5. CD037.S4.022/ARCH288489, Georg Lippsmeier Collection, CCA. Gift of African Architecture Matters © Zeitverlag Gerd Bucerius GmbH & Co. KG. Photo: © Weegee / International Center of Photography

In the summer of 1974, Zeit Magazin questioned how industrialization in the so-called “Third World”—which often, directly or indirectly, put a strain on resources—would impact the survival of developing cities. Underlining global overpopulation as well as the industrialization of developing countries, this article compared urbanization trends in “highly developed” cities (New York and Tokyo) and the “Third World” (Kolkata, Bandung, Lagos, among others). It notes how a family planning program and strategy for resource conservation were imperative to ensure the sustainable future of these latter cities. In so doing, this article underlined an emerging awareness, especially in North America and Europe following the 1970s oil crisis, of the reverberating and imbalanced impact of global resource production and consumption.

Amid nascent concerns over the availability of natural resources and their global consumption in the 1960s and 1970s, architects and planners such as Doxiadis, Buckminster Fuller, and Van Ginkel Associates conceived design as a means of optimizing resource use and creating more efficient, sustainable systems of building and living. Their approach suggested that architecture should embrace a planetary view, putting Earth at the centre of design thought and practice. Such a transformation from an anthropocentric to a planetary perspective in architecture would unfold across various scales. Fuller, for example, believed that human survival relies on our ability to use design to account for the interdependence of all living systems and the long-term consequences of our actions. At the level of regional and national planning, this planetary view was reflected in attempts to shift from purely addressing economic demands to embracing a human-centred development model involving diverse sources of expertise and addressing local contexts.

Unknown photographer, Aerial view of the United States Pavilion, Expo 67, Montréal, Québec, 1967. Gelatin silver print. ARCH250438, CCA. Gift of May Cutler

While anthropocentric perspectives predominated in architecture at the time of Expo 67, Buckminster Fuller saw design as a science that could optimize the use of resources and create more efficient and sustainable systems—a science wherein nature and technology merge. In his book Spaceship Earth, Fuller argued that, to ensure the survival and well-being of humanity, we must learn to think and act in a more holistic, integrated, and future-oriented way. These perspectives were reflected in his design for the Biosphere, a geodesic dome that served as the US pavilion for Expo 67. Fuller invented the geodesic dome in his search to create a lightweight, strong, and efficient draft structure that covered the biggest area with the fewest materials possible and could be used for a variety of purposes. He also envisioned geodesic domes as a solution to many of the world’s problems, from housing shortages to environmental degradation; he believed that they could be used to create more sustainable systems for human habitation. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, two hundred thousand geodesic domes were built around the world. With a diameter of 250 feet, the dome in Montreal, now known as the Biosphere, currently hosts an interactive exhibition on the environment during Expo 67.

Van Ginkel Associates, “A National Future Profile of Indonesia as Related to Transmigration Objectives submitted December 1972”, 1972, proposal. ARCH259614, CCA © CCA

Flow diagram of the planning model proposed by Van Ginkel Associates (VGA) illustrating the methodologies behind the National Future Profile (NFP), a 25-year long-term economic development blueprint built upon an interdisciplinary and systems-oriented model.

Between 1971 and 1973, VGA canvassed the Indonesian government for their self-initiated proposal of a National Future Profile (NFP). The document was expected to provide comprehensive development objectives based on human needs instead of purely economic demands. The proposal preparation, funded by Canada’s Program for Export Market Development (PEMD), cost CAD 11 355. With limited knowledge of Indonesia’s planning tradition and politico-economic dynamics, the PEMD’s research included three trips from Montréal to Jakarta, over two hundred pages of correspondence with a network of experts and government officials, and four proposal drafts. The final proposal almost exclusively addressed the Indonesian government’s transmigration program to cope with overpopulation in Java. Despite VGA’s deep research, the Indonesian government eventually turned down the proposal. Their reluctance mainly stemmed from the proposal’s lack of specificity and immediate applicability, as well as the government’s apprehension of VGA’s credentials to operate outside of the North American context.

At the same time, the transfer of carbon-based expertise between “developed” and “developing countries” enabled political authorities to ascertain and categorize levels of industrial development. In particular, the import of climate control technologies presented a compelling design prompt to impose global standards of comfort and efficiency in regional contexts.

Dritte Welt im Schaubild, Evangelisches Missionswerk in Südwestdeutschland. ARCH288490, Georg Lippsmeier Collection, CCA.

“Development, I bring you what you need!” Located in the “Reference slides” of the Georg Lippsmeier and Institut für Tropenbau fonds at the CCA, this image depicts a faceless character, most likely a German expert, proposing carbon-based technologies to the people of the new nation-states in Africa. Factories, power plants, planes, cars, and ships—all marked as “German products”—suggest how developmental progress could be achieved by importing fossil-fuel technologies to developing regions. These carbon-based technologies of industrial progress would once and for all change the built and natural environments of developing nations and the whole planet.

Cover page of Overseas Building Notes, no. 147 (December 1972). W.O8262, CCA.

Overseas Building Notes (formerly Colonial Building Notes), published by the Building Research Establishment in the UK, was a journal dedicated to guiding architects, planners, engineers, and builders who primarily practiced beyond “developed” regions. On the cover of one issue from 1974, “Building for Comfort,” the journal authors call for implementing local, carbon-free strategies for buildings in “warm climates,” such as the use of natural shade, thatched roofs, or earthen blocks. Inside the issue, however, the journal advises that the use of “modern technology” should be prioritized when possible. This contrast between two approaches to designing for comfort shows the dominance of carbon-based technologies in architectural production, while carbon-free technologies are often romanticized as timeless, albeit more rudimentary, tools.

While development policies and strategies prioritize the transfer of carbon technologies, architectural publications rarely represent non-carbon-based architectural forms. In rare instances that showcase carbon-free technologies for building, those projects are described with ambiguous and open-ended terms, like “the builder in warm climates.” In other words, prioritizing carbon-based over carbon-free technologies produces distinct hierarchies of knowledge and expertise in architectural discourse.

Contemporary development practices rely on carbon-intensive engineering to effect extreme land alterations, exercising high consumption of resources and high emission levels. In this context, carbon is present in ubiquitously produced and consumed materials (crude oil, plastics, fibreglass, etc.) and as the ecological trace of construction processes (transporting, excavating, transforming). Under the still persistent rubric of global development, carbon-intensive design practices underscore an obstinate tension between global agendas and local interests. These practices have contributed to spatial and physical transformations of the Earth and have perpetuated a homogenized understanding of the environment and how we deal with geographic and climatic issues. They have eroded local, situated practices into standardized, manufactured solutions, which, in turn, fuels further and endless extraction and consumption.


Sign up to get news from us

Email address
First name
Last name
By signing up you agree to receive our newsletter and communications about CCA activities. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more information, consult our privacy policy or contact us.

Thank you for signing up. You'll begin to receive emails from us shortly.

We’re not able to update your preferences at the moment. Please try again later.

You’ve already subscribed with this email address. If you’d like to subscribe with another, please try again.

This email was permanently deleted from our database. If you’d like to resubscribe with this email, please contact us

Please complete the form below to buy:
[Title of the book, authors]
ISBN: [ISBN of the book]
Price [Price of book]

First name
Last name
Address (line 1)
Address (line 2) (optional)
Postal code
Email address
Phone (day) (optional)

Thank you for placing an order. We will contact you shortly.

We’re not able to process your request at the moment. Please try again later.

Folder ()

Your folder is empty.

Please complete this form to make a request for consultation. A copy of this list will also be forwarded to you.

Your contact information
First name:
Last name:
Phone number:
Notes (optional):
We will contact you to set up an appointment. Please keep in mind that your consultation date will be based on the type of material you wish to study. To prepare your visit, we'll need:
  • — At least 2 weeks for primary sources (prints and drawings, photographs, archival documents, etc.)
  • — At least 48 hours for secondary sources (books, periodicals, vertical files, etc.)