Multidisciplinary Research Program: Architecture and/for the Environment

Daniel Barber, Aleksandr Bierig, Nerea Calvillo, Jiat-Hwee Chang, Isabelle Doucet, Hannah Le Roux, Kiel Moe, and Paulo Tavares
Research, 2017 to 2018
Invention of the Environment in Architecture

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. As the effects of man-made climate change become apparent, it is now clear that architecture needs an environmental history, and the CCA is directing a collaborative and multidisciplinary research project to write such a history.

“Architecture and/for the Environment” proposes to rethink the discipline of architecture by offering a different understanding of how architecture and the environment have been co-produced. While cross-disciplinary attention, including that of 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 move beyond the narratives of inevitability and apocalypse encouraged by a positivistic discourse on architecture’s environmental history.

Collaborative research process

“Architecture and/for the Environment” 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 research project 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. 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.

Eight participants were selected and reconvened in fall 2017 to begin an eighteen-month collaborative research project that includes a residency of twenty to thirty days at the CCA, and three multi-day workshops and seminars. The participants 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.

Participants

Daniel Barber
University of Pennsylvania, United States

Aleksandr Bierig
Harvard University, United States

Nerea Calvillo
University of Warwick, United Kingdom

Jiat-Hwee Chang
National University of Singapore, Singapore

Isabelle Doucet
University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Hannah Le Roux
University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

Kiel Moe
Harvard University, United States

Paulo Tavares
Universidade de Brasília, Brazil

“Architecture and/for the Environment” (2017–2018) is the third project of the Multidisciplinary Research Program, a research initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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