HISTORY – Climate Change and the Scales of Environment 1 of 5

Amale Andraos, Dean, Columbia University GSAPP

Panel 1: History
Environment, of course, is a historical category. But what are its pasts? Its geographies? More than that, what conflicts and exclusions does its seeming comprehensiveness harbor? What powers does it encode? What freedoms does it entail? What natures and what cultures does it bring into being? This panel links these questions to that of scale. If scale is relational rather than absolute, at what scale does a history and theory of environment take up material, social, and technical things? Molecular? Solar? The scale of a population, colonized or urbanized? Or that of a body being cared for, enclosed, housed, or displaced? The scale of a building completed in a year? Or the scale of a planet consumed over centuries?

Daniel Barber, PennDesign
Deborah Coen, Barnard College
Gregg Mitman, University of Wisconsin
Eyal Weizman, Goldsmiths, University of London
Moderated by Reinhold Martin, Columbia University GSAPP

Buildings are responsible for nearly half of all energy consumption and CO2 emissions in the United States today. This startling link between climate change and urbanization should spur architects and scholars of the built environment to rethink everything about the way they practice and teach. And yet, it hasn’t.

Climate change is too often addressed in schools of architecture and design in terms of technological solutions and their implementation – from “green” building techniques to the myriad challenges of fortifying metropolitan centers against extreme weather patterns. Climate Change and the Scales of Environment is a daylong symposium that draws new frameworks for action together with thoughtful cultural debate, inviting a group of scholars, historians, scientists, architects and designers to critically rethink architecture and urbanism in light of climate change as our most urgent concern.

As the defining factor of our precarious contemporary condition, the real and lived threat of climate change, exacerbated by uncertainty and shifting cultural contexts invites us to move beyond technocratic conversations to interrogate the terms of the debate. The symposium will be arranged around questions of scale — space but also time – to articulate climate change as a necessary agent of change in architectural history, theory, discourse, and practice. Together with the question of scale – from the geographic and economic systems that are producing climate change to the human conflicts and ecological disasters that are ensuing – the symposium will open-up the term ‘environment’ to underscore its past histories and constructions and allow for the possibility of recasting the term, and our relations to it, for the future.

Building on GSAPP’s leadership around questions of global engagement and practice as they relate to architecture and the built environment, this symposium will attempt to critically reframe our thinking about the built environment and our actions in shaping it, to reflect both the specificity of local conditions and histories as well as the challenges of climate change as a shared concern across the globe.


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