Counter Ecologies

The “environment” is a nebulous thing. Its meaning takes on new dimensions every decade or so, signifying everything including place, surroundings, ecology, questions of justice, and its most recent iteration as climate. It is hard to overstate the hold this multivalent term had on American social and political life in the middle of the last century—a hold that compelled architecture to respond with radical, daring proposals to reshape the world.

In September 2023, the Museum of Modern Art will present Emerging Ecologies: Architecture and the Rise of Environmentalism, the first comprehensive survey of environmental architecture at a major museum. The exhibition, which focuses most closely upon the 1960s and 1970s, presents a time when the abstract models of ecology were thought to offer an apolitical Archimedean point from which to steer the planet toward healthy functioning. Contrasting this supposed view from nowhere, this issue of ART PAPERS, Counter Ecologies, digs deeper into the cultural contexts behind the ecological visions on offer in the exhibition, connecting many of them to the present moment, in order to foreground the always-political dimension of any environmental project.

If the aim of Emerging Ecologies is to establish Environmental Architecture as an “anti-movement” or “counter-movement” to architectural modernism of the 20th century, Counter Ecologies hopes to further disrupt the tidiness of a monolithic movement. Although all the projects in the exhibition were carried out by people with environmental and ecological issues at the forefront of their practices, each project’s methods, ideological contexts, proximity to power, and ethical positions span a wide range. The New Alchemy Institute was a grassroots initiative that sought to detach itself from mainstream society; John Lilly’s human-dolphin cohabitation compound in St. Thomas was funded by the US government; the scientists and architects behind the Climatron were techno-determinists; whereas Emilio Ambasz aimed for a new nature/culture hybrid poetics.

Where some of the stories in Emerging Ecologies leave off, we hope to continue here. During the early 1980s, the nonviolent activist protests against the dumping of PCBs in Warren County, NC, gave rise to environmental justice as a unified movement, which continues today with efforts to Stop Cop City in Atlanta. In the exhibition at MoMA, we show large drawings from the late 1960s made by Ian McHarg’s University of Pennsylvania architecture students. Asked to map out the ecological conditions of the Delaware River Basin—the ancestral homeland of the Lenape people—we recognize that environmental knowledge of the United States was not discovered by architects in the last century, but had existed with Indigenous communities for generations, long before the European colonization process wiped out them out, displacing them from their land. In a personal reflection, architecture scholar omeasoo wahpasiw (nehiyaw) meditates upon Indigeneity, place, and memorialization—upon connecting experiences with thought. Sage musings, as we continue to contend with this cloudy thing called the environment.

Emerging Ecologies: Architecture and the Rise of Environmentalism
September 17, 2023- January 20,2024 MoMA, New York

Emerging Ecologies

Buildings produce nearly 40% of the world’s yearly carbon emissions. Emerging Ecologies: Architecture and the Rise of Environmentalism explores how architects in the US responded to the environmental crisis of the 1960s and 1970s, when concern with rising pollution and runaway resource use spurred widespread activism on behalf of the natural world. Tracing the innovative, fantastical, and daring projects that architects proposed as environmentalism gathered steam, Emerging Ecologies tells an alternate history of architecture that focuses on designers who have made the natural world a centerpiece of their practice.

The first major museum exhibition to survey the relationship between architecture and the environmental movement in the United States, Emerging Ecologies brings together a wide range of work—from archival drawings to videos to architectural models—spanning six decades. The exhibition celebrates those architects who spearheaded this approach, including R. Buckminster Fuller, Beverly Willis, and Emilio Ambasz, and reveals previously unheralded environmental concerns in the work of practitioners like Ant Farm and Charles and Ray Eames. Emerging Ecologies also looks to the future, engaging contemporary thinkers to help understand how the works on view might help us navigate the accelerating climate crisis today.

Organized by Carson Chan, Director, the Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and Natural Environment, and Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, with Matthew Wagstaffe and Dewi Tan, Ambasz Institute Research Assistants, and Eva Lavranou, 12-Month Intern, Ambasz Institute. Special thanks to Meredith Gaglio, Mark Wasiuta and Belle Beyer.

The Third Ecology, October 11-13

Reykjavík, Iceland

Conference on Architecture and Environmental History:
European Architectural History Network (EAHN) thematic conference, organized by the Ambasz Institute / MoMA and Iceland University of the Arts.

The effects of the anthropogenic climate crisis has compelled a resurgence of scholarship about the often fraught relationship between the built and the natural environment. The connection between the building sector and the disruption on the physical systems of the planet are not merely coincidental but causal. Currently, global building activity produces nearly 40% of the world’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions, making architecture, broadly, one of the most polluting activities in human history. That a new “climatic turn” appears to be taking shape in architecture history is no surprise, but does the changing climate also require a new methodology for writing architecture history? If historians now know that architecture is causing ecological harm, how should the field of architecture history respond? Seen through the lens of environmental justice, does the climate crisis impel architecture histories of environment to address decolonization and anti-racism?

EAHN thematic conference, organized by Iceland University of the Arts and the Ambasz Institute/MoMA

KEYNOTE — Samia Henni (Cornell) / CLOSING REMARKS — Daniel A. Barber (UTS) / PEDAGOGY WORKSHOP — Dalal Musaed Alsayer (U Kuwait) and Megan Eardley (Princeton)

 EXTRACTION and CONSUMPTION —  Daniel Duarte Pereira (U Minho), Lindsey Krug (U Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Sara Aziz (U New Mexico), Giulia Scotto (USI), Maryia Rusak (ETH)
/ ECOPOLITICS of the DESERT — Malkit Shoshan (GSD) and Gili Merin (TU Vienna), Pamela Karimi (Dartmouth), Paul Bouet (ETH), Cecilia Muzika-Minteer (U Pittsburgh) 
/ COMFORT and CONTROL — Jiat-Hwee Chang (NU Singapore), Gent Shehu (TU Delft), Georg Vrachliotis (TU Delft), and Víctor Muñoz Sanz (TU Delft), Foivos Geralis (Princeton), Jia Weng (Yale)
/ THE STUFF of HISTORY — Kim Förster (U Manchester), Meredith TenHoor (Pratt), Michael Faciejew (Dalhousie), Jean Souviron (Ensa-PB)
/ AQUATIC EPISTEMOLOGIES — André Tavares (U Porto), Anna Renken (Toronto), Marija Barović (U Zagreb), Tairan An (Princeton)
/ FIRST PRINCIPLES — Hadas A. Steiner (U Buffalo), Maroš Krivý (CCA), Jennifer Mack (KTH) and Helena Mattsson (KTH), Alena Beth Rieger (ANO)
/ THE RISE of ENVIRONMENTALISM — Janno Martens (KU Leuven), Meredith Gaglio (Louisiana), Rami Kanafani (UPenn), Pollyanna Rhee (U Illinois)
/ MECHANISMS of REPAIR — Desiree Valadares (UBC), Douglas Robb (UPenn) and Sara Jacobs (UBC), Ondrej Hojda (TU Liberec), Nkatha Gichuyia (U Nairobi), Samantha Martin (Dublin), Liana Ricchi (Dublin)
/ THE ENVIRONMENT on DISPLAY — Cecília Resende Santos (Columbia), Frida Rosenberg (ArkDes) and James Taylor-Foster (ArkDes), Maren Koehler (U Sydney), Alison J. Clarke (U Applied Arts Vienna)
/ EMPIRE’S SHADOW —Caitlin Blanchfield (Columbia), Łukasz Stanek (Michigan), Elena M’Bouroukounda (Columbia), David Franco (Clemson)
/ GOVERNING NATURE — Rafico Ruiz (CCA), Alla Vronskaya (Kassel), Guillermo S. Arsuaga (Princeton), Tijana Stevanovic (UCL), Phoebe Springstubb (MIT) / MEDIASCAPES — Alfredo Thiermann (EPFL), Samuel Koh (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar), Mark Wasiuta (Columbia), Daniela Fabricius (UPenn), Andy Lee (GSD)

Generous Support was provided by The International Council of the Museum of Modern Art.