Against the Architectural Imagination: Sustainability's Image Problem
Cranbrook Academy of Art
39:44 minutes

The concept of nature, as it has been ambiguously appropriated by architects and designers, is at once a veil for particular aesthetic, ethical, economic, and material drivers and a timely question in need of urgent unpacking. This talk examines a number of contemporary buildings, alongside the discourse of Landform Building, to forge a fresh conceptual terrain from which to approach the perennial dilemma of how critically-minded design can perform in the age of the Anthropocene: it proposes that examining the malleability of nature as a cultural, historical, and economic construct would better allow us to see the emergence of what we might call an ecologically synchronous model of thinking and practice.

Against the Architectural Imagination: Sustainability's Image Problem

The elements of nature incorporated in contemporary Landform Building are at once curious and complaisant: A verdurous garden is transplanted on a city rooftop. A house plays peek-a-boo, burrowed deep in the emerald slope of a cultivated valley. Apartment blocks adopt a geometric silhouette of mountain peaks and icebergs against the urban skyline.

In this talk, Esther Choi explores how the discourse of Landform Building surfaced in architecture as an offshoot of Landscape Urbanism, just as geological and ecological debates about the Anthropocene began to preoccupy the scientific community. In so doing, Choi attempts to sketch a conceptual terrain as to what the impulse of Landform Building might suggest, in the way that architecture, like artistic practice, can function as an icon, a symbol, or an index of broader social forces.

Akin to the material-semiotic braiding suggested by Donna Haraway in her model of the “Chthulucene,” this talk proposes that the extra-evolutionary mimetic behaviour of architecture’s artificial terrains may offer an opportunity for reshaping an image and a scape of the ecological commons—one that could align the architectural imagination with the environmental imagination to produce new constituencies and relations of form, species, materials, and subjectivities. For it stands to reason that if the design of “nature” as architecture, and vice versa, are symptoms dressed as material configurations and affects, we might arrive at a diagnostic of some of the causes, consequences and potentialities of our current environmental and political situation—both inside and outside the bounds of architecture proper.


Cranbrook Academy of Art 2018 Lecture Series