DocTalks is a series dedicated to ongoing investigations conducted by doctoral, postdoctoral, or early-career researchers about the expansive entanglement of architecture with the natural environment. These sessions are meant to create an intercollegiate cohort of scholars that workshop writing, share research findings, and experiment with methodological tools while engaging with the vision and investigations of the Ambasz Institute.

These Doc Talk sessions are intended for scholars or architecture history and theory, but scholars in related fields and the general public are welcome to attend.

DocTalks x MoMA Sessions 2023

Tuesday, December 12, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. EST

Evil Landscape: How the British Empire and Zionist Movement Shaped Jerusalem’s Natural Environment

Gili Merin, TU Wien

When the British Empire declared military rule over Ottoman Jerusalem in 1917, its priority was to “restore” the Holy City to its former glory. This resulted in a series of town-planning schemes focused on eradicating any elements that seemed “unworthy” of the Holy City’s landscape, with the aim of making Jerusalem legible to a reader of the Christian Bible. Palestinian houses were deemed “unsightly obstructions” of the ancient city walls, and indigenous flora, such as cacti and shrubbery, were replaced with imported European species. The result was a picturesque composition of the city’s landscape that affirmed the colonial narrative of Jerusalem’s salvation, making it more green, productive, monumental—and less Arab.

The impetus to project mythical narratives onto Jerusalem’s landscape did not stop when the British left in 1948. In the second half of the 20th century, Zionists extensively manipulated the landscape as part of their settler-colonial strategy to “Judaize” Palestine and naturalize the Jewish presence in Jerusalem’s built and natural environments. Expanding the park project initiated by the British, the Jewish National Fund undertook large-scale afforestation in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, planting monocultural pine trees that visualized the lush greenery of Jewish ancestral lands and imported “Biblical” animals such as the Persian fallow deer.

Steeped in religious sentiment yet led by nationalist motivations, British and Zionist projects exploited the natural environment to promote their colonial ideologies. By drawing a line between these two case studies, this talk will highlight the violence embedded in the notion of an imaginary landscape, the manipulation of flora and fauna that its realization entails, and the resulting displacement and erasure of those excluded from the hegemonic narratives told by those in power.

Gili Merin is an architect and photographer based in Vienna. Formerly the head of history and theory of architecture at the Royal College of Arts (RCA) and a Diploma Unit Master at the AA, Merin currently holds a postdoctoral position at the TU Vienna. She holds a PhD from the AA in London and studied architecture at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, the UdK in Berlin, and the Waseda University of Tokyo. Her doctoral dissertation, “Towards Jerusalem: The Architecture of Pilgrimage” (supervised by Pier Vittorio Aureli and Maria S. Giudici), explores structures of spiritual travel using photography as a design tool. In 2018, the thesis won the annual AA writing prize; in 2023, it was awarded the Graham Foundation Grant; and it will be published as the book Analogous Jerusalem in 2024.

Anwar Jaber, University of Waterloo

The Palm Oil Controversy: Architecture and Environmental Depletion in the Congolese Forest

Michele Tenzon, Liverpool University

Palm oil accounts for over a third of the vegetable oil produced worldwide, but its production and use is at the center of a two-decades-long controversy. On one hand, NGOs hold the palm oil industry responsible for degradation of the environment, the increasing poverty of indigenous people, and attacks on human rights. On the other hand, independent scientists argue that the development of oil palm plantations can contribute to meeting the food needs of a growing global population, and to a decline in rural poverty.

When, in 2017, the Colombian-Congolese company Strategos bought the land and the buildings of Lusanga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the surrounding palm oil plantation, the population of this historical site for palm oil extraction in the country was hoping to revive a long lost, idealized past. Lusanga was formerly known as Leverville, named after Lord Lever, the British tycoon who had acquired concessions in 1911, in the then Belgian Congo. The villas built for the European managers, with their tropical modernist architecture plunged in the lush vegetation, hint at a seemingly glorious past.

The semi-abandoned surrounding plantations and the rows of workers’ houses inhabited by an impoverished and unemployed population remind us of a violent past of labor exploitation and environmental depletion.

The failure and abandonment of Leverville, which was once meant to be the crown jewel of the five plantation complexes established in the Congo basin, the symbolism of its radially arranged avenues, now barely legible through the overgrown weeds, tells us the story of how poor knowledge of environmental, human, and technical factors crushed the ambitions of a giant of global capitalism. The violent conflicts that have broken out in 2015 and 2019 in the Boteka and Lokutu company towns, both former Lever’s palm oil concessions, testify to the long-term effects of natural resource extraction in the Central African forest.

Michele Tenzon is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Liverpool, as part of a two-year research project titled the Architecture of the United Africa Company: Building Mercantile West Africa. As an architect and architectural historian, his research focuses on the contribution of architects and urban planners to the transformation of the rural landscape in Africa in the 20th century and the effects on the built environment of agricultural development and environmental transformation by both private and public actors in colonial and postcolonial contexts.

Maren Larsen, University of Basel

Tuesday, November 28, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. EST

Imagining Transpolar Futures: The Case of Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Bert De Jonghe, Harvard University

“Imagining Transpolar Futures” anticipates and frames the next chapter of settlement and infrastructural development on the archipelago of Svalbard, Arctic Norway. Based on a literary, statistical, and representational analysis, this project looks ahead (today–2050) and aspires to formulate a range of alternative settlement typologies and infrastructural futures for Svalbard. The foundational elements of such models include a transnational, participatory, and scenario-based design approach, as well as visions for a highly connected, inclusive, and adaptive settlement in a rapidly changing polar world. This DocTalks x MoMA presentation will unpack one of the 12 design scenarios included in this dissertation. Specifically, this presentation will position Longyearbyen—Svalbard’s largest settlement—as one of the most competitive and economically viable contenders to be transformed into a transshipment hub (or gateway) for the Transpolar Sea Route. Designing Longyearbyen as a trans-Arctic shipping hub is, however, challenged by Norwegian planning policies and increased natural risks due to climate change.

Bert De Jonghe is a Belgian landscape architect, the founder of Transpolar Studio, and a doctor of design candidate at Harvard University. He earned his master’s in design studies degree at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design after completing a master’s of landscape architecture at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design and a bachelor’s of landscape and garden architecture at the School of Arts in Ghent. Previously, he worked as a research assistant at Harvard GSD’s Office for Urbanization and with landscape architecture offices in Belgium, South Africa, and Norway. His research is supported by generous grants from the Penny White Project Fund, the Doctor of Design Grant, the Harvard University International Grant, and the MDes Research and Development Award. De Jonghe’s recent publications include Inventing Greenland: Designing an Arctic Nation (2022) and “The Opening of the Transpolar Sea Route: Logistical, Geopolitical, Environmental, and Socioeconomic Impacts” (Marine Policy Journal, 2020).

Phoebe Springstubb, MIT Architecture

The Modernist Chinese Garden as Historical Object and Contemporary Critique

Y. L. Lucy Wang, Columbia University

This paper focuses on an entourage of American-trained diasporic Chinese architects, namely Tong Jun 童寯, Wang Dahong 王大閎, Arthur Koon Hing Cheang 鄭觀萱, and I. M. Pei 貝聿銘, all of whose early projects adopted the stylistic idiom of Chinese gardens in a modernism redux. Although scholarship has hitherto privileged Tong, Wang, Cheang, and Pei’s post-1950s oeuvres and appraised their careers within the context of their later citizenships, this paper emphasizes shared theoretical investments in their early years and traces an unrealized, interrupted future that all four architects engaged with in their Chinese gardens, before their diasporic paths diverged across the Sinophone world. Separated by the Pacific Ocean, these architects participated in contemporaneous Chinese discourses, at once brimming with hope and undergoing dire conditions during China’s civil war and Japanese occupation. Their Chinese gardens connected traditional landscape theory with contemporaneity, allowing them to imagine daily life beyond the wartime realities of life and death and resist ongoing debates of national style, not to mention trajectories of nationalism itself.

Y. L. Lucy Wang specializes in modern architecture. In her writing, teaching, and curating, she focuses on Asia’s empires from maritime exchange to postcolony, with a particular interest in land administration and scientific knowledge. Her dissertation traces the emergence of professionalized architecture in the Greater China region (c. 1894–1949), examining how a hygienic consciousness entered into architectural expertise and how architects, doctors, land- surveyors, and engineers integrated new understandings of disease into their work.

Linfan Liu, UPenn/Digsau

Tuesday, November 21, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. EST

Olmsted’s Dividends

Maxwell Smith-Holmes, Princeton University

Six years after overseeing the design and construction of Manhattan’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted was appointed “Superintendent” of the Mariposa Estate, a network of gold and silver mines situated on 70 square miles in central California. Mariposa’s New York shareholders understood the unique competencies Olmsted demonstrated with Central Park as an ideal skill set for mine management. While landscape and architectural historians have noted Olmsted’s engagement at Mariposa, his work in mineral extraction remains underexamined despite raising important theoretical and historical questions about the imbrications of land, race, and economic value in the context of 19th-century continental imperialism. Referring to Olmsted’s correspondence and Mariposa Company financial records, and informed by theoretical formulations of racial capitalism, I argue that landscape architecture’s emergence as a distinct profession was inseparable from modes of capitalist value production rooted in racial difference. After taking charge of Mariposa, Olmsted confronted the enterprise’s poor financial performance by slashing mine workers’ pay by two thirds. After laborers stopped working in protest, Olmsted hired Chinese workers at half the wages of the predominantly white miners on strike. Thus, Olmsted’s tenure at Mariposa Estate involved an adaptation of the American West’s racialized economic geography from a horizontal topographic axis to an equally vast if less readily pictured landscape extending vertically down through subterranean strata of mineral resources. In his remaining two years as a mining manager, Olmsted ingratiated himself with San Francisco bankers who were busy overseeing investments in infrastructure, such as shipping and oil prospecting, industries that would prove crucial to settler expansionism throughout the latter half of the 19th century. Building on these relationships, Olmsted began advising wealthy New Yorkers on investments in the American West, translating his expertise managing large-scale earth-moving projects into personal financial confidence. Olmsted’s career in California reveals landscape as a vocation in postbellum America, through which land became equivalent to monetary value—liquid and convertible—and race became immutable, tangible, and real.

Maxwell Smith-Holmes is a writer, researcher, and PhD student at Princeton University studying the intersections of architecture, ecology, and political economy from the 17th through 19th centuries. He graduated from Reed College with a BA in art history and from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design with a professional master’s degree in landscape architecture. His essays and criticism have appeared in publications including e-flux architecture, Frieze, Flash Art, and Kaleidoscope. He has received grants and awards from the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard’s Penny White Project Fund, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

Hollyamber Kennedy, Northwestern University

Mass Timber in Historical Perspective: Remediating a Resource Economy

Meg Wiessner, New York University

The past decade has seen an explosion of architectural research and theory focused on the extractive material basis of conventional architecture and the cumulative effects of producing new built environments on other landscapes. Alongside academics and theorists, practicing architects and engineers have also become more aware of the wider costs of everyday construction materials, and have begun to understand buildings as complex assemblages with tentacular entanglements around the world. As practices like whole building life-cycle assessment and materials certification begin to shape decisions about materials, these ideas themselves take on historical significance.

Focusing on the growing mass timber industry in the Pacific Northwest of the US and Canada, this project offers a historical and ethnographic perspective on the intersection of anxiety over the material costs of buildings with legacy industries and supply chains. My research takes up the conundrum of how and why timber—a commodity product still associated by many here with environmental degradation, and at the heart of longstanding conflicts over land and labor—has also recently been recognized as a sustainable construction material by surprisingly diverse constituencies. The talk touches on some of the unique historical and cultural dynamics that have made mass timber popular here, but have also made its uptake here look different than in other regions: the ecological legacy of Indigenous dispossession and wildfire suppression in western North America; the increasing scarcity and precarity of work in forests at the end of the 20th century; a regional history of significant and successful anti-logging activism; and the recent growth of the tech industry here. Sustainability is always more than a function of objective material properties, and this work makes a case for historicizing the relationships and cultural contexts that understand and produce timber as a low-carbon construction material.

Megan Wiessner is a PhD candidate at New York University in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. She studies relations between media technologies and environmental design, focusing on both material circulations and cultural frameworks for understanding. Her current research project looks at the movement promoting prefabricated timber as a lower-carbon structural material. She holds an MSc from the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford and a BA in history from Fordham University. She organizes with GSOC-UAW 2110, the union of graduate workers at NYU, and is originally from Baltimore, Maryland.

Erin Putalik, University of Virginia

Tuesday October 31, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. EST

Turf Management, or How to Make a Level Playing Field

Daniel D’Amore, Emerson College

When the Houston Astrodome rolled out the first AstroTurf baseball field in summer 1966, after the “World’s Most Pampered Grass” died underneath the novel stadium’s roof, few reactions were enthusiastic. Beyond ballplayers’ suspicions of its effect on the game and their bodies, critics viewed the Monsanto-developed surface as either a gimmick or an insult: the artificial rug was pilloried as an attempt to save face or, worse, the synthetic environment’s eclipse of a uniquely American pastoral.

The proposed talk will use the episode within a larger project on “environmental management” and as a precedent for contemporary debates on the political economy of energy, public culture, and sports. The Astrodome and its design illustrate a late-modern approach to environment as conditional space, and management as the discursive and operative set of ideologies, practices, and technologies that produce and maintain those conditions. The framework aims to critically reassess the economic assumptions of management thought and its ever-finer rationalizations, optimizations, maximizations, and so on through the ambivalence of management’s different making-dos. Illustrated by the Astrodome’s volley between their expert consultants and “band-aid” solutions, management as making-do vacillates between dreams of totalizing control and maximizing ambition and the improvisational and adaptive handling of adversity. The Dome’s vicissitudes demonstrate environmental management’s impossibility of totally administered space as well as the insufficiency of relying on small-scale solutions to structural problems.

Drawing on the ultimately fruitless grass-growing experiments for the stadium and the petrochemical industrial complex that produced AstroTurf, the talk will place the Astrodome within a history of agronomic professionalization and scientization of sports and turfgrass management. Likewise, the Astrodome’s prime role in attracting white-collar labor and business tourism for Sunbelt Houston’s petrochemical, energy, and space “business climate” invites closer attention to spectator sports’ persistent function in issues and ideologies of urban development, environmental sustainability, and international relations through sportswashing and, naturally, “astroturfing.”

Daniel D’Amore is a media scholar researching 20c media cultures, architecture, and the environment. Currently affiliated faculty at Emerson College, he received his PhD in film and visual studies from Harvard University. His current book project is an environmental and cultural history of the Houston Astrodome.

Dan Handel, University of Haifa

Black Mountain, Red Earth

Justin Hui, independent researcher

Black Mountain, Red Earth chronicles the desolation of mining towns in the Zambian Copperbelt and the emergence of multinational frontier towns in western Zambia. Following the crash of global copper prices in the 1990s, this mineral-rich region underwent significant changes as state-run mines were sold to multinational mining conglomerates. This privatization resulted in drastic cuts to welfare and funding for urban development, profoundly changing the lives of those who work and live there.

The project focuses on two distinct regions: Black Mountain portrays the devastating effects of privatization through the lens of miners and their livelihoods in the Zambian Copperbelt; Red Earth explores the emerging frontier towns in western Zambia, where multinational companies are vying for a share of Africa’s vast copper reserves. Through interviews and photography, these two chapters provide a comparative portrayal between a place left behind by globalization and another borne by it, between the shadows of Zambia’s colonial legacy and the emergence of a global Africa shaped by competing multinational interests. These narratives foreshadow a broader landscape intertwined by global markets and forces.

Justin Hui is a visual artist and architect who uses the mediums of photography, found material, and fieldwork to explore issues that span land development, globalization, borders, and memory. Past projects include the Graham Foundation–funded Urban Africa, Made in China, which documents Chinese development throughout the African continent; Black Mountain, Red Earth chronicles the socioeconomic collapse of mining towns and the emergence of the multinational mining industry in the Zambian Copperbelt. He published his first photo book, New Territories, with Asia One, rethinking notions of territory and the legacies of colonialism through Hong Kong’s Northern frontier. His work has been supported by the Graham Foundation for the Advancement of Fine Arts and is being exhibited at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition–La Biennale di Venezia. He studied architecture at Cornell University, where he was awarded the Charles Goodwin Sands Medal.

Megan Eardley, Princeton University

Monday, October 23, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. EST

Reclaiming Lost Spaces: Reckoning with Natural Disasters and Erasure in the Built Environment

Deqah Hussein Wetzel, Columbia University

On August 23, 2005, Ms. Laveta Gilmore Jones was at her mom’s house in Portland, Oregon, when she heard the news: the levees had broken in New Orleans. Hundreds of miles away, Hurricane Katrina was wreaking havoc on the Lower Ninth Ward. When she looked over at her mother, Ms. Bea Gilmore, she saw more than concern: tears were running down her face. “What’s the matter, Mom?” That was the day Bea would finally open up to daughter about Vanport, her childhood home. Constructed in 1942 as a temporary wartime public housing project for the workers of the Kaiser shipyards, on floodplains between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, Bea’s family was one of thousands of working-class families—Black Americans, whites, Japanese Americans, and Indigenous Americans—that moved there for better-paying jobs. Unusually for the time, Vanport’s schools and community spaces were integrated. Residents were assured the surrounding berms would never break, but in 1948 water rushed in from the Columbia River, destroying the community. Homes and lives were taken in an instant. Survivors had to start over with nothing. In a world of climate precarity, the story of Vanport matters more than ever. Human decisions—about what land is valuable, which peoples matter, and how nature is to be treated—laid the foundations for this community’s erasure. For this DocTalk, I will explore the lessons Vanport has to teach us: about the physical erasure of place and culture in the built environment, about humans and natural resilience, and about the power of telling the truth and sharing our stories. Moreover, I will expand on how I use podcasting as a tool for historic preservation—one that amplifies the voices of marginalized community members and identifies pathways for community input for future development.

Deqah Hussein-Wetzel is a doctoral candidate in Columbia University’s Historic Preservation PhD program and the cohost/producer of Urban Roots, a podcast from Urbanist Media that dives deep into little-known stories of urban history. In 2021 she founded the antiracist community preservation collaborative Urbanist Media, whose nonprofit mission is to elevate underrepresented voices and ensure the places significant to them are preserved. Hussein-Wetzel firmly believes that podcasting is an invaluable preservation tool, one that can preserve the memory of place and challenges people to think beyond the familiar.

Since its launch in 2021, the Urban Roots podcast has been featured on Cincinnati Public Radio and Stitcher in celebration of Juneteenth, won Best of Cincinnati podcasts from Cincinnati magazine, received an education award from the Cincinnati Preservation Association, and was featured in TechSoup’s “5 Nonprofit Podcasts Helping Their Organizations Grow” blog article in February 2022. You can find Urban Roots wherever you listen to podcasts.

Emily Scott, University of Oregon

Designing River Islands: Recuperating Biosphere along the Han River

Jihoi Lee, Seoul National University

The main waterway of Seoul, the Han River, has been the symbolic resource for both human and nonhuman entities who inhabit the region around it for millennia. Yeouido and Seonyudo, two naturally formed river islands along the watercourse, had undergone drastic artificial interventions during colonial rule in the 1910s and ’20s. Yeouido’s vast delta was turned into an airfield and Seonyudo’s rocky hill was destroyed to supply materials for building embankments as an excuse for preventing flooding in the city. It was only in the 1990s that this disfigured river was put into question by Korea’s first female licensed landscape architect, Jung Young-sun (b. 1941), who has been the protagonist in implementing the language of nature into the context of rapid urban development in South Korea. She was the sole female voice among her mostly male collaborators—architects, urban planners, government officials, etc., strategically infiltrating the elements of ecological care in building nationwide urban infrastructure since the 1980s. Focusing on Jung’s two main projects along the Han River—Yeouido Saetgang Ecological Park (1997) and Seonyudo Park (1999–2002), this presentation seeks to shed light on her efforts in recuperating the pre-colonial biosphere of these two river islands before Japanese rule and modernization. Analyzing the design processes of Jung Young-sun and her team, from unearthing precolonial traces of the land to reviving the ecosystem that was once lost, I will draw attention to how these projects led the discipline of landscape architecture to gain recognition as an important role in Korean society. The presentation is part of my study in preparation for Jung’s retrospective exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA), in 2024, which will be the first solo exhibition of a landscape architect to be introduced in the domain of visual arts.

Jihoi Lee is a PhD candidate in architectural history at Seoul National University and curator of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Korea (2017–present). At MMCA, she curated a number of exhibitions and projects that encompass the field of architecture and contemporary art, including the on-/offline hybrid traveling exhibition Watch and Chill (2021–23), Architecture and Heritage: Unearthing Future (2019), and Beka & Lemoine: Through the Lens of Domesticity (2018). Previously, she curated exhibitions at the Asia Cultural Center, Gwangju (2015–17), and was deputy curator for the Korean Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Architectural Biennale, which won the Golden Lion. She graduated with a BA from Goldsmiths, University of London, and earned a master’s in critical, curatorial, and conceptual practices in architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, at Columbia University.

Tatiana Carbonell, ETH Zurich

Thursday, October 19, 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. EST

Indigeneity and Architectural Sustainability: An Oral History of the Haida and the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation

Adil Mansure, Harvard University

Along the Arctic circle, time, frost, and colonial oppression have inevitably vetted out stellar models of living sustainably. What are these architectures of adaptation, buoyancy, and persistence? And what about them are we not able to pin—and pen—down? Such were the questions guiding an oral history project I undertook, where I spoke with the elders and knowledge-keepers of various sub-Arctic Indigenous peoples about the architectural knowledge that lay intertwined with their knowledge forms and life skills. Thousands of years of knowledge are transferred orally—without writing or drawing—through their stories, myths, and worldviews. What of this oral epistemology itself shapes knowledge as adaptable, resilient, and sustainable?

I focus here on the Haida from Haida Gwaii, BC, and the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations from the Yukon, Canada. In my conversations with them, stories flowed freely from myth, to life lessons to teaching about morality, to passing on valuable skills required in everyday life, to recounting the trauma they encountered in residential schools. I note the sophisticated mnemonics at work in these drifts. In these cultures attempting to recover from generations of rupture and trauma caused by colonial repression, I account for how culture and language are regenerated by not only retelling their stories, but also by returning to their lost arts—building canoes, longhouses, and totem poles in the case of the Haida, and contraptions for hunting, seasonal dwellings, and food storage in the case of the Southern Yukon First Nations. A special emphasis is placed on water in their respective ecosystems as a key agent of environmental change. Architecture here is approached as merely a phase in the life cycle of carbon chemistry involving food, clothing, energy, and shelter. And architectural space is anything but universal; rather, it emerges from the animal bodies, landscape features, and atmospheric phenomena encountered in everyday life—which describe axes of dwelling, subsistence, and space.

Adil Mansure is currently a PhD student at Harvard University, where his interests are located at the intersection of architectural history and theory and the history of technology. He has previously taught and researched at universities in the US, Canada, and China, and has practiced as an architectural designer. He holds degrees from Cambridge University, Yale University, and Mumbai University.

Frederik Braüner, University of California, Berkeley

Ecopoetics Workshop and the Architectonics of the Poem: A Nonstandard Ecopoetics

Brent Cox, Topological Poetics Research Institute (TPRI)

In recent decades, the discourse of ecopoetics and ecocriticism has emerged in tandem with ongoing environmental catastrophe. At its most radical formal extreme, such as in the work of Cecilia Vicuña, ecopoetics participated in fostering an expanded understanding of the poem, wherein what Steve McCaffery calls the “parapoetics” of the poem, or what we might call its architectural identity, became inextricably bound to any understanding of its “content.” For this reason, as Jonathan Skinner writes, “ecopoetics would ideally function as an edge (as in edge of the meadow, or shore, rather than leading edge) where different disciplines can meet and complicate one another.” In other words, ecological thinking authorized a form of poetics that can be reasonably considered “architectural,” that is, a form of poetics concerned as much with a poem’s spatio-temporal-material existence, and its limits or edges, as it is with the “language-content” of the poem. In this non-schema, or what Ming-Qian Ma might call a “method of no-method,” the poem, as Joan Retallack writes, becomes an experiment that welcomes discontinuity and resigns the usual demands for visualization and causality. Here, the poem renounces describing transition processes in favor of becoming them. While ecopoetics and ecocriticism have been quietly recuperated into the standard form of academic discourse, in my session I will present what I’m calling a “nonstandard ecopoetics,” one that continues to push on the boundaries of the poem, and the poetic subject, in the situation of anthropocentric climate change, ongoing coloniality, and racial-financial capitalism.

In my dissertation work I theorized a concept I named “infrastructuralist writing” to account for the kind of expanded transformative poetics mentioned above. The lacuna in my work is an extended engagement with ecopoetics, and this presentation is part of the beginning, or ongoing becoming, of that engagement, in part as it manifests as ecopoetics workshop. From July 18 through July 31, 2023, my colleagues and I at the Topological Poetics Research Institute (TPRI) organized ecopoetics workshop 2023, an autonomous alter-institutional intensive residential program at the Nature, Art, Habitat Residency (NAHR), an environmentally oriented art and science research institute run by architect and writer Ilaria Mazzoleni in Val Taleggio, Italy. Our workshop was attended by MFA students, PhD candidates, and professors, and consisted of two weeks of seminars, collaborative writing exercises, presentations from scholars in the field, and deep engagement with the local environment of Val Taleggio. ecopoetics workshop takes as its starting point the kind of “architectonic” understanding of the poem described above, one that desubjectifies authorship into a collective assemblage of nodal transformative points in the homology of the built landscape of the valley and the anthropocentric entanglements therein and beyond. In my session, I will present some of what we did during ecopoetics workshop 2023 and discuss possible future iterations of the workshop, including a New York City–based event we are holding on October 28. I will also speculate at the edge of that work, meditating on what I’m calling a “nonstandard ecopoetics,” including engagement with the work of Cecilia Vicuña, N. H. Pritchard, and Leslie Scalapino.

Brent Cox recently received a PhD from University at Buffalo’s Poetics Program. He is the founder of the Topological Poetics Research Institute (TPRI) and a co-organizer of ecopoetics workshop, which ran its second iteration summer 2023 in Val Taleggio, Italy. TPRI publishes poetry, writing, podcasts, video, and other experiments on the boundaries of contemporary discourse. His dissertation, “Infrastructuralist Writing,” uses the affordances of the concept of “infrastructure” to trace an alternative approach to poetics which understands poetry as an ongoing material inscriptive activity occurring across time and space, including creative evolution through authors, contexts, and histories. He recently published a video on Kamau Brathwaite’s Sycorax Video Style at &&& and a collaborative work of topological aural-machinic poetics in OEI #98-99: Aural Poetics with Courlin Byrd. He has recently conducted research at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Media Archaeology Lab and presented video poetic criticism at &Now: A Conference of Innovative Poetics, the Electronic Literature Organization’s Annual Conference, and the University of Cambridge.

Phoebe Giannisi, University of Thessaly

June 13, 2023, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

The 18th-Century Teatro Regio in Turin: A Forest Perspective

Martina Motta, Politecnico di Torino

When we talk about Teatro Regio in Turin, we immediately think of the 1970s building renovation by modern architect Carlo Mollino: a sudden fire destroyed the 18th-century building in 1936. Designed by the First Royal Architect Benedetto Alfieri, the original theater boasted a comparable avant-garde project. Indeed, the theater’s main hall was built with an extraordinary capacity for the time, responding to innovative visual and hearing solutions. The Teatro Regio became a paradigm in the context of contemporary European theatrical achievements. The historiographical research, however, has mostly focused on the architectural artifact. If we do investigate where the carpentry’s timber came from, the history of the architecture expands beyond the time of construction and brings out new points of view. How did a forest work in the 18th century? What kind of manpower was required? How had centuries-old knowledge around the forest changed? Which human and non-human species were affected by the logging? Which local communities’ forms of resistance against the process of extraction? Studying architecture through a forest perspective bears witness to the events of construction being intertwined with the natural environment and its exploitation, revealing a history of architecture that cannot be separated from the environmental one.

Martina Motta is a researcher, architect and activist. Her work focuses on the overlapping boundaries between architecture, ecology and geopolitics. She is currently researching on construction sites as a source of conflict between state and local communities in the eighteenth-century Alps. Martina has developed research projects for international venues such as La Biennale di Venezia (2014, 2020), Manifesta Biennial (2018), MAAT – Lisbon Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (2021), and Oslo Architecture Triennale (2016) among others. She was part of OMA – Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam. Martina is part of Ecologia Politica Network and she is a research fellow at LabiSAlp – Laboratorio di Storia delle Alpi at Università della Svizzera italiana. Currently she is working on a Ph.D in Architecture. History and Project at Politecnico di Torino.

Alberto Valz Gris, Politecnico di Torino

Unimprovable Regularities: The Araucaria Araucana Tree in the Victorian Garden

Kurt Pelzer, UCLA

The Araucaria araucana tree (also called Pehuén or Monkey Puzzle) only grows naturally in the Andean slopes of southern Chile and Argentina and in the Coastal Range of Chile. It is admired for its height (up to 50 meters) and longevity (up to a thousand years) and is deeply tied to the Mapuche-Pehuenche indigenous culture. It was declared a Natural Monument in Chile in 1976 and 1990 and is informally recognized as a national symbol. For their part, Europeans, especially the British, perceive it as a usual (and sometimes old-fashioned) species from old parks and suburban gardens. Unlike other imperial transplants, the Araucaria araucana was imported into Great Britain for ornamental use. By following a specific species, the research offers tangible—complex and sometimes ordinary but not less important—evidence of broader processes related to the domestic scale of imperialism, the nursery market, gardeners, and scientist practice and language, among others. In other words, this research is not about the Araucaria araucana itself but its displacement as evidence of a broader dialogue between gardening, science, and coloniality. Specifically, this presentation will focus on 19th-century illustrations. Drawings, paintings, and engravings, among others, as methods of visualization of nature, were essential for constructing and disseminating knowledge during the 18th and 19th centuries. The production of plant illustrations not only facilitated their recognition and classification but also their distinction for potential use. In this context, the presentation focuses on the Araucaria araucana species and its appearance in British publications. In this instance, we will center on John Claudius Loudon’s Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum (1844). The aim is to illuminate the historical understanding of exotic tree species in the English garden, to visualize the influence of scientific language and methodology on gardening, and to open the reflection on the relationship between ornament and science and their role in plant migration.

Camila Medina is an architect and Novoa doctoral fellow at LUS institute, ETH. She holds a Master in Landscape Architecture from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She is co-founder of LOFscapes Collective and main editor of its book Paisaje no es Naturaleza, Landscape is not Nature.

Kurt Pelzer, UCLA

May 30, 2023, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Interiors Turning Off and On Environment Valves, Air-borne Architecture, and Special Economic Zones in China, 1979–1989

Jia Weng, Yale University

Although Buckminster Fuller’s work has been studied extensively, scholars have rarely examined how his ecological thoughts operated as they traveled outside the Euro-American context. This paper follows Fuller’s ecological projects to China’s Economic Zones. Connected to the global economy through transportation, telecommunication, and environmental control infrastructures, SEZs are enclaves with relaxed labor, environmental, and trade regulations dedicated to promoting export. As the authority of the Shekou Industrial Zone, the first SEZ in China struggled to provide built environments for Foreign Direct Investment. They contacted Fuller for design studies of floating cities and geodesic domes. Situating these projects against Fuller’s broader theoretical account of ecology and world economy, this paper investigates how concepts like environmental valves and airborne economy materialized through the infrastructural developments in Shekou. Fuller’s idea of turning architecture into subscribable environmental services turning off and on like valves and his celebration of airborne transportation technologies that communicate and deposit economic regimes around the world indicate a planetary interior catered toward the privileged neoliberal subject—or World Man, to use Fuller’s term. In explaining and unpacking why both the Chinese SEZ authorities and Fuller, coming from opposite camps in the Cold War, shared mutual political and economic goals, I argue that Fuller’s information-driven project of ecological redesign was a neoliberal one from its inception. It inherited, even if inadvertently, the mechanism of control and conquest from colonialism. The alignment between Fuller and China was only based on misunderstandings. The tension between sovereignty and property, ecology and economy, individualism and collectivism, contained by the zones, culminated in political upheavals in the late 1980s, eventually concluding Fuller’s collaboration with the SEZs, leaving projects—such as China International Trade China—forever on paper.

Jia Weng is a Ph.D. candidate in architectural history and theory at Yale School of Architecture, who holds a certificate in Film and Media Studies. She also serves as a research affiliate at the Research Network of Philosophy and Technology and a sectional curator for Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture 2022. Investigating the introduction and evolution of heating and cooling conduits in China, her dissertation examines how information flows and material fluids interacted with each other in generating thermal inequalities while producing a global airscape.

Ruo Jia, Pratt Institute & Harvard University

Deserts, Reclaimed: On China, Territory, Agriculture, and Geopolitics

Isabelle A. Tan, Princeton University

In 1965 a Chinese state-run film studio released the documentary Army’s Reclamation and Battle Song (军垦战歌), dedicated to the work of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (新疆生产建设兵团) in the autonomous region. The Corps modeled a means and mechanism for shaping agricultural subjects and the “desert” for a new socialist state. This paper analyzes the documentary to consider the emergence of an agricultural-military-communication complex specific to Chinese political ecology in the 1950s and ’60s. Like most state-produced media of the period, Army’s Reclamation and Battle Song coerces labor, subjectivity, and environment into legibility as a condition of Maoist ideology. Individual persons and their landscapes bear the burden of this representation. In this optics of visibility, both are forced to stand in for abstract “socialist” and modernist promises constituted by facile binaries between marginal and fertile soils, revolutionary and backward forces, the interior and the periphery, and the rural and urban. In this writing, I offer a wayward way of witnessing the relations of Han Chinese and Uyghur, Kazakh, and Turkic people and the built environments they inhabit. This method excavates the actual agricultural practices and techniques seen in the film to unsettle the propagandistic camouflage or trope of tree-plating or greening (绿化) through which settler logics of Sinification are generally understood. I occupy the gap between material beings and bodies and their representations to recover revolutionary possibility while attending to the persistent wounds subjecting human and non-human agency to the same degraded condition, always to be reclaimed.

Isabelle A. Tan is a PhD student in History and Theory of Architecture at Princeton University. Alongside her doctoral studies, she is an assistant editor at the Avery Review and one-half of an experimental practice, Workshop for Environmental Technik (WET, 环境技术工作小组). This work includes an interview published in November and a forthcoming exhibition at 80WSE. Isabelle previously taught at The New School. She is a graduate of Columbia GSAPP’s Critical, Curatorial & Conceptual Practices in Architecture program. Her writing has appeared in the Avery Review, Pidgin, and PIN-UP, and she is indebted to politically dissent techniques of approach.

Samia Henni, Cornell University

May 16, 2023, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lighthouses: Making of a Coastal Landscape

Emine Esra Nalbant, Binghamton University

Between the late 1820s and the mid-1840s, maritime travel time had shrunk due to steamship technology, and the distance between coasts imploded. Due to this, the traffic over the oceans significantly intensified. A transformation on such a level required an infrastructural web of different types to support and facilitate this flow. Accordingly, to this process, the built environment of the shores changed radically, as the reflection of the intensifying maritime traffic manifested itself in the newly erected lighthouses, quays, and railroads connecting lands to ports. This work will discuss technological developments regarding steamships and lighthouses during the 19th century in the Ottoman realm with a specific focus on the career of Marius Michel. Lighthouse construction significantly increased as a global event since the need for navigational infrastructures to facilitate increased maritime traffic and provide links to connect oceanic highways to land. Marius Michel managed the lighthouse construction activities, first as the Director of the Ottoman Lighthouses Administration, then through the Michel et Collas company, which had the privilege of building and managing the lighthouses he founded. Lighthouses, as the concrete portion of the complex and multi-fragmented navigation operations, offer a fresh framework, which considers infrastructure construction in the Ottoman Empire for maritime transportation and trade during the 19th century on a global scale. This paper attempts to discuss technological developments regarding steamships and lighthouses in the Ottoman world together with the making of global connections during the 19th century. It aims to discuss the continuous position of oceans as a space of maritime trade network and how that infrastructure network connects the land and sea during a transformative turn due to shifted material conditions and technological developments of the 19th century.

Emine Esra Nalbant is a Ph.D. student in Art History Department at Binghamton University since 2021. Her studies concern the relationship between the infrastructural building activities on shores after the development of steamship technology and the increased maritime traffic during the second half of the nineteenth century. She is currently writing her dissertation about the lighthouse construction boom in the nineteenth century and its correlation with port construction and other types of maritime infrastructure networks in Ottoman geography. Her interests also include the lighthouse technology itself, its relationship with the intensified maritime transportation network, and its impact on the coastal spaces and oceanic world. Nalbant has an interdisciplinary background. She completed her master’s thesis in History from Bogazici University in Istanbul and her City and Regional Planning degree from Middle East Technical University in Ankara. On her master’s she worked on the life and career of Marius Michel, who led the lighthouse construction movements in the late Ottoman period. In addition, she worked as an excavation architect at Erytrae Archeological Excavation Site in 2017 and 2018 and research assistant in the Istanbul Encyclopedia Project, in 2020 and 2021.

Learning with the Volcanoes: Indigenous Cosmologies and Modern Epistemologies in the Aeolian Archipelago

Marilena Mela, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The volcanic Aeolian archipelago, off the North Coast of Sicily consists of seven inhabited islands. Throughout history, these volcanoes have been approached as material resources, supernatural entities, and objects for protection. From a Braudelian perspective, human life in the islands has been shaped by volcanoes, in terms of subsistence activities, like mining, building, trade, agriculture, and tourism, but also narratives, traditions, and cultural attitudes. Interpretations brought from outside the islands interweave with beliefs born within. To this day, inhabitants of Stromboli personify the volcano, calling it Iddu- him. He is unpredictable: he brings fertility to the soil, but can cause death and damage. Homer referred to the islands as the headquarters of Aeolus; Roman authors described them as the workshop of Hephaestus; and for medieval travelogs, their craters were the entrance to hell. The rationalization of environmental knowledge in the 19th century brought scientific attention from geologists and volcanologists, leading ultimately to the nomination of the archipelago as a UNESCO natural world heritage site. This presentation corresponds to one of the chapters of my dissertation, and is a work in progress. Drawing on travelogs, scientific papers, policy documents, landscape observation, and interviews, I discuss how modern and premodern epistemologies relate to contemporary issues of landscape governance, rights, and stewardship. In what ways (if at all) do Indigenous cosmologies and situated knowledge about the landscape survive? What impact does the dominance of universal systems of thought (the recognition of the scientific value of the volcanoes, their aestheticization and their view as a world heritage property) have for local communities? Can we imagine a sustainable cohabitation of humans and non-humans, in the era of globalized neoliberalism and climate crisis, when the islands are peripheralized, their territory largely abandoned, and the livelihoods of islanders almost entirely dependent on tourism? This talk will touch upon episodes of interaction between humans and the volcanoes and will seek to understand their impact for present and future landscape making.

Marilena Mela is a PhD candidate and lecturer at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She studied architecture in Athens and Florence and worked as an architect in Spain and Greece before joining the EU-funded project Heriland, a network of doctoral research that explores the relationships of cultural heritage to spatial planning. Her research interests range from critical heritage, place identity, and landscape adaptation, to grassroot activism, spatial planning cultures, and global networks. Her PhD project looks at the embedding of energy-related infrastructural projects to the longue-durée of landscape making. Her research is informed by fieldwork in islands around Europe, including the Cyclades in Greece, the Wadden Islands in the Netherlands, Shetland in Scotland, and the Aeolian islands in Italy. At VU Amsterdam, she teaches heritage and landscape related courses at a BA and MA level. She is also involved with participatory projects in Greece, aiming to the activation of local knowledge as a means to reclaim the largely abandoned Greek countryside.

Sam Grinsell

May 9, 2023, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Sanitary Architecture and the Battle for the Urban Commons in Modern Egypt

Marianne Dhenin, University of Basel

Mounted Egyptian police stormed Bulaq on July 21, 1883, setting fire to homes and shepherding thousands of fleeing residents onto barges on the Nile River. A week earlier, cholera had settled into the marshy earth of the Cairo neighborhood and begun to tear through its narrow alleyways and makeshift huts, leaving hundreds dead. As the disease spread into wealthier districts to the north, the Egyptian Board of Health ordered the clearance of large swaths of Bulaq to disinfect the area. Following the epidemic, decrees were issued, giving sanitary authorities increased control over the built environment, establishing new standards for dwellings, and criminalizing the construction of slum areas like those cleared from Bulaq. This paper explores the afterlives of these disease-driven interventions in the built environment, tracing their reverberations into modern Egypt. It draws on reports, correspondence, and memoirs of experts and administrators as they sought to reorder Egypt’s slums. These sources reveal how colonial and Egyptian elites envisioned the future social and spatial order of the nation and its cities. The paper also reads the everyday resistance of the urban poor, recorded in the press, as alternate trajectories. Even as sanitary authorities characterized them as squatters and vectors of disease and sought to exclude them from new urban developments, those expelled from neighborhoods like Bulaq often returned and remade their homes. In doing so, they contested false necessities and imagined alternate futures. Contextualizing its arguments within concurrent nation-building processes, interventions in infrastructure and the built environment, and developments in sanitary science, including shifting understandings of nature’s role in fostering or preventing disease, this paper asks how competing visions of the modern advanced by Egypt’s elites and its urban poor in the aftermath of the 1883 cholera epidemic have gnawed on Egyptian cities, leaving scars in their urban and social fabric.

Marianne Dhenin is a journalist and historian. Currently, she is a Ph.D. candidate in Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Basel, a researcher in the Leibniz Cooperation Project “The Historicity of Democracy in the Arab and Muslim Worlds,” and a member of the academic staff at the Leibniz Institute of European History. Her dissertation explores how disease and public health shaped the social and spatial order of late 19th- and early 20th-century Egyptian cities.

ENI’s Disegno Africano

Giulia Scotto, USI, Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio

In the early postcolonial era, the Italian national hydrocarbon agency ENI entered the oil market of 25 African countries. ENI’s “paralle diplomacy” understood the decolonization of Africa as the right moment for Italy to re-ensure access to Africa’s resources and emancipate itself from the “seven sisters” oil lobby. Through a “parallel” corporate diplomacy and the construction of material artifacts, ENI developed an incremental network of lines and nodes through which oil was transported, refined, and commercialized. This set of strategic infrastructural operations—often referred to as ENI’s “disegno Africano”—were depicted by ENI as the “missing infrastructures” able to spur development and real economic independence. But, in reality, pipelines, refineries, and gas stations materialized ENI’s neo-colonial project. They suggested an oil-based modernity and a consumerist way of life and operated as outposts to conquer new territories, endangering environments and local populations. This paper interrogates ENI’s infrastructural projects to achieve a deeper understanding of the unspoken territorial and social vision of the Italian company and offers an alternative to the official narrative of the pioneering and decolonizing mission proposed by ENI in Italy and abroad.

Giulia Scotto is an architect and urban researcher based at the Urban and Landscape Studies Institute (USI) of the Università della Svizzera Italiana (CH). Giulia received her PhD in Urban Studies at the University of Basel in 2022 with a dissertation on the infrastructural expansion of ENI, the Italian national hydrocarbon agency, in post-independence sub-Saharan Africa. Giulia is currently a visiting post-doc at the ETH Zurich where she is coordinating a project on urban regulations and their limits in the city of Zurich.

Nadi Abusaada and Ijlal Muzaffar

April 26, 2023, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Icelandic Farmhouses in the Homogenocene: The Shift from Turf to Concrete (1895–1945)

Sofia Nannini, University of Bologna

This talk retraces the developments of Icelandic rural architecture in the first half of the 20th century, with an eye to the progressive replacement of vernacular construction techniques with international building methods. In less than five decades, the almost timeless tradition of turf houses—stemming from the Middle Ages—eventually came to an end. The first generation of Icelandic engineers and architects promoted new building technologies: turf was replaced by concrete, and this building technique changed Icelandic architectural history for posterity. Despite some local peculiarities in the applications of concrete, by the mid-twentieth century Icelandic architecture fully entered an age we can define as “architectural Homogenocene,” the era of homogeneous building methods applied at a global level. According to Barnabas Calder’s interpretation of architectural history through its energy resources, the material transition occurring in Icelandic rural architecture can also be understood within an energy framework. The evolution of Icelandic farmhouses from turf to concrete is a clear example of how an energy system—that of fossil fuels, allowing more frequent travel, material exchange, and new building materials, especially Portland cement—was able to transform a thousand-year-old vernacular tradition at the northernmost tip of Europe. This research engages with a very special history of architecture: one of adaptation and tradition, scarcity of building materials and transfers of knowledge with Europe and the United States. The history of Icelandic farmhouses is intermixed with construction issues, nationalistic debates, and a quest for a much-needed modernization of the standards of living.

Sofia Nannini is a postdoctoral research fellow and adjunct professor at the University of Bologna. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Florence and at the Italian Institute for Design. In 2021, she obtained a PhD in “Architecture. History and Project” from the Politecnico di Torino, with a dissertation titled The Icelandic Concrete Saga: Architecture and Construction (1847–1958). Her book Icelandic Farmhouses: Identity, Landscape and Construction (1790–1945) is going to be published by Firenze University Press in 2023.

The Surveyor, the Diver, and the Stone

Alberto Ortega Trejo, University of Chicago

Between 1948 and 1952, acclaimed architectural critic and historian Sibyl Moholy-Nagy traveled to indigenous settlements in the US, Mexico, and the Caribbean in order to catalog, analyze, and bring visibility to the spatial production of anonymous builders in the Americas. With the results of this survey, Moholy-Nagy produced a book titled Native Genius in Anonymous Architecture, a kind of anti-modernist manifesto that delivers a critique on what she understood as the alienating dehumanization produced by modern architecture in American cities. In this book, published in 1957, 10 years before Rudofsky’s famous treatise Architecture Without Architects, Moholy-Nagy produced a primitivist reading of the spatial production of societies with scarce economic resources as an architectural ideal closer to an essentialist state of environmental coherence. This lecture excavates the archival traces produced by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy during her travels to Mexican Otomí indigenous territories for the making of Native Genius in Anonymous Architecture, the tangential history of the Otomí as laborers of Mexico City’s sewage system and the intellectual imprint these travels left in Sibyl Moholy-Nagy’s posterior works. Through a critical reading of Sibyl Moholy-Nagy’s contributions to ecological thinking in architectural discourse, this lecture analyzes the production of environments as narrative and intellectual frameworks, and the mechanical production of artificial environments and hybridized bodies necessary for the construction of Mexico City’s deep sewage system.

Alberto Ortega Trejo is a Mexican artist based in Chicago. His work uses architectural history, drawing and video to reflect on the production of marginality, the formation of extreme environments and contemporary political struggles in the Americas. He has been an IDEAS Fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians, a grantee of Jumex Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. His work has been exhibited at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, BienalSur, Ca’ Foscari Zattere, Harun Farocki Institut, SpaceP11, among others. He is currently the curator of The Last of Animal Builders, an exhibition at the Edith Farnsworth House (opening April 2, 2023). He manages the Katz Center for Mexican Studies at The University of Chicago.

Rafico Ruiz

April 4, 2023, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Oscillating Spaces: The Ice Grotto on the Furkastrasse

Anneke Abhelakh, ETH/gta

The Furka Pass road, set high in the Swiss Alps between the Canton of Uri and the Canton of Valais, was built in 1867 for strategic military reasons and is accessible roughly from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox. During the rest of the year, the pass is closed off and isolated. We have to imagine a landscape covered with snow, the extended winter season that happens without human visitors. The Furka comes with these two tempi. The genesis of glaciology, the construction of the sublime, Alpine tourism all find their roots in this region. Famous writers, poets, and artists dwelled here and produced new works inspired by the sublime beauty. It is hidden in the south-central part of the country, and the journey to get there is scenic. The curvy road trip has views of glaciers, mountaintops, and forested areas. The train runs along the mountainside. The Furka Pass also takes you close to the Rhone Glacier, source of the Rhone river. During the open season, nowadays some 250,000 people pass by, as in a cortège, on bikes or motorcycles, in private and often fast cars, or in Alpine Post Buses. During the last “little ice age” (roughly the 16th century to the late 19th century), glaciers expanded. The Rhone glacier in German is Rhône Gletscher; the little town at its tongue is called Gletsch. The residents of Gletsch have kept records of the ice since 1602. The availability of farmland and the supply of water was controlled by where the glacier is. The curved Hotel Belvedere (from 1869) sits next to the Rhone glacier. Its proprietors, who have been running it for four generations, also run the ice grotto, opposite of the hotel. This presentation will focus on the history of this gletscher and its ice grotto. At least since the 1830s, at the mouth of the glacier on the right side, was a natural grotto. Since the early 1880s, the door of the glacier is on the left side. The ice grotto is dug each year in May to be ready at the beginning of the tourist season.

Submerging Empire: Water Infrastructures and Cement Grottoes in French Aquariums

Alex Zivkovic, Columbia University

Descending into a grotto, visitors to the 1867 and 1878 Expositions Universelles in Paris were treated to immersive aquarium installations. In contrast with many other fairground attractions like static panoramas or lifeless displays of goods, aquariums had to perform numerous feats of engineering attuned to the biological and ecological needs of living specimens. In nineteenth-century Paris, this management of fish and regulation of watery milieu required a concerted political effort by the parks administration under Adolphe Alphand. This talk will examine aquariums as a key proving ground for modern technologies—utilizing recently built canals, ships, iron and glass construction, and cement grottoes. Aquariums directly benefited from Second Empire infrastructures and new waterways. At the 1867 Exposition, the freshwater aquarium relied on Haussmann-era aqueducts and canals, while the saltwater aquarium received its water from military barges. In looking at the state’s role in managing drinkable and undrinkable water in aquariums in both Paris and Algiers, I explore the politics of displaying water—now rendered unusable—within aquariums in two cities plagued by insufficient drinking water and waterborne epidemics. Cement grottoes performed similar managerial work by offering a vision of controlled, artificial nature inside aquariums and throughout public parks like the Buttes-Chaumont and the Bois de Boulogne. In manufacturing constructed caverns, Alphand and his collaborator, the rocailleur Eugène Combaz, modernized and secularized a Classical trope previously associated with nymphs and royal gardens—a new, soft-power imperial aesthetic then exported from Paris to parks in Egypt. In excavating the techniques and technologies of aquariums, I explore an imperial bio-political project that showcased control over individual fish, fisheries, waterways, ecologies, and Paris’s public spaces. Furthermore, by keeping fish alive and entertaining visitors in immersive spaces, organizers demonstrated the climate-controlling, world-building capacities of modern French engineering.

Alex Zivkovic is a Ph.D. candidate studying modern art and media at Columbia University. His dissertation examines greenhouses, aquariums, and colonial gardens in French art and mass culture from 1860 to 1940. Drawing on architectural history, media theory, and landscape studies, this project investigates the role nature played in French imperial culture and how the modernist management of nature influenced aesthetic modernism. Alex has presented parts of his dissertation at the Garden and Landscape Studies Summer Workshop at Dumbarton Oaks as well as the Stanford-Leuphana Summer Academy on media theory. Broadly, his research is motivated by how different media “capture” ecologies—whether 19th-century museums of taxidermy or contemporary feminist video art. His research on ecological and museological topics has been published in Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism and is forthcoming in Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Modernism/Modernity Print+, and other venues. At Columbia, Alex completed two interdisciplinary graduate certificates through the Center for Comparative Media and the Institute for the Study of Sexuality and Gender. Alex graduated from Stanford University in 2017, receiving a B.A. in Art History and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.

Johanna Just and Igor Ekštajn

March 14, 2023, 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m.

Of Seeds and Sheds: Designing Uniformity along the Production Lines of Plantation Crops in Colonial Sumatra

Robin Hartanto Honggarre, Columbia University

Seeking to establish commodity’s uniformity, plantation companies in the East Coast of Sumatra, which produced tobacco, rubber, and oil palm for the global demand in the twentieth century, mobilized various interventions that brought spatial changes to the plantations in this region of the Dutch East Indies. This chapter delves into the homogenization of cash crops, a multi-scalar process that, in the case of tobacco, the focus of this presentation, started with the selection of seeds but found its critical junctures in the processing facilities, especially the curing and fermentation sheds, where intensive labor and spatial order were deployed not only to produce tobacco products but also to make them uniform. Analyzing agroindustrial handbooks and company archives concerning the production of tobacco in the region, this presentation draws attention to the various cultivation practices that contributed to the uniformity of tobacco leaves, an aspect that significantly increased their value in the world market. I follow the production lines of plantation crops and argue that the commodity’s uniformity was anything but natural, its construction relying on architectural mediation across the plantation spaces. This presentation is part of my dissertation “Building Commodities: Environments of the Colonial Plantation in the East Coast of Sumatra, 1869–1942,” which traces the conversion of native land into plantation fields and the creation of an extensive network of buildings sustaining commodity production in this region.

Robin Hartanto Honggare is a PhD candidate in Architectural History at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. He graduated with a BArch from Universitas Indonesia and earned a master’s degree in critical, curatorial, and conceptual practices in architecture at Columbia University. Building on his focus on the architectures of cultivation and histories of colonial modernities in Southeast Asia, his current research explores commodity buildings and their entanglement with environmental techniques and imaginaries in the Netherlands Indies. His work has been supported by the Graham Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the American-Indonesian Cultural & Educational Foundation, and Het Nieuwe Instituut, where he is also involved in the Collecting Otherwise working group.

Plantation Technologies: Tracing the Histories of Palms, Weevils, and Owls in the Oil Palm Territories of Johor State, Malaysia Confirmed

Hans Hortig, ETH Future Cities Lab in Singapore

This study examines plantation agriculture as a technology aimed at extracting natural resources and unpaid labor, and at installing regulatory authority. It is focused on palm oil plantation territories in Johor State, Malaysia, one of the planetary core zones of palm oil production, refining, and export. Through the notion of operationalisation of territory, it brings the discourse on the Plantationocene into a dialogue with critical urban studies and the history of urbanization. Palms, weevils, and owls are investigated as crucial agents in the production process, highlighting the fact that more-than-human assemblages have been utilized to enable the expansion of Malaysian palm oil plantations and the socio-ecological transformation of territory. The episodes of palms, weevils and owls highlight the role of botanical imperialism and the industrialisation of palm oil production, investigate non-human labor in enhancing the productivity of oil palm plantations through weevil pollinations, and highlight the relation between practices of sustainable production and animal management. As an alternative periodisation of palm oil production, the research adds a more-than-human and spatial perspective to Ouma’s and Premchander’s call for ‘writing the plantation into the technological present-future’. The entanglements of agro-industrial operationalisation of territory and more-than-human life on the plantations are traced temporally, showing the fragility of plantation ecologies on which the global palm oil commodity chains depend.

Hans Hortig is a landscape architect and scholar working between Singapore, Zurich and Berlin. He studied landscape architecture and open space planning at the Technical University Berlin, the ETH Zurich and the School of Design, Mysore. Since 2013 he has taught research and design studios, seminars, and guided graduation thesis at the Future Cities Laboratory in Singapore, the ETH Zurich and the TU Berlin. Hans co-curated the lecture series Sessions on Territory and contributed to several exhibitions such as the Rotterdam Biennale 2014, the Shenzhen Biennale for Architecture/Urbanism 2015, or SAM Basel 2019. His scholarly work has been published in Archithese, GAM Magazine, and Footprint Journal, and he is co-editing the forthcoming book Singapore Beyond the Border with Milica Topalovic. His current main research project focuses on Palm Oil Territories.

William Davis

DocTalks x MoMA Sessions 2022

November 30, 2022, 9:00–11:00 p.m.

“In England, where fuel is plenty, and its waste universal” Household Comfort and Thermal Abundance in the Nineteenth Century

Aleksandr Bierig, Harvard University

There are few more indelible themes in the history of architecture than what Reyner Banham memorably named the “well-tempered environment.” Banham’s 1969 book was an earnest (if also wry) narration of the technologized interior—the equipment of heat, light, air, and water that had supposedly brought the architectural environment under control. This history was, as he himself admitted, more interested in ends rather than means, with the final provision of comfort rather than the systems of power that provided the critical external support to interior environments. But where had such expectations come from, to begin with? This presentation will outline an alternate genealogy of the well-tempered environment by returning to a moment before Banham’s history, when the distribution of comfort was more uneven and far less certain. Its focus is on a particular object of both technological and architectural interest: the household fireplace. Specifically, it will consider the work of early nineteenth-century engineer and writer Robert Stuart Meikleham, who composed the first English-language histories of fireplace technology in 1825 and 1845. Though Meikleham wanted to tell a story of what he called “the progress of personal and fireside comfort”—a kind of early draft of the “well-tempered environment,” chronicling the inventions of “ingenious men” like himself, Count Rumford, and Benjamin Franklin—a close reading of his work reveals a more conflicted story. Indeed, what his books reveal is not a history of technology, but rather a history of fuel; of how the comforts of the nineteenth-century British household were supported not by technical mastery, but by their anomalous use of coal. At the time, there was no shortage of resourceful cultural responses to the problem of conserving fuel—from Russian and Dutch “closed stoves” to the underfloor heating of the Chinese Kang, among many other examples discussed in Meikleham’s histories. By contrast, the fuel folkways of the English were exemplified in the national attachment to the “open hearth”—a roaring pile of coals that sent roughly ninety percent of its heat up the chimney—whose persistence could only be explained through their access to the surplus energy of fossil fuels. This paper asks, in other words, what it would mean to tell the history of household comfort not as a one of technological control, but rather—as Meikleham and others saw it, at the time—as a story of thermal profligacy and, ultimately, failure. What would it mean for the history of architecture to retell the story of the “well-tempered environment” not from the standpoint of improving gadgets and devices, but instead from the perspective of fuel?

Aleksandr Bierig recently completed his PhD in urban and architectural history at Harvard University and is currently a Harper-Schmidt Fellow at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on interactions between histories of the built environment, the natural environment, and political economy. His current book project, The Ashes of the City: Architecture, Environment, and the Spatial Economy of Coal (1700–1849), concerns the architectural and infrastructural implications of the rise of coal use in London over the 18th and early 19th centuries, addressing a range of sites and activities connected to the construction of the London Coal Exchange, the world’s first market for fossil fuel.

Matthew Wells, The University of Manchester

Healing Landscapes: Women, Ecology and Healthcare in the Late Ottoman Empire

Zeynep Ece Sahin Korkan, Technical University of Munich

This study examines the pavilion-style hospitals of late Ottoman Istanbul, which stood at the intersection of body politics, ecological paradigms, and the healthcare culture of the time. The 19th century witnessed numerous advancements in medical science such as the discovery of X-rays, the development of preventive healthcare, and the concept of public health, which laid the foundations for modern medicine. These developments were closely followed by the Ottoman Empire, since the late Ottoman mindset was marked by the idea of modernity. In line with the great pursuit of bringing the Empire to the level of modern civilizations, fundamental improvements were made. Together with the reforms in administration, military, and education, healthcare has also been modernized. This modernization was not limited to the medical equipment or the processes of diagnosis and treatment. The spaces of medical care were also reshaped and took on a different architectural character. Hospital layouts that could provide better isolation to prevent contamination, especially the “pavilion system” which consisted of small and independent buildings arranged in a large garden at a certain distance from each other, became prevalent. Pavilion style was adopted as the most viable plan solution for healthcare institutions in Central Europe as well as in the Ottoman Empire. This research focuses on the two major pavilion-style hospital projects realized in Istanbul under the rule of Abdülhamid II. These are Hamidiye Etfal Hospital, which was the first children’s hospital of the Empire and the new Haseki Women’s Hospital. Far from the conventional understanding, the layouts of these hospitals embraced fresh air, green areas and were surrounded by agricultural fields. It was a balanced scheme of architecture and landscaping that valued outdoor spaces as much as the enclosed ones. From a wider perspective, it was the first phase of the Anthropocene and the time when the first institutional implementations of Ottoman administrators’ changing perception of nature were seen. In this context, nature began to be understood more as a commodity and a scientific object, and this thought was reacted to and challenged by Ottoman subjects in a variety of ways. On the other hand, the implementation of the pavilion style coincided with the process of Ottoman women becoming visible in the public spaces of modern society as working and producing individuals. It was during this time that the first wave of women entered the medical profession as nurses, midwives, and caregivers in the Empire. Either as patients or employees, women were the prominent users and occupants of these new healthcare spaces that reflected the modernization of medical science as well as the transforming socio-ecological parameters and body politics on women and children.

Zeynep Ece Sahin Korkan is a PhD candidate at Technical University of Munich, Chair of History of Architecture and Curatorial Practice. Her academic interests include the intersection of medicine, gender, and architecture; environmental discourse in architectural history; and the design of museums and exhibitions. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the METU architecture department with high honors. Her master’s thesis, “Displaying the Body: Anatomy Museum and Anatomical Expressions in Architecture,” explores the reciprocal relations between architecture and the human body within the spatial context of anatomy museums, anatomical theaters, and medical displays. In 2018, within a selected group of international architecture students, she took part in the Vardiya (The Shift) project/exhibition for the Turkish Pavilion at the 16th Venice Biennale, curated by Kerem Piker. In addition to her academic studies, she worked in the IDOM Consulting, Engineering, Architecture Madrid office as a full-time architect for two years (2017–19), where she was involved in the design of India International Convention & Expo Center (IICC). Since 2015, she has taken part in many workshops, presented in academic symposiums, and been awarded in national and international architecture competitions.

Damla Göre, ETH Zurich

November 22, 2022, 10:00–12:00 p.m.

Can We Speak of Andalusian Coloniality? Spatial Measures for Social Control, Land Distribution, and Cultural Extraction after the Conquest of Nasrid Granada, 1492–1609

Manuel Sánchez García, Politecnico di Torino

The early stage of the Spanish American conquest in the 16th century is often presented as a period of continuity and evolution of the rising Habsburg imperial system applied in America. According to this approach, certain colonial traits were directly exported from the Mediterranean context—like the traditional patio houses—while others would be developed and refined in America—such as the urban Spanish grid—with little to no echo in Europe. However, in the early years when the limits between Europe and America were highly fluid, when the Indies were still mapped as an extension of Asia and western Andalusia was a struggling morisco province, the category of colony was not so clear. Before Spain had any fixed center and not even the first stone of El Escorial was placed, the distinction between here and there was yet to be established. The absence of the encomienda regime and precious metals to be extracted may leave regions such as eastern Andalusia out of the category of colony as it is understood today but, still, it may be possible to speak of Andalusian coloniality. This presentation looks at a series of architectural and urban transformations in the province of Granada, the last Muslim province in the Iberian Peninsula, during those fluid decades immediately after its conquest in 1492. We will delve into its connection with the colonial image of imperial power, the social control through new public spaces and institutional architectures, the imposition of modern military infrastructure connected to the Caribbean, the modification of the Alhambra palaces and, finally, the occupation and distribution of land through urban planning methods that mirrors their American siblings. We will look at archival documents that show in-between stages such as the construction site of Granada’s cathedral besides the still undemolished remains of the old mosque; images that defy how colonial geopolitical hierarchies are usually depicted and inspire new ideas for decolonial epistemology.

Manuel Sánchez García, also known as Manuel “Saga,” is a Spanish licensed architect who graduated from Universidad de Granada (2013). He holds a PhD in architectural history from Politecnico di Torino (2022) and a PhD in art history from Universidad de Granada (2022). He also holds a masters in architecture from Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, 2016), where he was lecturer, researcher, and consultant until 2018. Saga’s work on the early modern Spanish Empire includes his dissertation, “Siblings Overseas: Foundational landscape, law, land distribution and urban form in 16th-century Spanish colonial cities,” published volumes like Granada Des-Granada (2018), and grant projects funded by institutions such as GAHTC. He combines these topics with more contemporary approaches, including the study of Colombian modern architecture in the volume Mensajes de Modernidad en Revista Proa 1946–1962 (2020), and the exploration of digital landscapes and game studies, delving into the videoludic reimagination of historical cities and architectures. He currently occupies the role of Editorial Assistant of Architectural Histories, the journal of the EAHN, while also publishing dissemination articles on a variety of topics in media such as National Geographic Historia, Archdaily, and Fundación Arquia.

Juan Luis Bourke, University of Maryland

From Land to Rubble to Soil. Thinking with the Urban Unfinished

Matilde Igual Capdevila, Akademie der bildendenden Künste

In 2003, 13 international architecture offices, including Toyo Ito, MVRDV, FOA and Greg Lynn, among others, presented their vision for Sociópolis, a Project for a City of the Future. Sociópolis was a 350.000 m2 social housing urban development planned in the outskirts of Valencia (Spain), on protected agricultural land. The project promised a sustainable urban design in which nature and architecture would merge seamlessly in an urban environment, according to Vicente Guallart, Sociópolis initiator. In 2007, as construction works began on site, the bulldozers removed the fertile layer of soil. Some time later, the 2008 financial crisis brought the development to a halt. In 2022, Sociópolis remains partially unfinished and offers a landscape of vacant lots and isolated high rise buildings. Weekend urban farmers, as well as a small group of professional producers, are now working a land that is made out of rubble. They take care of the soil, slowly reviving the ground. Sociópolis is a tale of architecture and nature, of the urban and the rural and ultimately of a site of tensions, of failure and, perhaps, of potential. My dissertation focuses on this single study case to research the urban unfinished, drawing from a wide range of fields, each chapter analyzing the project and its failure from a different angle. This presentation takes the form of a walk focused on the histories of its ground, introducing the architecture project as disturbance (Tsing, 2015), analyzing the current agricultural work on site as caring for the soil (Tronto, 2017; Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017) and exploring the makings of hands-on urbanism (Krasny, 2012).

Matilde Igual Capdevila is a PhD candidate at the Akademie der bildendenden Künste in Vienna. She is a licensed architect (from the ETSA Universitat Politécnica de València) and holds an MA in arts and science from the Universität für angewandte Kunst, Vienna. Her current research focuses on the unfinished in the city as a physical, concrete manifestation of economic, climatic, and social crisis, and as a site for resistance. She has previously taught at the Architecture and Planning institute at the University of Liechtenstein and in the Social Design department at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna. In 2018 she cofounded the Institute for Linear Research and co-curated the 2018 contribution to the Venice Architecture Biennale of Liechtenstein with the project THE LINE. She spends most of her time thinking about how we could live better together, reading novels, and walking around Valencia.

Christina Shivers, Harvard GSD

November 1, 2022, 10:00–12:00 p.m.

A Thirsty Empire: Architecture and Hydro-Control between the British and the Bedouin in the Middle East, 1921–1946

Maggie Freeman

One of imperial Britain’s main responsibilities during the period of British Mandatory rule in Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq was the project of “civilizing” the Mandate territories’ desert regions. Perceived as wild and underdeveloped, and populated by nomadic pastoralist Bedouin tribes who resisted imperial authority, the deserts of the Middle East represented a threat to imperial rule and economic and security interests. Mandate Britain set out to solve this “problem” through a program of architectural and infrastructural surveillance and control, utilizing networks of forts, police stations, and prisons to establish an imperial presence in the desert zones. A key means by which Bedouin populations were subdued was through the restriction of access to water resources. As one British administrator articulated this strategy and its effectiveness, “The desert of course depends on wells, most of the year, so we built a fort on every well, with eight or ten men in it. The result was the tribes couldn’t get water unless they came in under the control of the forts. And that in turn established complete control of the tribes.”

This paper examines imperial Britain’s strategy for control of water, and of colonial subjects by extension, through architecture. However, rather than framing this strategy solely as a top-down mechanism of imperial control, I also highlight precedents in which Bedouin tribal leaders similarly used militarized forts to establish rights of access to water. I compare how the British and the Bedouin used architecture as a mechanism of control over water, and how control of water in turn denoted territorial and social control. This paper thus suggests a new category of buildings in the desert regions of the Middle East, namely those commissioned by both British and Bedouin patrons for purposes of “hydro-control.”

Maggie Freeman is a third-year PhD student in history, theory and criticism of art and architecture and the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her research focuses on the intersection of architectural history with the history of nomadism in the Middle East, investigating how the built environment of the Middle East is experienced and affected by nomadic peoples and how nomadic lifestyles are shaped by interactions with permanent architecture.

Nitin Bathla, ETH Zurich

The North Sea, Water Agency, and the Making of Coastal Space, 1800–1950

Sam Grinsell, University College London (UCL)

How do environments make architectural space? Rather than there being an interplay between built and natural environments, is there a way of telling architectural histories that can resituate human habitations within the multiple webs of relation in which human culture is inevitably entangled? What might such a history look like? Empirically, this presentation explores these questions through an examination of the North Sea coastlines of England, Flanders, and the Netherlands in the modern era. This region has often been a research focus for the medieval and early modern periods, but is generally divided into national specialisms for later centuries (Liszka and Walker, 2001; Pye, 2017). Connections across the North Sea, however, did not necessarily cease as other networks expanded. While Europe was utterly changed by Atlantic crossings and global colonial connections, this did not end the importance of smaller regions and seas. This analysis focuses on the ports of Antwerp, London, and Rotterdam as key sites in the making of the coastal zone through the entanglement of local and global histories. Theoretically, it seeks to bring the developing field of environmental architectural history into conversation with traditions of indigenous, feminist, and anti-/postcolonial thought that historians have not insufficiently engaged with. Architectural scholars have brought the environment into their histories through studies of (among other things): energy (Barber, 2020; Calder and Bremner, 2021), materiality (Hutton, 2019), ecological relations (Da Cunha, 2018; Rawes, 2013), and infrastructure (Chattopadhyay, 2012; Christensen, 2017). This paper follows water bodies, especially the North Sea, as actors in architectural making, approaching water as a material that connects us all while also always overflowing with comfortable definitions and clear delineations (Chen, MacLeod, and Neimanis, 2013; Neimanis, 2017). This paper aims to open up discussions of how we can think about built histories beyond false binaries between the natural and artificial.

Sam Grinsell is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London (UCL). He works on the role of water in historical space-making, particularly in relation to cities and the built environment more broadly. This has mainly focused on two regions: the Nile Valley, especially in relation to British colonialism, and the coasts of the southern North Sea. Before joining UCL he was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, from 2020-22, and before that studied for his PhD in Architectural History at The University of Edinburgh. His work has appeared in Environmental History, ABE Journal: Architecture Beyond Europe, and the online magazine Aeon; he has also written reviews for Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice and The European Review of History.

André Tavares, Faculty of Architecture, University of Porto

October 25, 2022, 10:00–12:00 p.m.

Environmental Control: Seismicity as Design Technique in Wilhelmine Germany

Clemens Finkelstein, Princeton University

Few architectural typologies entangle the natural and the built environment as closely as technoscientific research facilities whose integral functionality depends on their architectonic capacity to isolate, measure, record, and analyze the wide bandwidth frequencies of planetary vibrations. Nations such as Italy or Japan were at the forefront of earthquake research in the nineteenth century. Their frequently trembling surroundings posed an omnipresent danger to the built environment and its dwellers, demanding active research and earthquake resistant construction. This paper examines the regional particularities of the German “earthquake observatory” (Erdbebenwarte), which emerged in the wake of Prussian astronomer-cum-geophysicist Ernst von Rebeur-Paschwitz’s proof of teleseismic events in 1889—earthquakes whose seismicity can be registered halfway around the globe. The critical inquiry ranges from an early “earthquake house” (Erdbebenhaus), designed by the geophysicist Oskar Hecker in 1896 for the Royal Observatories for Astrophysics, Meteorology, and Geodesy near Potsdam, to the Imperial Main Station for Earthquake Research in Strasbourg. Completed in 1900, the observatory was “the first of its kind in Germany, indeed the first of its kind anywhere in the world,” proclaimed the geophysicist Georg Gerland. He collaborated on the design with imperial building inspector Alfred Jaehnike to conceive of seismic architectures that could bolster Germany’s newly awakened aspirations to expand its authority over the Earth by means of geoscience rather than geopolitics. Geophysicists, this paper argues, assumed unique roles as architectural producers that based their design principles on the totalizing concept of “seismicity”— the “mysterious endogenous telluric movements that embrace at the same time all the forces and, horizontally and radially, all parts of the Earth.” Conceiving the Earth architecturally as a world-building [Weltgebäude], collaborative efforts of geophysicists and architects devised buildings that could harness the vibratory pulse of the planet as an epistemic tool to deduce its interior structure.

Clemens Finkelstein is a PhD candidate in the history and theory of architecture at Princeton University, where his doctoral research engages the built and natural environments at the junction of art and architectural history with the history of science and technology. His work has been supported by the History of Science Society and the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism & the Humanities, among others. He has worked extensively as an educator, editor, and curator—formerly serving as curator-at-large at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles. His articles and reviews have appeared in several journals and edited volumes, including The Sound of Architecture (2022), Iconology of Abstraction (2020), the Journal of Design History, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, and Technology & Culture. A Fulbright Scholar from Germany, he has also received scholarships and a Commendation for Outstanding Achievement from Harvard University (2015–17), Princeton University’s Lowell M. Palmer Fellowship (2018–19), is Planetary Scholar at the Panel on Planetary Thinking of the Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, Germany (2022), Junior Fellow at the Centre for Advanced Studies »Imaginaria of Force« at the Universität Hamburg, Germany (2022–23), and Berlin Program Fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany (2023–24).

Alfredo Thiermann, EPFL

Geopathologies: Tectonic Faults and Bath Buildings in 20th Century Greece

Lydia Xynogala, ETH Zurich

From the late-19th to mid-th century, a number of state-run bath-buildings were constructed in thermal spring sites around Greece. Ancient myths, folk wisdom, and results from treatments led to a scientific analysis of the water, mud and soil in these sites. These efforts led to the building of a network of healing spaces across the Greek mainland and islands. This paper focuses on the work of a protagonist of this movement: Eugenios Fokas was the personal doctor and son-in-law of the prime minister—and, later, dictator—of Greece, Ioannis Metaxas. In the years before the start of World War II, as professor of the newly established Chair for Hydrology and Clinical Meteorology in the Athens University for Medicine, he advocated for the healing powers of sites across Greece. His research and lectures drew from a mix of Hippocrateian wisdom and the new northern-European science of bioclimatology. In the postwar era he became a long-term advisor for the Ministry of Tourism (EOT), the organization responsible for constructing and managing thermal bath facilities in Greece. Through select examples of his writings, buildings he advised on, and geomorphologies of sites, this paper questions the role of politics, “nature,” and the built environment in the construction of a culture of care across the Greek landscape.

Lydia Xynogala is an architect and doctoral fellow at the ETH Zurich, gta Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture. Her doctoral research examines the construction of a culture of care centered around natural resources in 20th-century Greece. In her practice she constructs architecture, landscapes, objects, and stories that range from public spaces to residential, art, and educational interiors. Projects explore the role of architecture within environmental, material, and cultural narratives. Lydia has received a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Greek Architecture Award for “best built project by a young architect,” and an Onassis Foundation 2023 Tailor Made Fellowship for her research in the 750 mineral springs of Greece. Recent writing has been published in e-flux architecture, gta Papers, Log, Manifest Journal, Yale Paprica, pidgin, and kyklada press, among others. She has exhibited her work at Storefront gallery, AIA Center for Architecture New York, and Van Allen Institute, and lectured internationally. In 2021 she was resident at Onassis AiR, an international artistic research residency in Athens with a focus on ecology. Lydia holds an MArch from Princeton University and a BArch from the Cooper Union, where she received the Thesis prize and a BSc. from Bartlett, U.C.L. Xynogala has taught design studios and seminars at Columbia University GSAPP, the City College of New York, the Cooper Union, and RPI.

Fabrizio Ballabio, Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio

October 4, 2022, 10:00–12:00 p.m.

The Green Line’s Organisms: Human-Plant Relations in War-Torn Beirut

Rami Kanafani, University of Pennsylvania

In 1975, with the start of the Lebanese civil war in Beirut, human social life migrated from the surface of the city to the underground, where basements became the safest places to be. At the same time, vegetal life migrated from the underground—or a few inches below ground—to the surface. A linear stretch of greenery (the Green Line) surfaced along the line of demarcation that separated the two fighting sides of the city, revealing the structural dependence of spontaneous vegetal growth on human conflict and war. This paper develops an analytic framework to consider the imbrication of human identity with vegetal life by discussing the ruderal ecology (anthropologist Bettina Stoetzer’s term, based on post-WWII urban ecologists working in Berlin) in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. It is among this paper’s convictions that any discussion of non-human subjectivity, i.e., any posthumanist framework, has to reflect back onto humanity’s struggles with violence and exclusion that render human subjectivity historically and socially constructed rather than natural or essential. By considering human-plant relationships during war conditions in Beirut, this paper presents a way of writing urban/architectural history that is staunchly posthumanist yet mindful of the ethical implications of uncritically moving beyond the human to discuss other assemblages of plants, animals, or objects. Considering human and vegetal identities as deeply entangled during this episode of war and conflict in Beirut, this paper begins to describe the ways in which politics and social inequalities among a human population intersect with vegetal life and ruderal ecologies.

Rami Kanafani is a PhD student in the History and Theory of Architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania. His work examines the convergence of architecture, cybernetics, and biology by developing a methodology that focuses on the “organism” in writing histories of architecture. Rami is invested in exploring the implications of the discourses on the Anthropocene and posthumanism on architecture and the built environment in the postwar US. His turn to organisms, plants specifically, puts in crisis architecture’s anthropocentrism and aims to pluralize the central actors of architecture history, all the while reflecting on the implications of such shifts on the status of humans and the discipline of architecture more broadly. His previous work on the Green Line in Beirut was awarded the Suzanne Kolarik Underwood Prize and the History and Theory prize at Princeton University’s School of Architecture.

Bárbara Maçães Costa, EPFL

Informal vs Formal: Rodosto Farm Colony and Les Constructions Murondins

Eyüp Özkan, Istanbul Technical University

This study primarily elaborates one particular form of cultivation, namely the Rodosto Farm Colony in Tekirdağ (Raidestos/Rodosto), as a short-lived exercise of resettling for the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. In 1921, Near East Relief (NER) procured 6,000 acres of land from the Greek Government to assist the increasing number of Armenian refugees from Constantinople and Anatolia. Shortly, the land turned into a farming colony, including housing units built collectively with mud bricks and wooden studs. According to NER, the farm grew into two self-supporting villages consisting of cottages, woodshops, bakeries, and a school, accommodating a total population of 5,000. However, with the Population Exchange between Turkey and Greece in early 1923, the colony again faced deterritorialization. Two decades later, in 1940, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret offered an architectural project, “Les Constructions Murondins,” to accommodate those who became homeless due to their migration to southern France from German-occupied northern France and Belgium. Unlike Corbusier’s previous work on “the mass-production houses’’ built with industrialized and standardized materials, proposed after the first war early in the 1920s, these units were conceived as the in-situ constructed houses with local materials, including rammed earth blocks, tree trunks, and tar paper to be collected from the surroundings. The practicability of Les Murondins would allow their collective construction by prospective inhabitants and local carpenters. Hence the paper compares and contrasts these two projects in terms of their social, tectonic, and operational parallels to reveal the changing nature of informality tensed by the intricate relations of design authorship, tectonics, and practicality.

Eyüp Özkan received his professional bachelor of architecture degree from Istanbul Technical University and a post-professional master of architecture degree from METU in Ankara. Özkan’s research interests include representation as design media, knowledge design, data mapping, digital archives, and minoritized Istanbulites. He has been a recipient of the Scott Opler Graduate Scholar Fellowship by the Society of Architectural Historians in 2022, the International Education Scholarship by the Government of Ireland, and the Global Excellence Postgraduate Scholarship by the University of Dublin. He is currently enrolled in both the PhD in Architectural Design program at Istanbul Technical University and the MPhil in Digital Humanities and Culture program at Trinity College Dublin.

Elis Mendoza Mejia, Princeton University


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This series was made possible through a generous gift from Emilio Ambasz. The Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and the Natural Environment is a platform for fostering dialogue, promoting conversation, and facilitating research about the relationship between the built and natural environment, with the aim of making the interaction between architecture and ecology visible and accessible to the wider public while highlighting the urgent need for an ecological recalibration.