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Architecture
and Nature

Sat, May 9    10am

GSAPP has suspended its Spring 2020 public programming and events. Detailed guidance on the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) for the Columbia University community is available here.

Architecture and Nature

In Western architectural historiography—from Marc-Antoine Laugier’s “Primitive Hut” to the organicist ideologies of the nineteenth century to the more recent attention to climate in the face of environmental catastrophe—nature has long served as the architect’s ever-present if somewhat less agentive interlocutor. If architecture operates as an intermediary between humans and nature, how has this relationship evolved in the history of the built environment? How do these two concepts mutually constitute each other’s histories? Instead of taking nature and the human as given, this symposium highlights the material and intellectual production of each and calls for a reciprocal historicization of these categories. In several other disciplines (area studies, comparative literature and media theory, for instance), environmental history is opening up ways for delineating forms of historical change other than wars and revolutions, as well as engendering productive avenues of inquiry into the demarcation of new geographies which are not necessarily bounded by imperial or nation-state borders. Architecture and its various media offer a unique site from which to reassess the conceptual presuppositions and epistemic regimes that define nature in history. With the rising scholarly interest in the history of science and the environmental humanities in the past two decades, architectural historians have begun to re-interrogate several analytical categories central to the discipline such as structure, style and space, as well as concepts like subjectivity and objecthood. While investigating the relationship between architecture and nature is hardly new, the recent interest in nature as an object of attention has been productive as a way of questioning historical change, temporality and scale, periodization, the agency of human and non-human actors and the role of architecture as an instrument of control. It has brought to light how specific definitions and demarcations of the “natural” as a category have been instrumentalized in legitimizing colonization, slavery, genocide and other forms of violence on the one hand, and the systematization of extraction and management of fossil fuels and other resources on the other.

This symposium aims to consider how we might rethink and reassess architectural history’s methodologies, subjects and biases. We invite proposals from graduate students across disciplines that reflect on the relationship between architecture, the built environment and nature throughout history. We are interested in papers ranging from the symbolic and metaphorical role of nature in the eighteenth and nineteenth century to contemporary architectural discourse on ecology and the environment.

Organized by the Columbia GSAPP Ph.D. Program in Architecture program.