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Formsof 20231113 landscape
Forms of Environmentalization
Environment dates from [the early nineteenth century], in the sense of surroundings, as in environs (fw environner, F – encircle, rw viron, oF – circuit); it was extended, as in Carlyle (1827): ‘environment of circumstances.’”

As part of his 1976 encyclopedic work Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Raymond Williams obliquely introduced the term “Environment” under the entry for the history of “ecology.” In his view the use of the term, dating to the nineteenth century, only commenced with the rise of “concern with the human and natural habitat” of environmentalism. Williams’ historiographical reading of the term obscures the way in which constructions of the environment and a cultural notion of depletion were co-constituted. As with the history of the economy as an object of power, measurement, and policy in the 1930s, the history of “the environment” can only be understood through the tools used to make it legible.

Rather than seeking an underlying definition of “the environment” within design practices, this symposium employs “environmentalization” to trace the conditions of possibility that enabled the concept to be taken as a given by the second half of the twentieth century—chiefly towards the ecological cause. By critically addressing the historiographical construction, instrumentalization, and weaponization of “the environment” in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, Forms of Environmentalization aims to question how the ontological proliferation of the term has subjectivized spatial milieus as a tool to be both tamed and constructed.

We invite proposals from doctoral students across disciplines that investigate the historical relationship between design practices and an abstract understanding of “the environment.” We are looking for papers that consider the environment not merely in teleological relation to the formalization of ecology and environmentalism, but as a term whose formulation can be framed as concurrent to that of an ecological thought—whether as initiated by Alexander von Humboldt’s imperial mappings in Kosmos or Thomas Jefferson’s meteorological and propertied conditioning of the American landscape.

While recent scholarship has questioned the origins, boundaries, and hegemony of paradigms such as ecology, climate, nature, and the human/non-human relationship, the environment remains largely accepted as a homogenous, unfuzzy, and apolitical category in scholarship of the built environment. Forms of Environmentalization seeks original papers from Architecture, Art History, Media Studies, History of Science, Anthropology, Comparative Literature, and allied fields that interrogate the terms, scope, and biases of “the environment” historically. We look for submissions that address the non-western, imperial environment in relation to race, gender, and indigenous perspectives that challenge the current focus of scholarship on anthropocentric change. Proposals submitted to the symposium may choose to address the following concerns:

  • Feedback loops between natural history, economic imperialism, architectural conditioning, and landscape architecture.
  • Histories of improvement and modernization of land, people, and behavior.
  • Processes of economic valuation of the environment.
  • Mediated and graphic representations of the environment.
  • Materialities of the environment.
  • The historical conception of “total” environment/landscape/planning.
  • The tension between “(un)built environment” and “architecture.”
  • Environmental constructions of cultural identity.

Date: April 5-6th, 2024
Keynote Speaker: Peter Galison, Harvard University
Location: Fayerweather 209, Columbia University, New York. In-Person.
Organizer: Students in the Ph.D. Program in Architecture, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

Submission information:

Please submit a 350 word abstract here, along with a CV and related information.

  • The deadline for abstract submission is December 31st, 2023.

  • Authors of accepted papers will be notified by the end of January 2024 via email.

  • Participants will be asked to submit a full preliminary draft paper by March 24, 2024.

For questions, please reach out to: environmentalizationgsapp@gmail.com

May 4-5, 2018

Addressing the vital role of architecture in producing both the condition and meaning of “urban” and “rural,” this conference revisits the origins and consequences of the dichotomy and asks how it gained explanatory power at different moments in time. Through investigating the historical emergence and usage of the urban/rural split, we aim to discuss the analytical value of the dichotomy in our present day: what does it help us see, what does it occlude?

May 6-7, 2016

Keynote Speaker: Arindam Dutta, MIT HTC

The conference Assembling Values: Architecture and Political Economy seeks to measure the extent to which architecture has not only been formed by, but is also productive of political-economic formations throughout the world.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, a landscape marked by foreclosed homes, empty luxury towers, divided cities, and occupied streets has fueled debates concerning architecture’s relation to political economy. Salient among such debates is the question of whether architecture is doomed to remain a testimonial backdrop, a mere reflection, of financial capitalism, or whether it may offer more nuanced, and more effective, histories and analytics for the study of political economy.

If so, then this global, increasingly uneven, landscape compels us to recognize the instrumentalities and values that sustain and augment economic power relations through architecture’s own workings and operations. The moment is ripe for the reevaluation of old frameworks in order to consider the role of architecture, planning, and development in assembling the political-economic nexus

Building up to this graduate conference were three workshops

  • September 2015: PhD workshop with invited guest Professor Daniel Abramson (Art & Art History, Tufts University)

  • January 2016: PhD workshop with invited guest Professor Julia Elyachar (Anthropology & Economics, UC Irvine)

  • February 2016: PhD workshop with invited guest Professor Stephen Collier (International Affairs, New School)

The speakers shared and discussed their recent projects with a group of PhD students. The workshops argued that architecture actively participates in the making of political-economic regimes through multifarious forms and at different scales, ranging from the city to the street, to the building, and even to the pipe.

Organizers of the graduate conference and the workshops

Aaron Bradley White, Alexander Hilton Wood, Amy Zhang, Ashraf Abdalla, Erik Carver, Eva Johanna Schreiner, Jonah Rowen, Manuel Shvartzberg-Carrio, Norihiko Tsuneishi and Oskar Orn Arnorsson.

Image credits: Lucas Reif