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Architecture and Nature

Call for Papers

Date: May 8-9, 2020
Keynote Speaker: To be announced
Location: Room 209, Fayerweather Hall, Columbia University
Organizer: Ph.D. Program in Architecture, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

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.

Submission information:

Please submit a 250-500 word abstract here. The deadline for abstract submission has been extended to February 7, 2020 by end of day. Authors of accepted papers will be notified by March 13, 2020 via email, and will be asked to submit a full preliminary draft paper by April 24, 2020.

More details about the symposium can be found on the event webpage.

Questions can be emailed to columbiaarchitecturephd@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.