Kiley Fellow Lecture: Fionn Byrne: “Designing Natures: For a Pluralism of Ecology, Ethics and Aesthetics”

Sulfur pile proposition. Image via Fionn Byrne.

Sulfur pile proposition. Image via Fionn Byrne.

Fionn Byrne, lecturer in landscape architecture at Harvard GSD, focuses his research on the moral underpinnings of contemporary landscape architecture. As the recipient of the Harvard GSD’s 2015–16 Daniel Urban Kiley Teaching Fellowship in Landscape, he will speak about his work during the past year.
Byrne's research and design interests depart from the convergence of technolo­gy and ecology; he is most intrigued by how velocity and information interact with biological systems:

The science of ecology is shaping a shared environmental ethic. The discipline speaks with unchallenged authority, claiming knowledge of the past and predicting the future.  We are told that human accelerated climate change poses a threat to the continued existence of our species. Landscape architecture is the design discipline that has accepted the charge of integrating ecology into the urban. But beginning here with our very survival as the initial design problem, two undesirable propositions emerge.

The first is that any work of landscape architecture that does not slow the momentum of a warming planet can be said to be complicit in the downfall of our species. Thus, are we not compelled to act ecologically, to design with nature? The second is that even the most poorly designed space that includes plant material can be argued to be contributing to saving the planet. Thus, does ecology not trump aesthetics? If these propositions are indeed valid, how shall we respond?

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