Circular Eco-nomics: Mapping Architectural & Urban Ecosystems

This course introduces students to the idea of circular sustainable economies, hereby described as “eco-nomics,” looking simultaneously into the economics of sustainable lifestyles and work styles, sustainable product lifecycle, and sustainable environmental development. Eco-nomics is based on the value assessment that economy and environment are and should be interconnected.

How can we rethink architecture and urban conditions as a “system of systems,” that instead of promoting linear entropy, decay, and the accumulation of waste, can be designed with circular and recursive material and energetic metabolisms? We will examine new and emerging models, technologies, and techniques for the design of innovative architectural and urban “metabolizing” environments. “Metabolizing” is hereby understood as the constant circular exchange of matter and energy in the creation and operation of living and nonliving systems. 

To do this, we will constructively critique contemporary methods of design and collaboration, industrial and professional value creation and assessment, and persistent and evolving conventions of material fabrication, construction processes, and building operations within architecture and infrastructure. Materiality in these contexts must be studied holistically: Where do materials come from? How do materials transform and become what they are through human and nonhuman forms of labor? How does materiality and energy power systems represent systems of power? And how is materiality affected by global and international networks and trade practices?

By shifting toward a cyclical view of the lives of materiality and building products, their explicit and implicit web of connections, the seminar will focus on using architectural and urban proposals to provoke eco-nomics to modify the narratives of materiality, production, and their “commodity chains” of environmental resources, labor, and industry. 

The seminar will cover framework of thought and the digital tools of technical craft to create speculative, cross-scale design interventions taking into account new emerging eco-nomics within circular sustainable economies. Student production will depart from a linear model of architectural and urban design thinking, and arrive at a circular model with the goal of resulting in significant changes to how we think, design, construct, operate, and deconstruct future products, architectures, and environments.

The course is a seminar-workshop. The first part of the course consists of readings and discussions, background research, site analysis, and direct use of provided emerging collaboration platform technology. Students will document their work in groups. The second part of the course will be the making of V&R prototypes that serve as proof of concept. 

Students from any background and concentration are encouraged to apply. No specific prerequisites are needed (3-D modeling capabilities, coding, and a hands-on mentality are a plus).