Concepts of Nature

Architects design buildings, and the majority of buildings are in cities. It is not surprising, therefore, that most architects see in the city, in its man-made environment the main context of their work. Due notably to the increased awareness of climate change, this view has been undermined and the presence of nature has been enhanced. But the conception of nature prevailing in the design professions has changed little since the 19th century. In the main nature remains a distinct resource to be enjoyed and exploited. Much remains to be done in connecting architecture with nature in ways that are no less informed, sensitive and productive than those that helped in the past to reconnect architecture with the city and its history.

The course addresses concepts of nature formulated in five disciplines: biophysics, earth sciences, ecology, human geography and anthropology. Following a session looking into anxieties associated with waste and compensating visions of the garden, the seminar discusses the view, currently dominant among architects, of nature as a form-giving process. It then examines key texts on the biosphere and looks at how the atmosphere has recently become a topic of interest among some designers. It reviews scientific ecology and looks at the limits to its contribution to architecture. It then assesses the neglected contribution made by human geographers at the turn of the 19th century. Last, it discusses concepts of anthropology seeking to re-inscribe human activity as an integral part of nature.

The course will be held in bi-weekly sessions of two lectures. In each session, a first lecture will address concepts of nature in a particular discipline, followed by another drawing out connections with architecture. Lectures will be followed by a discussion.

Schedule: This 4 unit course will meet twice a week during the first module of the fall semester.