Environmental Contentions

What do designers of the built environment see as environment? This is a particularly difficult question at the turn of a century that has witnessed the intersection of two \”crises\” – the crisis of environment and the crisis of representation. The former is evidenced in the littany of problems that confront us today through the media, in conversations, and in everyday life – problems such as pollution, ozone depletion, energy shortage, species loss, etc. The crisis of representation, on the other hand, is evidenced in the lack of agreement on the definition of an environmental problem or, perhaps more accurately, the multiplicity of readings of a problem\’s context. It is not uncommon today to see a definition of the context deny the problem all together. In such a contentious milieu, how does one situate oneself as a designer engaged in the making of environments?This class introduces students to a range of writings on an idea that lies, often concealed in its particularity, behind presentations and discussions of environmental concerns, viz., nature. We will explore this idea at work in the arguments and manifestos of individuals, movements, and organizations. How does nature shape argument, how does it shape environment, and how does it influence design?The class is structured around the following conflicts:Wildness and WildernessPreservation and ConservationWord and ActionCity and RegionRegion & MetropolisCommunity & ResistanceEdge & SurfaceNature and Culture First Nature & Second NatureLand & LandscapeEnvironment and DevelopmentNature & TechnologyEcology & EconomicsPlanet Earth and Local CommonsEconomic Resource & Vernacular UseGlobe & CosmosMachine and OrganismPart & WholeIndividual & FieldMaterial & AgencyEach conflict has a history which we will unfold. Each conflict also calls into play different disciplines: ecology, environmental ethics, politics, social justice, economics, literary criticism, planning and environmental philosophy. We will discuss the precepts of these disciplines in parallel so as to better follow arguments and position ourselves in this extremely diverse and contentious field of growing importance.A course reader will be made available. Students are expected to do the readings prior to the class. 25% of the grade will be reserved for class participation. The remaining 75% is for three short papers (5 pages each, double-spaced) on any three of the conflicts. They could be critical assessments of arguments, applications to a site, or reflections on a design concern. Readings:Wildness and Wilderness Preservation and ConservationHenry David Thoreau, 1980, \”Walking,\” The Natural History Essays, Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, p. 93-136.Stewart Udall, 1988, \”The Woodlands: Pinchot and the Forests\” and \”Wild and Parklands: John Muir,\” The Quiet Crisis and the Next Generation, Salt Lake City: Peregrine, p. 97-125.Aldo Leopold, 1949, \”Wilderness\” and \”The Land Ethic,\” A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 188-226.Word and ActionWilliam Cronon, 1995, \”The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,\” Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, William Cronon (ed.), NY: W.W. Norton & Company, p. 69-90.Gary Snyder, 1990, \”The Etiquette of Freedom,\” The Practice of the Wild, San Francisco\” North Point Press, p. 3-24.City and RegionRegion and MetropolisPeter Hall, 1988, \”The City in the Region,\” Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, p. 136-173.Lewis Mumford, 1976, \”The Fourth Migration\” and \”Regions – To Live In,\” Planning the Fourth Migration: The Neglected Vision of the Regional Planning Ass