Today we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation: at the very moment that the idea of “environment” has been placed at the center of our political and cultural debates, the content of the concept is becoming less and less clear. Does it refer to “nature”—or to its very opposite? Or to the “factual” (scientific, technical, bureaucratic) division between nature and some imagined “other?” Is environment merely the residual notion of a so-called natural world that has now been “tamed” or “constructed” by technological systems?

This paradox is particularly evident within the fields of architecture and urbanism, which despite being increasingly saddled with the complex task of imagining more “environmentally sensitive” responses to our intensifying “environmental problems,” are nonetheless often unable to formulate any clear or coherent answers to the simple question that ought to precede any such strategies: What is an environment? . . . and so the term becomes a kind of chimera within the design disciplines, haunting our thought with the specter of emptiness.

This course situates the concept of environment at the historical-philosophical intersection of architecture, technology, and a field of intelligibility comprised of specific kinds of environmental reasoning; ways of thinking that presume or posit a comprehension of the term, but which in fact only comprehend its technical formation and deployment. We will examine a series of themes—milieu, life, totality, regulation, interactivity, immersion, visibility, and management, among others—that will provide a structure for the course. We will move in a loosely chronological manner, at times reaching back to the late 19th century, but generally focusing on the 20th century, during which certain forms of environ-mentalism were—in some cases by necessity, at other times opportunistically—pressed to the forefront of architectural reasoning.


This course is taught in parallel with Bruno Latour’s upcoming Critical Zones exhibition at ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe in May 2020, and Latour will join the seminar for a series of workshops in October.

Note regarding prioritized enrollment: 50% of enrollment is prioritized for second year MDes students who select the course first in the limited enrollment course lottery.