Material World

“Who is it that the Earth belongs to?” Bangstad, Sindre, and Nilsen Torbjørn Tumyr. "Thoughts on the Planetary: An Interview with Achille Mbembe." New Frame (2019). 

Every decision planners take in the design process of a project has an impact when implemented, not only on the site of construction, but also on the site of extraction and of production. From the window frames of a house to the concrete pillars of a highway bridge, from the wood flooring of a living room to the asphalt of our streets, and from the steel bolts of a door to the tree species of a park, these choices deployed in the materiality of the built environment have a global knock-on effect. 

At a staggering scale, capital accumulation and the corresponding brutal and exploitative processes at work in the transfer of raw materials to the built environment have long been perceived as detached from the practice of planning.  While claiming an objective approach, design disciplines detach from political commitments and turns a blind eye to the very source of their materialization. Yet, the expansionist global enterprise of extraction spans across all scales. Seemingly isolated construction details are physical artifacts that impact entire regions tectonically: mountains, rivers, forests, populations. What Donna Haraway calls “the appropriation of nature as resource for the productions of culture” is grounded in historical colonial projects, made visible in the architecture and infrastructure of our cities and settlements—at least, for those who care to look.  The translation of the Earth’s resources into the built environment and its economic model of development historically is further mirrored in today’s global neocolonial modes of extraction capitalism. The ramifications of contemporary mining and exploitation are violent, immense, and disastrous, impacting humans and non-humans alike, with racialized populations most affected, through and alongside severely adverse effects on soil, topography, labor, transportation, water, and food systems—with deep territorial political entanglements. 

This seminar seeks to establish a broad picture of the ways that design disciplines intersect with extractivism and resource exploitation, and of how seemingly irrelevant composition details fit in the global enterprise of “extractive neoliberalism.”  
Starting by a detail of a project and tracing the material to its source, the work aims to make visible the global chains of exploitation that translate the Earth resources into our built environment by investigating most prevalent and banal construction materials (i.e. plaster, wood, concrete, brick, steel) and their political economy. 

Format, Deliverables, and Grading

The seminar will alternate the following formats: the production of a research produced in a video format (work guided across the semester with help of our recurrent guest, film-maker Severin Bärenbold), and a series of 6 lectures on dedicated Mondays (including guests from ETH Zurich and the Architecture of Territory Chair, Prof. Milica Topalovic) which will be prepared with readings. The output of the class is a research on global construction chains of construction materials  in a video format. 

Grading will be based on: 30% participation, 30% reading/questions at guest lecture, and 40% research video

Note: the instructor will offer live course presentations on 01/19-01/21. To access the detailed schedule and Zoom links, please visit the Live Course Presentations Website. If you need assistance, please contact Estefanía Ibáñez.