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)¹. 

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 trees species of a park, these choices deployed in the materiality of the built environment have a global knock-on effect. Moreover, planning and the building industry, as well as extraction companies themselves rely on facilitations technologies. These connected objects (i.e. computers, phones, data centers, information networks) and high-technology machines (i.e. robots, GPS-led machines) fuel in a derived and less visible way extractive activities required to procure the common minerals they require for production (i.e. gold, lead, lithium, manganese, mercury, mica, nickel, quartz, silicon, silver, sulfite, uranium, zinc).

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.”²

It will discuss the translation of the Earth resources into the built environment and its economic model of development historically grounded in European colonial expansion and in today’s global neocolonial extraction capitalism. Visible in the architecture and infrastructure of our cities and settlements, the ramifications of contemporary mining and exploitation are violent, immense, and disastrous, impacting humans and non-humans alike, with racialized populations most affected but also severe adverse effects on soil, topography, labor, transportation, water and food systems—with deep territorial political entanglements. 

Through a series of readings, discussions, guest lectures, and personal research, the seminar will explore ways to apprehend the expansionist global enterprise that sustains our material world — via classic mediums (a publication-quality scientific article of approximately 2500 words) but also other immediate channels (i.e. Instagram accounts, blog entries). Accompanying lectures on dedicated Mondays will include guests from ETH Zurich and the Architecture of Territory Chair (Prof. Milica Topalovic). 

1. Sindre  Bangstad and Nilsen Torbjørn Tumyr, "Thoughts on the Planetary: An Interview with Achille Mbembe," New Frame (2019).
2. James Ferguson, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order (Durham [N.C.]: Duke University Press, 2007), 210.