What is energy and how (else) might we think about it?

Designers today require radically different intellectual frameworks within which to think energy, environment, and ecology. The need to rethink applies not only to the positivist and one-dimensional approaches that characterize common institutional initiatives, but to the widespread assumptions—often anachronistic or outright wrong—about what physics and biology actually teach us about environments. These assumptions are in turn widely embedded in many philosophical, theoretical, cultural and even moral propositions and have lead to an essential doldrums in thought and imagination regarding the role of energy and its relation to more general questions of form and formation.

Among the central episodes in knowledge that have remained inexplicably external to contemporary accounts of sustainability are the postwar developments in thermodynamics, particularly the revised understandings of equilibrium theory, control theory, and universal energy laws. The thermodynamic and cybernetic impetus of energy/ecological systems has not yet begun to impact design culture in any systematic way. The current century’s imperatives are already demanding significantly greater ambition and rigor than those inherited from the 20th century antecedents that tacitly constitute the basis, and limited horizon, of the contemporary shortfalls in speculative practice and theory about the role of energy in design.

This course seeks to provide a certain foundation and acquaintance with these broader and more powerful theories of the structure and dynamics of the ecosphere (the cybernetic/thermodynamic cosmos) with a view to providing in turn a new ethos of speculation within design practice and discourse that the customary bureaucratic and quantitative approaches do not encompass or address. This course is principally directed toward problems within the culture of design, directed towards alternate agendas for energetic, environmental and ecological thinking. The principles in this course are equally applicable to architectural, landscape, and urban practices. In addition to lectures by the resident instructors there will be a series of up to 8 sustained and substantial engagements with a series of visitors—emerging voices who have claimed a stake in the outcome of the field.