Education in architecture and urbanism is well positioned creatively and critically to address the exigencies of climate change. However, pedagogical methods that prioritize technological solutions alone can come at the expense of teaching and research that explore the sociocultural and ecopolitical dimensions of the crisis. This, in turn, ultimately limits the range of approaches addressing climate change in professional practice. Columbia University’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture is therefore issuing, together with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, a competitive call for course proposals on the theme of “Architecture, Climate Change, and Society.”
From history seminars to visual studies and from design studios to building technologies, the wide variety of course offerings at schools of architecture is a testament to the diversity of perspectives, skills, and tools that ultimately comprise quality work in the field. In contrast, the urgency of the unfolding climate crisis—especially as it intersects with demands for environmental and racial justice—can seem to demand a singular focus that is antithetical to humanities-based critical inquiry or to longer-term creative and technical endeavors. We seek the kind of realism, however, that redefines problems and leaves room for the imagination. Successful proposals for this Course Development Prize in Architecture, Climate Change, and Society will include methods and themes that innovate within their institutional setting—asking hard questions of students that are equal in weight to the hard questions being asked of society in the midst of a global pandemic as it continues to grapple with the intertwined causes and effects of climate change.
This proposal is related to a multi-year Buell Center project entitled “Power: Infrastructure in America,” which seeks critically to understand the intersections of climate, infrastructure, and architecture. Objects of intense political, social, and economic contestation, technical infrastructures distribute power in both senses of the word: as energy and as force. Concentrating on the United States but extending internationally, “Power: Infrastructure in America” opens overlapping windows onto how “America” is constructed infrastructurally to exclude neighbors and to divide citizens. But infrastructures can also connect. Organized in a modular fashion as an open access resource for learning, teaching, and acting, the contents of the project website enable visitors to better understand the complex webs of power shaping our lives and the lives of others. It is in this spirit that the prize aims to contribute to the development of intersectional pedagogy on the theme of “Architecture, Climate Change, and Society” in America today. Change begins with connecting the dots.
Gulf: Architecture, Ecology, and Precarity on the Gulf Coast
Matthew Johnson & Michael Kubo, University of Houston
Much of contemporary carbon culture and its environmental consequences can be traced back, forensically or circumstantially, to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The extraction of fossil fuels has made the Texas-Louisiana coastline a global center of oil production, sprawling along the bayous and wetlands of Beaumont, Galveston, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, and Houston.
While the products of carbon have fueled the mega-region’s expansion, the sprawling oil industry has produced structural inequities in its built environment. Racially segregated “fenceline” communities sit in uneasy proximity to petrochemical plants, subject to the environmental impacts of polluted soil, air, groundwater, and aquifers. Toxic clouds, spills, and other disasters are common in these areas, particularly during extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change. In this context, an examination of the relationship between architecture, urbanism, climate, and environmental justice is urgently needed.
The proposed “superstudio” (a combined research studio and seminar) deals with the history and speculative futures of petro-culture’s long century and its aftermath. We will engage the wicked problems facing individual communities along the Texas-Louisiana coast, from flooding and pollution to toxic development patterns, and propose methods for repairing the discriminatory effects of petro-culture on the broader environment of the Gulf.
Hazard Mitigation + Race + Architecture
Mahsan Mohsenin, Reginald Ellis & Andrew Chin, Florida A&M University
“Hazard Mitigation + Race + Architecture” is a cross-disciplinary collaboration that brings together faculty from two departments at the Florida A&M University: architecture and African-American history. The goal is to provide a cross-disciplinary approach to climate change and recognize Florida’s challenges as ethical and political issues, rather than purely environmental or physical in nature. Every year, Florida is one of the states that is most impacted by climate change through flooding, hurricanes, etc. According to a 2016 US Environmental Protection Agency report, the Florida peninsula has warmed more than one degree during the last century. The sea is rising about one inch every decade and heavy rainstorms are becoming more severe. This is of special concern to minority and underserved communities; specifically, African-Americans, who are often impacted the most by climate change. But as architecture students learn about sustainability, the intersection of race and architecture adaptations are not widely discussed. Architectural responses to climate change include floating or amphibious structures, design for lateral forces, and merging hazard mitigation with architectural design. The goal of this course is to introduce segregation and planning inequities in the discussions of architectural responses to hazard mitigations.
Liz McCormick, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
(Ana Sandoval and Michelle Barrett)
The global increase of atmospheric temperature rise, combined with the rapid growth of previously underdeveloped climate zones, presents a growing need for low-cost solutions that serve those without access to advanced technologies. Within the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, high-performance buildings are often associated with expensive, high-tech strategies that rely heavily on complex mechanical systems. New technologies may change the way that one designs, but they cannot replace the basic climate-specific principles celebrated by vernacular architecture. In response, students will explore the vernacular strategies associated with rapidly urbanizing regions in order to translate their character, physical qualities, and thermal capabilities to a commercial scale, reducing the reliance on energy-intensive mechanical systems while developing a new, climate and culture-specific urban identity.
This course mixes historical referencing with physical experimentation to demonstrate performance metrics and explore the ways building systems could engage and empower the occupant. Integrated as dynamic systems, buildings could better react to fluctuating environmental conditions. By combining students from across the campus, this interdisciplinary course strives to bridge the gap between design, performance, and building analytics. In the spirit of affordable, low-tech and climate-specific enclosure systems, this class will employ accessible physical testing methods to make building technology innovation more accessible.
Karla Sierralta, Cathi Ho Schar, Prisma Das & Phoebe White, University of Hawaii at Manoa
“Just Play” is a set of coordinated courses in architecture, landscape architecture, and urban and regional planning at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa that will focus on climate change and design justice. The objective is to explore learning through teaching, and teaching through play. Students will conduct research and design place-based, equity-focused educational games for a five-week course, which will be offered to 12 participating high schools through the Mānoa Academy program, led by the College of Social Sciences. University students will work in partnership with the Honolulu Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency (OCCSR), to build on their 2020-21 Climate Change Open Houses and talk stories. These open houses gather information that will enable the OCCSR to develop equity initiatives for Honolulu’s Climate Adaptation Strategy. Students will integrate the OCCSR’s community input with research to design interactive games that cultivate citizenship skills such as empathy, negotiation, decision-making, and collective action to foster resilient island communities. “Just Play” seeks to engage climate change from an equity standpoint, focusing on social action, empowerment, scenario-planning, systems-understanding, design, and education, reaching beyond technological solutions. It represents a multi-departmental effort to expand our reach as educators and advocates.
Professional Practice 3: Future Practice
Megan Groth, Woodbury University
The direct relationship of the global climate crisis to the built environment—the realm of the architect—means that architects are uniquely positioned to respond to the climate emergency in and through their work. Unfortunately, the architect’s lack of agency, in part due to the traditional architecture business model, the profession’s codes of conduct, value system, and lack of ethical framework, does not make it possible for architects to act to the degree and with the speed that is required. “Future Practice” asks students to situate architecture practice in the larger context of our communities, cities, countries, and planet and ask: How do we value what we do as architects? What do we need to achieve in practice in order to pursue climate justice? How then do we create new, implementable value systems by which to restructure our work in order to align it with those goals? Using readings from a variety of different cross-disciplinary sources and thinkers, students will be encouraged to think beyond what practice is and into the radical realms of what practice could become in the future.
Living by Water
Amee Carmines & Carmina Sanchez-del-Valle, Hampton University
English Literature and Community Design Issues Joint Micro Seminars on Place and Community
The joint micro-seminars in “Living by Water” focus on the interaction between place and community, particularly at times of crisis. Architecture students in a course on community design collaborate with students in a course on the novel to visualize literary works to create an environment that promotes a critical dialogue, crossing invisible and implied disciplinary boundaries. In the texts, the landscape of communities built and destroyed around constructions of racial hierarchy link to the construction of the narrative. This collaborative inquiry reveals the structures, physical and social limitations, and strategies needed to shelter human beings in ways that enrich cultural expression; and shows how knowledgeable and skilled local communities are about their built environment.
Spaces of Coal
Pep Avilés, Penn State University
Space of Coal + Anthracite Culture
The industrialization of modern states following the Enlightenment ran parallel to the increasing extraction and production of soft coal and anthracite. Coal became the leading source of energy during the nineteenth century as a replacement both for other combustibles (wood) and power sources (water and wind) and contributed in turn to the rapid development of transportation, industry, and—eventually—the modern urban experience. Coal-based capitalism was a global environmental project from the very beginning, affecting the morphology of modern cities as a consequence of iron and steel construction and of the alteration of natural landscapes to accommodate the new infrastructures that industries demanded. Regrettably, economic development triggered climate change and global warming. Although the heyday of coal production in the US occurred around the beginning of the twentieth century—consumption declined steadily following World War II, once oil proved to be a more effective and profitable source of energy—the global impact of past coal mining on the environment has not been reversed: currently, coal still remains at the origin of the majority of global CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, contributing dramatically to global warming.
The Built Environment
Hyon K. Rah, University of the District of Columbia
Climate change, increasingly frequent and devastating disasters, and the built environment are inextricably linked. This calls for a fundamental shift in how we design, plan, and manage the built environment – from self-referential and siloed to more contextualized and systems-based. This introductory course, required for all undergraduate architecture majors and cross-listed within the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability & Environmental Sciences, takes a holistic look at different scales and disciplines contributing to the built environment along with the social, economic, and environmental interdependencies and influences. Various design, technical, financial, and policy tools and strategies are explored. The goal is to better prepare our students for increasingly complex and challenging conditions and the role of interdisciplinary facilitator architects are required to play.
Adaptation to Sea Level Rise
Mason Andrews, Hampton University
A two semester cross-disciplinary course focusing on adapting to the impacts of sea level rise in existing urban neighborhoods in sadly soggy southeastern Virginia has been in place since 2014. In the first semester, students of architecture, engineering, and, intermittently, of pure and social sciences, hear lectures from subject matter experts on soils and hydrology, preservation, urban design, public policy, social justice, and more. Simultaneously, community engagement with stakeholders begins, as does a series of design initiatives in which the architecture students and faculty model the processes of studio-based learning. The latter is the subject of a current NSF program study by ethnographers. While student work has been the basis for a $115,000,000 HUD NDRC implementation grant, it is also true that, as in efforts outside academia, disciplinary silos keep professions ill-equipped to work successfully together. In a subject as vast as the planning of adaptation strategies, however, the only path forward is bringing the expertise of a wide array of knowledge types together; there is inadequate time for sequential disciplinary speculation. Next year area professionals will join the design studio as well. It is hoped a new community of practice will emerge modeling effective transdisciplinarity.
Public Issues, Climate Justice, and Architecture
Bradford Grant, Howard University
Science, empirical evidence, and some technical solutions about global climate change are well documented and generally known to our upper division architecture students who have taken the required “Sustainability” course. While our students may understand that the world’s warming climate is warming as an existential and profound threat for the future of our environment, we see that our thinking and action on climate change are influenced not only by the science, but by an array of social, and political dynamics. How can architects help the client, the profession, and the public’s understanding of the climate crisis influence changes in policies for environmental equity and propose a climate change response? This is the question of this course. Its goal is to shape students’ understanding of their role as future professionals in the public processes of climate change design policies, environmental justice, and calls for action.
Unthinking Oil: Public Architecture and the Post-Carbon Imaginary
Gabriel Fuentes, Daniela Shebitz, and Julia Nevarez, Kean University
Unthinking Oil: Public Architecture and the Post-Carbon Imaginary is a cross-disciplinary course to be taught in collaboration between Kean University’s School of Public Architecture, School of Environmental and Sustainability Studies, School of Social Sciences, and the Human Rights Institute (HRI). Its aim is to intersect architecture with the emerging field of energy humanities in order to speculate openly and collectively on the broad political and aesthetic dimensions of climate change. Its guiding premise is that climate change is symptomatic of a deeper crisis of thought that requires transdisciplinary modes of critical analysis to unmask. Our fossil-fueled, petrocultural reality, is not a mere techno-economic problem to be solved by mere techno-economic solutions; rather, it is a deep cultural problem that entwines our social practices and energy uses with politically motivated representations and narratives about nature, modernity, and the environment. Petroculture operates in plain sight—post-industrial society is an oil society through and through. Climate change, then, is a symptom of a global carbon regime that permeates all aspects of our physical, material, intellectual, and affective lives. Change can only come by unthinking this regime and its infrastructures, by constructing new imaginaries of a post-carbon world. Paradoxically, unthinking requires deep thought.
Design Based on Estimating Ripple Effects of Carbon Footprint
Jeanne Homer, Khaled Mansy, John Phillips, and Tom Spector, Oklahoma State University
We are a group of faculty seeking the integration of the climate action goal of decarbonization into the design studio. We co-teach our school’s comprehensive design studio (required 4th-year studio), in which performance is emphasized as a principal driving force for design development. Students are challenged with the task of making their buildings as resource-efficient as possible. Students are required to seek evidence-based feedbacks to improve the performance of their design, i.e., the structural, energy, and financial performance. Our endeavor is to redefine the educational goals of studio to integrate carbon footprint as the primary measure of performance, which should open the door for students’ creativity in finding innovative ways to minimize carbon emissions due to both operational and embodied energy. The current content and scope of studio enable students to develop the understanding and ability to generate all of the evidence-based data required to evaluate building performance, but this data stops short of estimating the building’s carbon footprint. The next step is to explore ways to develop the studio further, pushing the envelope towards making it possible to estimate the ripple effects of carbon footprint and the (direct and indirect) impact of buildings on climate change.
"Exist, Flourish, Evolve" — Territorial Care and the Upper Misi-Ziibi
Gabriel Cuéllar, University of Minnesota
This studio is concerned with imagining how architecture, as a discipline, practice, and material reality, can help uphold the “Rights of Nature.” Exploring this emerging paradigm—codified in the phrase, “to exist, flourish, and evolve”—the studio will define concrete expressions of the ethics of care embodied in the recognition of rights for other-than-human entities. Our subject will be the Mississippi Headwaters watershed, whose ecological communities and dynamics will figure as protagonists in our studio. We will study how the ‘Great River’ propelled Minnesota’s productivity and explore what role it, as a potential rights-bearing entity, might play in reshaping ecological and spatial relations. We will seek to account for biogeochemical interactions irreducible to human agency, while identifying approaches to guide architectural intelligence within present environmental predicaments. We will rely on our discipline’s sensibility for mobilizing documents and precedents, identifying spatial relations, forming systems of coherence, and analyzing material characteristics and form. In parallel, we will chart out architectural efforts and effects embedded in situational contingencies that transpire over time, interact with other forces, and thrive as strictly infrastructural. Acknowledging that “Rights of Nature” are, presently, written aspirations, our goal will be to articulate the architectural dimensions that could support them.
Changing Minds for a Changing Climate
Sara Stevens, Adam Rysanek, and Kees Lokman, University of British Columbia
Co-taught by a historian, a landscape architect, and a building scientist, this course proposes that design thinking has the potential to reframe the wicked problem of climate change. Weekly structured debates will pose provocations based on a set of historical and contemporary episodes in contested landscapes that position the designer in relation to societal change. Students’ assignments (Debate, Review, Conceive, and Impact) will analyze case studies in order to reimagine the relationship between design and climate change. Divided into modules that highlight different perspectives, the class will include lectures, workshops, and collective assignments intended to produce a small exhibition.
Architecture and Environmental Orientalism in the Arab World
Faysal Tabbarah, American University of Sharjah
The course investigates the relationship between architectural and environmental imaginaries in the development of post-colonial architecture in the Arab world. The course integrates readings and discussions around Orientalism, environmental Orientalism, environmental history, and colonial/post-colonial architecture in the region. Integrating environmental history methodologies into architectural discourse reveals the relationship between architecture, environmentalism, and colonialism. This framework raises the following questions: What do colonial legacies have to do with environmentalism, and how does this shape Arab architecture? How do contemporary ideologies and practices of environmentalism impact Arab architecture? And finally, what are non-Western designers to do in the face of ongoing Orientalism and the climate crisis?
A Global Warming History of Architecture Since 1800
Hans Ibelings, University of Toronto
In the last decades, histories of architecture have made a global turn. Now is the moment for architectural history’s global warming turn. If modern architecture is normally understood to have originated in Europe, so does global warming, with the Industrial Revolution igniting both. This lecture course is a reading of the history of architecture since 1800 through the lens of humankind’s increasing ecological footprint.
Design by This is our work
2021 Winner: Matthew Johnson & Michael Kubo (University of Houston), "Gulf: Architecture, Ecology, and Precarity on the Gulf Coast"
2021 Winner: Mahsan Mohsenin, Reginald Ellis & Andrew Chin (Florida A&M University), "Hazard Mitigation + Race + Architecture"
2021 Winner: Liz McCormick (University of North Carolina at Charlotte), "High-Performance, Low-Tech"
2021 Winner: Karla Sierralta, Cathi HoSchar, Prisma Das & Phoebe White (University of Hawaii at Manoa), "Just Play"
2021 Winner: Megan Groth (Woodbury University), "Professional Practice 3: Future Practice"
2021 Honorable Mention: Amee Carmines & Carmina Sanchez-del-Valle (Hampton University), "Living by Water"
2021 Honorable Mention: Pep Avilés (Penn State University), "Spaces of Coal"
2021 Honorable Mention: Hyon K. Rah (University of the District of Columbia), "The Built Environment"
2020 Winner: Mason Andrews (Hampton University), "Adaptation to Sea Level Rise"
2020 Winner: Bradford Grant (Howard University), "Public Issues, Climate Justice, and Architecture"
2020 Winner: Gabriel Fuentes, Daniela Shebitz, and Julia Nevarez (Kean University), "Unthinking Oil: Public Architecture and the Post-Carbon Imaginary"
2020 Winner: Jeanne Homer, Khaled Mansy, John Phillips, and Tom Spector (Oklahoma State University), "Design Based on Estimating Ripple Effects of Carbon Footprint"
2020 Winner: Gabriel Cuéllar (University of Minnesota), "'Exist, Flourish, Evolve'—Territorial Care and the Upper Misi-Ziibi
2020 Honorable Mention: Sara Stevens, Adam Rysanek, and Kees Lokman (University of British Columbia), "Changing Minds for a Changing Climate"
2020 Honorable Mention: Faysal Tabbarah (American University of Sharjah), "Architecture and Environmental Orientalism in the Arab World"
2020 Honorable Mention: Hans Ibelings (University of Toronto), "A Global Warming History of Architecture Since 1800"