T4T lab: Ancientness
Guest Professor at Texas A&M, co taught with Gabriel Esquivel (TA Shane Bugni & Courtney Ward)
For more information about the studio click here
The studio will investigate the potential of architecture and the aesthetics of ‘ancientness’ as a catalyst to shift the prevalent human view from anthropocentric towards ecocentric. Ecocentrism is an ontological and ethical belief that denies that there are any existential divisions between human and non-human beings.
For such a paradigm shift to occur we need to update our thought models and develop new terminology that defines what has conventionally been described as our ‘relationship to nature’. Present day thinking around ‘nature’ and humans place within it in, increasingly leads to scrutinizing it within an expanded, global view brought forth by the internet and other media.
Considering our ‘relationship to nature’ on this scale is incredibly challenging as it is distributed over such vast space and time relative to our human perception, that it almost becomes incomprehensible. Timothy Morton refers to these as Hyperobjects, encompassing things such as global warming, environmental collapse and the biosphere, all of which are ‘objects’ most pertinent to contemporary ecological consciousness. That said, we only experience moments of their amorphous presence, for example as extreme weather of melting ice sheets, never fully understanding their complexities.
The challenge of becoming ecocentric is thinking about things beyond what we can perceive, ultimately, beyond our anthropocentric view. The task of architecture in this endeavor is to create buildings that engage the power of the human imagination to transcend physical experience, further bringing hyper-objects and a sense of vast interconnectedness with nonhumans into our consciousness.
Ancient Artifacts and Permissible Nature
When contemplating architecture over the timescale of hyperobjects, one might begin to think about notions of ancientness. This normally incites visions of how buildings over centuries have either fallen into ruin, been maintained or repurposed. The former offers fertile ground for the investigation of ecocentric thought as their appearance as fragments and synecdoche’s have sparked the imagination of viewers, particularly throughout the 18th century which culminated in Romanticism. The movement was partly a reaction to the industrial revolution, it glorified the past and nature, developing the aesthetic category of the sublime. During this period, ruined medieval structures were replicated, creating ‘ fake ruins’ in the grounds of the wealthy landowners. These structures or symbols of ‘man’ were also commonly depicted in the paintings of the movement, gently placed amongst awe inspiring and incomprehensible ‘nature’. Scientific data has significantly reframed the human position within the biosphere, outlining that our activity has created a new geological epoch, arguably a more horrifying notion than sublime nature itself. As architecture engages with ecology in the age of the Anthropocene, we know too much to return to the notion of the sublime and therefore need to develop new sensibilities that inspire our cultural artifacts.
If one removes human references to architecture and instead considers these artifacts over geological timescales, then there is no ancientness, only contemporary structures being effected by nonhumans. All buildings are subject to the forces and agency of the natural world, intended or otherwise. Where and how this patina and other effects are permissible opens an interesting area for contemplation. We have historically removed signs of non humans from our buildings, evident from the Colosseum in Rome to the Pyramids of Mesoamerica. Modernism advanced the notion of architecture as ontologically separate to the biosphere, regarding it as something to view rather than embedded within, an idea that still dominates our contemporary relationship with the natural world today.
We know this is not true and one only has to reference Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye which fell into relative ‘ruin’ and was used as a barn amongst other things before being fully refurbished. Many still find it difficult to digest the pre-refurbished images of this building, as well as buildings in general from the 20th century that display their natural state. Conversely, the same sensibility is not extended to the afore mentioned ‘ancient’, primitive, and prehistoric structures, where the presence of nonhumans in revered and expected in certain cases.
The studio will explore the qualities of ruins as a vehicle to consider our contemporary position within the world beyond our anthropocentric view. The projects will strive to dissolve the notion that humans and their artifacts are above, separate, and unaffected by the biosphere, instead fostering an appreciation and humbleness of coexistence between humans and nonhumans. Students will develop new aesthetic and spatial conditions of interconnectedness, considering the power of the human imagination to bring hyperobjects and other noumena into our consciousness. Building proposals should strive for for the ineffable, the enchanting and even the uncanny.