Architectural Roots of Ecological Crisis -52


Ben Sweeting

In architectural design, sustainability is primarily thought of as a technical discourse concerned with mitigating the harm that the construction and use of buildings cause to their environment—minimising the energy that buildings consume, the waste they produce, and the habitats they destroy. While there is an urgent need to reduce (and, when possible, reverse) the harm caused by the built environment, these types of responses are not the full extent of the possibilities and responsibilities to address environmental concerns that come with designing architecture. In this paper, I draw on the work of anthropologist and cybernetician Gregory Bateson to explore ways in which architectural design might contribute to addressing the underlying causes of present and future ecological crises, in addition to responding to the immediate symptomatic challenges that these crises give rise to. Writing in the context of the emerging environmental consciousness of the 1960s and 1970s, Bateson understood one of the root causes of ecological crisis as the “epistemological error” or “hubris” of Western culture’s tendency to see humans as separate to, above, and in competition with their environment and each other. This hubris is, I argue, implicitly reinforced by the conventional built environment, which (literally) constructs a sharp distinction between human and ecological worlds. Connecting ecological thinking to architectural theory through Bateson’s characterisation of the former as an inversion of traditional Western cosmology, I sketch out an enriched role for architectural design in relation to ecological crisis, including but going beyond mitigating the ecological harm caused by the built environment.

Keywords: architecture, ecology, cybernetics, sustainable design

Pre-proceedings drafts are available for RSD11 participants to review. The corresponding paper number is at the end of the title. The papers have been peer-reviewed, and the authors have made revisions. Following RSD11, authors will have a final period to revise their work from the feedback received at RSD before the proceedings are formally published.

Posted September 2022 content is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

Suggested Citation Format (APA)

Author(s) (20XX). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSDX) Symposium.