Ben Sweeting

School of Architecture, Technology and Engineering, University of Brighton

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 presentation, 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 from, above, and in competition with their environment and each other. This hubris has been supported and propagated by processes of marginalisation and colonialism, which have dominated many ways of knowing and doing. Here I argue that hubris is 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 also going beyond mitigating the ecological harm caused by the built environment.

KEYWORDS: architecture, ecology, cybernetics, sustainable design

Citation Data

Author(s): Ben Sweeting
Year: 2022
Title: Architectural Roots of Ecological Crisis
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 090
Host: University of Brighton
Location: Brighton, UK
Symposium Dates: October 3–16, 2022
First published: 23 September 2022
Last update: 30 April 2023
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404

Copyright Information

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


Open Access article published under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

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Author(s). (20##). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD##. Article ##.

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Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design are published online and include the contributions for each format.

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Ben Sweeting

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