Known Unknowns: Architecture’s Ecological Consciousness


Spring 2013

Janette Kim, instructor

This seminar investigated the political ecology of climate change through the lens of risk management in architecture and urbanism. The idea of a risk society expands existing discourse about environmentalism—often focused on preservation, conservation and restraint—to consider an economy of collective resources. Hazards of a warming planet spread collateral damages of modern marvels to new, greater collectives. In response, designers’ refigure tropical tourist destinations, aging power grids, and carbon-free cities, mitigating climate disasters while creating new ones.

In this course, we questioned how architecture and urbanism’s response to climate risk imagines new collectives. We began by reading major texts outlining theories of risk and their registration in contemporary insurance markets and land use practices. We then examined a series of ecological models, from ‘Urban Ecology’ to ‘Spaceship Earth,’ that have emerged in architecture and urbanism over the past century, and evaluate their recycled role in contemporary practice. To examine the contemporary implications of these theories and practices, students produced research projects on risk management practices associated with Superstorm Sandy. Projects included a children’s book on climate change, MTA service change announcements of New York evacuation procedures and an illustrated annual report of the National Flood Insurance Program.