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Environmental Frontiers Roundtable Series

What modes of practice and knowledge production are required to address the challenges presented by current environmental transformations? The Environmental Frontiers lecture series will offer a wide array of perspectives, from architecture to documentary filmmaking, from climatic analysis to anthropology, from legal activism to artistic practices. Each lecture will focus a particular case study of environmental disputes. In a four-hour roundtable format, we will discuss forms of collaboration and how to mobilise different alliances, both interdisciplinary and between academia, design practices, governmental institutions and activism.

Forthcoming lectures in 2017 are from Dr Adrian Lahoud, Dean of the School of Architecture, RCA, who will question the role that shelter plays within the architectural imagination; Dr Susan Schuppli, whose work examines material evidence from war and conflict to environmental disasters; Dr Nabil Ahmed, who will speak to the contemporary status of nature in spatial relation to law, conflict and development; Dr Jon Goodbun, who will discuss the conceptual and practical history of Cybersyn, in Chile, and Dr Shela Sheikh, who presents her research on plants and natural environments as 'silent witnesses' to (historical and ongoing) forms of colonial violence.


Adrian Lahoud: 'Origins, Shelters and Traps'

8 November 2017

Protection from the natural environment is a fundamental human need. Architecture’s primary role is to satisfy this need. Or so a certain story goes. Almost every important treatise on architecture will re-enact a primordial scene: humans gather, their culture is still very primitive but certain innate requirements are already present, the most basic of which is the need for protection. Architecture emerges in order to fulfil it. The concept of shelter seems to still be at the very core of what architecture means, it is what remains and what will always remain after everything else has been removed. Shelter’s conceptual legacy is everywhere, in the way that we think about housing, in the way that we conceive of the environment, natural disaster, conflict, and ultimately architecture’s instrumentality. Traps on the other hand can’t shield the body from wind or rain or cold – they cannot even fulfil a buildings’ most seemingly rudimentary requirement – inhabitation. No matter how primitive and protean, urforms like huts, tents and caves resemble buildings – traps however, do not even look like anything remotely architectural. Their relevance to debates on architecture would therefore seem to be hopelessly limited. But are they? Drawing primarily on anthropological research from the perspective of pre-capitalist and pre-industrial societies, this presentation will examine the idea of shelter, which it will compare to another idea, that of the trap specifically as elaborated by British Anthropologist, Alfred Gell. It will attempt to use this comparison to question the role that shelter plays within the architectural imagination, suggesting that the trap might offer a useful alternative framework.

Nabil Ahmed: 'Confronting Ecocide: Emerging jurisprudence, spatial practice and the fight against impunity' 

16 November 2017

Current international laws are inadequate to protect the the planet. A law against ecocide and ecological interpretations of the principle of universal jurisdiction might be the missing factors that can address this problem. Criminal accountability for environmental and climate-related crimes also addresses wider issues of environmental justice beyond economic remedies. Within this juridical context this talk will present case studies from INTERPRT, a project that undertakes spatial investigations of environmental crimes in Oceania and proposes new forums for the development of ecocide law.

Susan Schuppli: “Proxy Data & Environmental Evidence'

23 November 2017

Earlier this year, Edmonton Fire and Rescue responded to a high-heat alarm that was triggered at the University of Alberta. The newly built, state-of-the-art Canadian Ice Core Archive in the Faculty of Science had experienced a massive system failure as its freezer facility increased in temperature from minus 37 to plus 40 degrees Celsius. Approximately 22,000 years of climate history glistened on the floor in an indistinguishable pool of lost data. 'Ice cores are like a tape recorder of climatic history and that history is disappearing worldwide', says Andrew Bush, a paleoclimate modeller. In order for contemporary scientists to build the global climate model they need to access planetary records that have logged changes occurring over thousands of years. Yet most instruments for measuring environmental phenomena and meteorological conditions were only invented in the nineteenth century. Understanding such ancient climates necessitates turning to proxies – Earth’s natural media archives — for accessing different kinds of data and alternate modes of measurement and sensing. Through the presentation of a series of clips from several projects, I explore the ways in which creative projects might also function as 'data proxies' signalling the production of new forms of environmental evidence as well as the convergence between aesthetic practices and scientific modes of technical inquiry.

Jon Goodbun: 'Cybersyn Feedback'

30 November 2011

In this seminar we will consider the conceptual and practical history of Cybersyn, a project with ecological, industrial and political dimensions which was developed in Allende’s Chile in the early 1970s. We will reflect upon a number of contemporary issues which continue to emerge and resonate with this project and its goals, successes and failings.

Shela Sheikh: 'Postcolonial Ecologies'

7 December 2017

Moving across various scales (temporal, territorial, and in terms of urgency and intensity) as well as disciplinary provincialisms, this lecture begins by positing the imperative of thinking together (a) colonialism and cultivation, and (b) postcolonialism and ecology in order to address current environmental crises and racial injustices. Casting a historical eye to the colonial plantation era and colonial science, part two focuses on the ongoing legacies (material, discursive and epistemological) of Linnaean botanical taxonomy, especially as regards the financialization of nature and mainstream global conservation efforts. Against the backdrop of debates around the ‘rights of nature’ and ‘human rights’ (with the question of who is deemed worthy of the latter having been shaped by colonial science) as well as more-than-human forms of sociality/collaboration, part three re-casts classic postcolonial debates around representation through a meditation on witnessing and bearing witness (above all to ongoing forms of colonial violence) beyond the human.


Watch this space for the upcoming dates in 2018.

Roundtables take place in Room STE 031 Stevens Building, Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU from 4–8pm. Places are free, subject to room size limitations.

Roundtables take place from 4–8pm at the College's Kensington site:

Room STE 031 Stevens Building
Royal College of Art
Kensington Gore
London SW7 2EU 

Places are free, subject to room size limitations.

Environmental Architecture - Roundtable Series
Environmental Architecture - Roundtable Series