Of Men, of Gods, of Earth – since the epic poems of Homer and Hesiod in the eighth century BCE, Grecian Anemoi (winds) have occupied realms of both material and immaterial being. From Plato (fourth century BCE) to Aristotle and Theophrastus (third century BCE), Vitruvius (second century BCE), and Pliny the Elder (first century BCE), entire worlds have been constructed and deconstructed by winds so well-defined that they were drawn into literature, art, and architecture as forces, entities, and spaces. Today, Oi Anemoi are giving form and force to the next frontier of resource extraction – the photonic, atmospheric phase of capitalism. It is in this context that today’s winds – and the dynamics that drive them and our need for power – are transforming property, livelihoods, and aesthetics in ways that alter relations with terrain, strata, and volume.
As the impacts of climate destabilisation become more widely felt, governments and private companies find increasing incentives for investments in renewable energy. In cooperation with the European Green Deal, the European Union (EU) formally adopted the European Climate Law in 2021; which legally binds EU Institutions and Member States to a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To meet this target, each state must take quick and significant strides towards harnessing its own renewable energy. For Greece, success in this endeavour relies on the nation’s abundance of sun and wind – both of which require vast amounts of terrain and stable relations with heat to produce and maintain energy. While investors may be driven by immediate incentives and short-term, perceived gains in increased renewable capacity, local landholders remain concerned with the environmental impacts of solar and wind farm expansion; which often carry negative economic impacts on local communities. Unlike fossil fuels, locations and availabilities of wind and solar resources are dynamic, evolving, and relational; and, any pathway towards net zero emissions, requires us to co-design with Oi Anemoi – in all forms.
RS4 proposes alternative ways of thinking and designing architectures and environments as volumetric, evolving climate ecologies – bringing the renewable energy transition and social justice into collective political practice. Thinking across scales and media, we will propose new architectural models and strategies for a wide array of collectives engaged in sites of environmental conflict.
What architecture is possible when we think about and design with weather as a means of allocating space and resources justly?
Driven by a growing demand for a ‘green’ transition – away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources – national governments, private companies, and international organisations are planning (and implementing) massive expansions of wind and solar energy capacities in locations around the globe. While not in opposition to renewable energy, residents local to the sites of these plans are often less supportive of their construction due to aesthetic objections and land access restrictions; often leading to years of legal action and delay, higher land costs for developers, and less favourable incentives overall. To generate the same energy as a coalfield, solar panels would need nearly four times as much space, and wind turbines seven times; and neither of these energies are produced without visible, often intrusive, equipment. For wind, the visual icon of the blade, rather than the breeze, represents its power and value. Wind, itself, remains invisible until it turns something, ruffles a flag, or kicks up dust. In the imagination, wind acts only when it causes something else to act. That substitution – of the blown thing for the blowing itself – obscures other powers and causes of airflow. Without wind, all life would perish in minutes; bringing design for its continuation into sharp focus.
The relevancy of any ecological element or system is often proven through valuation. The visual que that allows the power of wind to be seen supplies that value, to both the benefit and detriment of wind. Greece has been a nation embroiled in an ongoing economic crisis since 2010. In a crisis of a falling economic index, opportunity for profit becomes the narrow focus. Meanwhile globally, we face the impacts of a rising a heat index; the consequences of which will be felt in Greece with acuity. So much so, in fact, that Greece has become the first European nation to name a Climate Crisis Minister and a Chief Heat Officer. These twin challenges – economic survival and climate survival – recontextualise the significance of Oi Anemoi.
When we speak about climate destabilisation, we are referring to the myriad of weather-related events that are anticipated to occur in response to increasing land and sea temperatures, or quantities of heat at the earth’s surface. Where and in what quantities heat collects around the globe drives wind speeds, directions, and precipitation patterns. As temperatures rise, winds – and all that they carry – become less predictable; a phenomenon seen on both local and global scales.
Concurrent to increasing heat levels, numbers and intensities of wildfires have been on the rise around the globe. Fire is a natural occurrence in most any ‘wild’ ecosystem, and plays an important role in environmental health – from soils to airs. However, for the past decade, each year has recorded a new high in land acreage burned; and the UN warns that wildfires are likely to increase by a third by 2050. Although the rise in wildfires has been global, with recent significant events on every continent, countries in southern Europe–situated around the Mediterranean Basin–face the greatest risk of catastrophic wildfire events. Wildfires often have many contributing factors; however, one of the most significant factors is a site’s atmospheric positioning.
Scientists have determined that the Arctic is warming exponentially faster than lower latitudes; which slows down the jet streams, or high-altitude winds, that encircle the globe and carry moisture and heat north from the equator. These slower moving jet streams hold weather conditions in place for longer periods of time. In the summer, this results in an acceleration of heatwave conditions in particular geographies–one of which is centred on the Mediterranean Basin. Drier, rockier soils tend to dominate the terrain; leaving vegetation to serve as the conduit of moisture from the subterrain to the air. During a heatwave, winds still and the air’s capacity, or thirst, for moisture intensifies. This dries out the earth’s surface and creates a surplus of fire fuel; therefore, the smallest spark from any source enters ideal conditions for expanding combustion.
Fires create their own weather. Even when winds appear to have stilled, air circles–always looking to fill ‘empty’ space. As flames release heat, pockets of ‘emptiness’ intensify air movements, creating winds interior to the fire itself. When supplied with plenty of fuel, these fire-winds grow into storms which exhibit weather so extreme, so quick moving, and so unpredictable, that meteorologists and fire specialists both find them uncontrollable.
For homeowners who find themselves in the pathway of such ‘storms’, particularly those whose livelihoods depend on the land they own, even the most comprehensive insurance policy will not cover the long-term ecological damages suffered. The time and money required to rebuild homes and regrow forests only intensifies debt relations with credit lenders, a tyranny most find impossible to escape. Regardless of the spark that ignites
them, these fires, and the weaponised winds they create, produce sites of expansion for opportunistic developers. Across Greece – from the Peloponnesus to Crete to Skyros and Evia, and beyond – the transformative powers of wind have been leveraged to free land from the ownership of those that have long protected the ecological relations needed to maintain quietly sustainable life across the archipelago.
Following an historic heatwave, with temperatures reaching a high of 47.1C, wildfires raged across northern Evia – from coast to coast – consuming 51,000 hectares of forest in less than 10 days during August of 2021. Thousands of residents across dozens of villages were forced to flee; while many chose to remain and protect their land with limited resources. What was once a dense Mediterranean pine forest – home to many forest
based livelihoods – was left ravaged by fire; no underbrush for goats to graze, no trees from which to gather resin, and ridden with new risks of landslides, soil and water contamination, and easily recurrent fire. Over the past year, local community groups have funded their own water and soil tests, performed as much fire and erosion prevention management as they could, and held resident meetings to determine what is needed to rebuild. Largely, the burned areas of northern Evia are privately owned; therefore, the government has offered little to no help towards the prevention of further disaster. The government has, however, appointed a group of urban designers and investors (public and private) to plan the reconstruction of the region.
When left alone, pine forests require about three decades to regenerate. During that time, all forest economies must lie dormant, reconstruction of the built environment must remain on pause, and forest managers must remain ever-vigilant that fire not strike again. While forest ecologies can, in fact, benefit from this process, land values inevitably fall; for an economically suffering population, this increased pressure only motivates the cheap sale of land and migration into cities. Since the 1970s, many experts have warned that the decreasing population of pastoralists from the Mediterranean forests pose the largest threat to the region’s ecological health. Many residents of northern Evia feel that their removal is precisely what developers are taking to the bank.
From the construction of new infrastructures and urban centres to manufacturing hubs and wind farms, northern Evia appears ripe for overhaul – physically and culturally. Each of these land use changes carries a set of ecological and climatological consequences. Taking on the specific elements and dynamics of northern Evia, RS4 will analyse the redevelopment proposed plans and the climatic futures they portend; working with residents in northern Evia to design counter-planning strategies that respond to the needs of the island’s residents, ecologies, and weather.
Scope and studio framework
Combining spatial and ethnographic design methodologies, students will engage with local communities, activists, ecologists, and government officials through participatory methods and protocols of reciprocity that will enable long-term co-design and intervention. RS2 endeavours to design operational research and interventions capable of shifting momentums of social, spatial, and ecological relations towards a just future of climate agility.
In RS4, each term will build on the previous term’s work. The many environmental conflicts, from local to global, present within the ‘green’ transition will be made evident through each student’s experiences, interests, and investigations over the course of the year. Term 1 will begin with a context-specific case study in Greece, on the island of Evia. In Term 2, students will build from Term 1 work to deepen conceptual frameworks, working towards project specific conceptions of design intervention; this work may or may not remain centred on the
geographic context of Greece, but must maintain conceptual grounding and relation to social justice, heat, wind, and renewable energies. In Term 3, students will work more independently in the development of their final projects. Project proposals and development plans must be approved by the end of Term 2.
In its first year, the studio has been developed in close partnership with two activist movements on the island of Evia, and in ongoing conversation with other activists, scholars, and designers across Greece. While in Athens, we will meet with environmental NGOs and government ministers; and as the project evolves, we anticipate an expansive constellation of dialogues and collaborations across the region.
In the aftermath of the wildfires of August 2021, the Committee of the Struggle for Survival & Regeneration of Burnt North Evia (Επιτροπή Αγώνα Επιβίωσης & Ανάπλασης Καμμένης Βορείας Εύβοιας) was founded by the citizens of northern Evia in a bid to rally for the defense and just regeneration of their lands. Residents from the Municipalities of Istiaia, Edipsos and Mantoudi, Limni, and Agia Anna have been working together – on behalf of each other and the environment – towards a collective project of transparent and local-led restoration of forests and villages.
Anastasios Baltas, a member of an informal coalition of environmentalists (including citizens and local authorities) in Evia, coordinates reviews of wind turbine installation proposals across Evia and publishes a publicly available map of these plans online. Through the enjoyment of Evia’s natural resources, this community of residents has grown into a network of engaged activism throughout the island. The group conducts educational programmes to help inform residents about any proposed development plans; and when appropriate, they coordinate opposition to any that are deemed harmful to Evia’s ecological health.