Finding Life In Living Buildings: Material Culture and Designing for the Future of Life on Earth....

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Finding Life In Living Buildings: Material Culture and Designing for the Future of Life on Earth. Thesis (Honors) ~46 pages Ben Small by Mind Map: Finding Life In Living Buildings: Material Culture and Designing for the Future of Life on Earth. Thesis (Honors)  ~46 pages Ben Small

1. Life and Death of Living Buildings.

1.1. Learning From Living Buildings.

1.1.1. Can't these lessons be attributed to the schools' pedagogy and not the design of the buildings? My phenomenological/material focused approach broadens pedagogy by examining the implicit effects of the 'background' (actually active material environment) of architecture that influences learning, and how these buildings (immersive object-environments) are related to explicit learning (i.e. formal pedagogy) through employment as pedagogical tools. This is why I don't have to evaluate what a successful environmental education (experience) is, rather, I can focus on the architecture and its more intrinsic ability to cultivate the 'virtues' enumerated above.Living buildings ground values in materiality (by observing physical changes and hybridization). (2)

1.2. Splashing and Playing in the Water and the Sun

1.2.1. How can you claim buildings convey anything if architecture is a non-representational art form? Communicating the connection between individuals and globals systems results from contouring our environments around our bodies, our actions, and making visible the different ways of understanding the relationship between our actions and the material world (ecologically, politically...) That is, (this is where I get really specific) by putting the water and carbon cycles in front of kids they are presented with rich areas of exploration so they not only cultivate serendipity, but by exercising serendipity and exploring these systems "made concrete" (i.e. incorporated into the design of the classroom) they learn to locate their own status within these systems. Understand/trace Earthbound Terroir by living on solar budget in NW. Explain in detail how the water and carbon cycles are brought into the classroom, how kids play and engage with these systems independently and as part of structured pedagogy, and how that leads to serendipity and the ability to locate the self in relation to these systems. Cultivating 1) serendipity as well as 2) the ability to locate and understand the relationship between individual and global systems, comes from the building as it exposes the working of the carbon and water systems in such a way that invites exploration, i.e. that is playful, wonderful, and educational (humility). (2)

1.3. My Building is a Flower

1.3.1. And what about deconstructing the problematic nature/culture binary? When a wall of your classroom is made of living plants that provide real and tangible services to the building (i.e. filter water and air) questions like "is this building nature or culture?" just don't hold up. Certainly symbolism can be incorporated into architecture as well (and in subtle ways it is in these two living buildings). However, my call is for more emphasis on the design and contemplation of object-environments for their capacity to reveal the intrinsic structure(s) behind all appearance. This helps avoid proscribing “a universal form to elevate humanity” as the Modernists did with the International Style which even though devoid of symbolism, the design valorized mechanical efficiency, the machine age, industrialization, and the distinction between human-culture and nature. (1-2)

1.4. Death of Living Buildings

1.4.1. What can be done better? The future of living buildings is certain: they'll die. Just like all that lives. And that is a good thing. That's how evolution occurs, of genes, of memes, and of buildings. pg. 167 arch. an. Even ideas and understandings of things like 'sustainability' die, or become obsolete, and are replaced by new and better things. As successful as I find Living Buildings, my biggest critique is that even though they broaden public understanding of buildings as agents, the way they are represented, talked about, and understood still relies on a specific interpretation of sustainability as a virtue. My concern is that as current notions of sustainability are problematized, Living Buildings will find themselves too entrenched in a single ideology that valorizes certain qualities like efficiency that we know to be problematic (Jevon's Paradox). The next big task of academics and architects concerned with the status/function of the built environment in the Anthropocene (as an interpretation of a valid way of life) is to design more flexibly. That is, architecture could become more nomadic in order to respond to a more globally cosmopolitan citizenry where national political boundaries are more permeable or buildings are designed to decay more quickly requiring continually updated designs (as Heidegger said, building - or designing- as thinking and thinking for dwelling and dwelling as a continuous process of discovery) to allow for changing interpretations of 'valid ways of life.' Flexibility to allow for future change. (2)

2. Which (whose) epoch is it anyway? (What is our period? -The Anthropocene.)

2.1. Materiality of the "age of man."

2.1.1. The science; Human impact on global systems such as the carbon and water cycles. The rise of unpredictable and unprecedented challenges, "wicked problems," and a "vociferously responding planetary climate". Describe impacts of human action such as climate change (carbon emissions; water - drought & increased storm intensity), biodiversity loss, sea level rise, etc. A safe operating space for humanity? Focus on relationship between human action/behavior and the impacts of those on climate systems. And the impacts of the anthropogenic changes in these systems on humans and non-humans. I.e. the anthropogenic changes in Earth Systems described by the Anthropocene threaten life on Earth as we know it. (2)

2.2. A Fool's Hope?

2.2.1. The popular discourse; -Dystopian? Summarize opinions regarding current state of built environment. Increasing population density and social upheaval. (1/2) -A planetary opportunity? Erle Ellis, Andy Revkin, among others. The discourse surrounding the anthropocene is fundamentally a conversation by us, about us and our actions, and questions the status of humankind on this planet (not should we be here doing this, but how big of a player are we? Are we a collective planetary force akin to plate-tectonics in our ability to shape the material reality of life on this planet?). By questioning our status on Earth, by default the status of our objects is also called into concern. After all, it's our material impact on the earth (itself a fantastically complicated 'thing'), and the material consequences of those impacts that we face. Therefore, the problem is a material one. Our actions are creating a material reality not conducive to our own survival. The planet in the age of the anthropocene is a world of our own creation, but not of our own design. (2)

3. Architecture & the Re-materialization of the Anthropocene. (How can architects interpret (i.e. express in built form) a way of life valid for the Anthropocene as described above?)

3.1. Mind over matter.

3.1.1. Post-material understanding of the Anthropocene problematic as it overlooks the very real physical (material) consequences of human action and policies. So, we need a new way of representing/communicating the Anthropocene that doesn't appeal to (that transcends) post-material environmentalism and is more effective and democratic than merely showing people graphs and explaining to them the importance of changing their light bulbs (value lecturing a la Al Gore) (even if people are educated about the compositionist notion of dwelling/earthbound, Latour even says is not enough, but it needs to be FELT). The trick, then, is to re-materialize the anthropocene in our daily lives (express/depict/represent the materiality of the anthropocene in a way most individuals can engage with). That is, the new way of representing the Anthropocene needs to stand alone and function (i.e. communicate the notion of being Earthbound) without relying too heavily on abstract representation or formal education. This new method needs to be able to be spontaneously engaged with by lay individuals, in other words, it needs to welcome serendipitous exploration, engage individuals, and through their experience of engaging with the thing itself their experience will reveal their embedded-ness in global systems (dependence and impact on), and demonstrate the falseness of nature/culture binaries, and further cultivate a sense of serendipity (humility, play, and wonder), exploration, and a hunger to understand more. (1)

3.2. Matter over mind.

3.2.1. Understanding the embodied mind, thinking through feeling is the primary way thoughts occur (materiality). Appealing to the body, although not at all separate from the brain, may be a more effective and democratic way to communicate the notion of the Anthropocene. Beyond cultivating a sense of urgency and of the physical threats disruptions to climate systems poses, we need to find a way to make the compositionist notion of dwelling (being Earthbound) in Anthropocene felt. (1)

3.3. Phenomenology

3.3.1. Architectural phenomenology (especially Heidegger and B,D,T) and the discourse surrounding 'materiality' demonstrate how "we shape our buildings and our buildings shape us." That is, through designing our buildings we can "feel" the Anthropocene. Habitus. Intelligent objects. (Susanne Kuchler, pg. 226 materiality). Better analytical vehicle than Derridian Linguistic philosophy, etc. "there is an alterity (or "torque") of materiality that can never be assimilated to a disembodied "linguistic-philosophical closure," "culture," or "history." (Pinney, pg. 270 Materiality). building as thinking and thinking for dwelling. Architecture, as the process of designing with becoming Earthbound in mind, is itself the very type of thinking for dwelling humanity needs to do in order to democratize and navigate the Anthropocene (that is, democratically create appropriate ethical and political structures with which to navigate the Anthropocene). In this understanding of materiality in the Anthropocene, human identity itself, as well as how we locate ourselves in the hybrid world of entangled systems and how we understand the our status on this planet as well as the status of our objects and of the Earth itself, are equally defined by production and consumption of material culture. This is essentially where the main argument of my thesis comes to a point: The Anthropocene is our time. A valid way of life (i.e. dwelling) for the Anthropocene is becoming Earthbound. And finally, architecture facilitates the cultivation of that lifestyle by providing opportunities to serendipitously explore and trace the connections that make one Earthbound in the built (material) environment that humans engage with (phenomenologically). 3-5?)

3.4. Public places for public problems.

3.4.1. Architecture is really appropriate for this task (interpreting & publicly presenting the valid way of life for the Anthropocene) because buildings are inherently public. Even private institutions like shopping malls are engaged with by large populations, even though these places can traditionally be exclusive (fortress architecture), as I have shown democratic spaces are important for the Anthropocene. pg. 167 arch. an (2)

4. The Task of Architecture.

4.1. Framing Questions.

4.1.1. What is our period? What is a valid way of life for the Anthropocene? How can architects interpret (i.e. express in built form) a way of life valid for the Anthropocene? (2).

5. Finding Life in Living Buildings. (Real-world examples).

5.1. Architecture of the Anthropocene

5.1.1. Architecture (historically) reflects/informs human social projects, values, politics... A brief history of Architecture's engagement with sustainability discourse and mainstream environmentalism. By their very design, living buildings attempt to cultivate items 1,2, and 3 from the above section, as my case studies show. Explain LBC as most rigorous 'sustainability' standard for design of built environment. Explain the petal system. Show how LBC attempts to ameliorate exclusive urban enclaves (I said that was problematic in the last section and earlier when I said the Anthropocene needs to be democratized). LBC is beginning to succeed in moving away from seeing buildings as mere 'sustainable' objects and developing a theory of buildings as not only loci, but active agents/participants in (environmental) education (and not just for kids, but congruent with the theory of materiality that what people make also makes people) as I will explain below. I saw Living Buildings as rich with investigative potential for all their claims, perhaps I could learn something about architecture and the Anthropocene by digging deeper into their 'lives.' (2)

5.2. Methodology

5.2.1. Fully present Case Studies of two certified "living buildings;" The Bertschi School Science Wing in Seattle, WA and The Hood River Middle School Music and Science Building in Hood River, OR. Methodology; Research Questions; -How are "living buildings" used as pedagogical tools to teach environmental science and ethics? -Do "living buildings" help individuals understand their relationship to global systems? -Do living buildings cultivate serendipity? -Do living buildings challenge traditional nature/culture binaries? (1/2) -Architectural Phenomenology Theory applied from above. (1) Lived experience is data for analysis, emphasis on subject-object relationship. (1) -Expert Interviews with Architects and Users. (1/2) -Content analysis of websites. (1/2)

5.3. Results

5.3.1. Results; What I observed- Stream in classroom, exposed mechanisms of electricity system (i.e. visible conduits, solar array monitoring system), green-wall, living-machine, information displays, student engagement with system operation/maintenance (provides an opportunity for students to ask "why?" and design experiments to see how behavior influences energy use such as wearing sweaters), ethnobotanical garden, I wanted to play around with all the systems! pump water from cistern to wash hands (need another individual so we see our dependence on others, as well as see how much energy it takes to pump water just to wash our hands!), from any point in the system (typically where the user interacts with it) the system can be followed up- or downstream (again, inviting play, exploration), QR codes on rocks outside invite exploration with mobile technology (nature/culture) especially in ethnobotanical garden so students learn how plants can be/have been used by people, building is visually public- can be seen and observed from street- but still a passive form of equity that doesn't fully address inequality as much as I would like it to (Bertschi seems to service a privileged class, although Stacy's new work is inspired to take Living Buildings to less privileged schools) after all it's a private school so access is limited but free public tours are frequent, HRMS serves what seems to be a more diverse student body with signs posted both in english and spanish and 4 other area schools spend field trip money to visit Living Building, at HRMS- architectural style, sun dial + reclaimed lumber from bus barn (previous building on site) connect the building to site location (i.e. coordinates, solar budget) and history, a panel of HRMS- LEDs indicates air quality status of building to inform ventilation decisions, etc. (2) What I was told- effectiveness of building-as-flower metaphor, buildings designed to bare its systems and show how individual is implicated in the functioning of the system and larger context, students engaged in design (democratic, serendipitous), learning to live on a solar budget, Stacy- when coupled with education students can develop appropriate ethical structures (and then political ones) for our period and especially in comparison of qualitative experiences can develop judgements (i.e. I like my experiences in the Living Building better, therefore, it's a better building), students are invested in place, see building accrue character from interaction with many individuals, etc. (2)

6. At Home in the Anthropocene.

6.1. Our Lives in Buildings, and Our Buildings in Our Lives.

6.1.1. Importance of adding another way of communicating/understanding the notion of the anthropocene (and associated 'virtues' for life in the human-age and why these virtues are important) to supplement scientific graphs. As is serendipity, which can be cultivated by designing our objects to invite a sense of play when using them. We begin to question such binaries as nature/culture (or never form them in the first place) when we see evidence of the hybridity of the world in material contexts (such as buildings). It is possible to feel our deep embedded-ness in global systems by seeing our relationship (in terms of our impacts and dependence on them) expressed in material form because it is a material relationship in the first place that has merely been 'obscured' or extended/distanced to the point of abstraction by commodity chains and neoliberal industry. I'm not arguing that humanity should be Earth Manager. No, just observe. Just more aware and able to operate within whatever boundaries we collectively discover. And to design our buildings around that goal of collectively feeling out our connections to the panoply of human and non-human natures that constitutes our world. Although through architecture we can't "know" the Anthropocene like we can through scientific measurements and observations (we can't quantify or discover information about the Anthropocene through design). But we can "know" the Anthropocene in another sense, we can understand it, interpret it, and learn about how best to live in it through exposure to thoughtful design. Whereas science describes what the anthropocene is, architecture (and design more broadly) communicates that understanding in ways graphs and tables cannot. It's building informed by science in order to democratize scientific knowledge. Architecture creates the critical bridge between scientific knowledge and public, internalized awareness, along with cultivating the virtue of serendipity (play, humility, wonder) that is fundamental for creating inclusive and appropriate ethical and political structures in the Anthropocene.Comparison of qualitative experiences in living buildings vs. other buildings translates into values (i.e. I liked my experience in the living building more, therefore it's better, that is, compositionism is better, supposing that's what living buildings teach). Do/can values learned from buildings (i.e. compositionism) spread to other areas of life? Still remains an open question of how anyone (or anything) can have an influence on anyone else, but this in itself accords with compositionism in that impacts move throughout hybrid networks more indirectly than directly. So who knows if someone can't learn about compositionism from a building and apply it to other aspects of their life in novel ways? ( (2)

7. What is a valid way of life for the Anthropocene?

7.1. Dwelling in the Anthropocene.

7.1.1. Faced with unprecedented challenges and changes (and our status on earth called in to question along with the status of our objects and not to mention the status of the earth itself uncertain; i.e. how much worse will it get? Could it actually be ok?), we may feel homeless in the strange world of the Anthropocene. (1-2). What is important to know in the Anthropocene? I.e. what virtues should be cultivated in the Anthropocene? i.e. how are we to dwell in the Anthropocene? I propose the following 'virtues' for life in the Anthropocene; 1) Serendipity: Wonder -- openness to and acknowledgement of unprecedented challenges; Humility -- influence does not equal control; Play -- active engagement, capacity to fail; Ability to articulate desires and fears. -Paul Robbins 2) Acknowledging embedded-ness of individuals in global systems; that is human-life-as-we-know-it's dependence on these systems (and a degree of stability in these systems) and human impact on them. In this paper I focus specifically on the carbon and water cycles, but I believe it's important to understand the individual as embedded in myriad systems from political and economic systems (and other structures of power such as gender), to socio-cultural, and ecological systems, and furthermore to realize the interconnectedness of these systems themselves. But that's beyond the scope of this paper to analyze, so I've chosen to focus on two systems of paramount importance to life, and consequently whose connections to the individual (and connections between themselves) are most easily felt (I'll explain why feeling vs. intellectually understanding is such a fundamental distinction throughout this paper. Explain/make explicit the kinds of connections to the carbon/water systems that are important to understand/know/feel in the Anthropocene. -Latour, Gifford Lectures. (3) 3) The falseness of binaries such as nature/culture. Bifurcation. Alfred North Whitehead (1) We can say that the individual who embraces the 3 'virtues' outlined above is 'earthbound' and is able to 'dwell' (as an existential condition) in the Anthropocene. That is, when the above 'virtues' are embraced, the feeling of 'homelessness' in the Anthropocene is mitigated.

7.2. Depicting the Anthropocene and the Problem of Transcription.

7.2.1. For humanity to learn to dwell in the Anthropocene people must become earthbound, or compositionist. As I explained in the first section on the materiality of the Anthropocene, current understanding of the Anthropocene is based on scientific observations communicated through papers such as those I cited, and generally based on the use of graphs and tables to depict the changes caused by human action. However, Latour argues that this process of transcription -- that is, transcribing real world phenomena into data via scientific instruments -- reduces something material, something moving and hybrid, into a static, immaterial representation. This is problematic because, such a reduction makes the hybrid nature of phenomena in the Anthropocene difficult to internalize, essentially it's hard to become a compositionist by reading graphs and tables, although not impossible, and still very important. Therefore it's important to underscore the hybridity, the messy-ness, that is the process of transcription. Is it enough to pull the veil off transition from world to word (by paying close attention to all the steps along the way)? No, although that is necessary and important (that's how scientific discoveries, knowledge & information are shared) it's important we also move along scales, but stay within the same medium (that is material knowledge vs. immaterial, transcribed data). That is, transition from (big, nebulous) world (out there) to (smaller, more immediate) world (in here). That is, the compositionist epistemology of a highly hybrid ontology (that is, the reality is everything is in everything else) (vs. the modernist epistemology of a categorizable ontology, that is, we can know things by separating them out because things are separate in reality but only appear all mixed up) can be expressed in material, and doesn't need to be conveyed solely through transcriptions of phenomena into shareable, data yielding generalizable knowledge.What I'm trying to say is that there might be better ways to help us feel earthbound (compositionist embedded-ness) than graphs because graphs are immaterial representations of material phenomena that require abstract thinking to connect back to real world, material phenomena. (1) cognitive dissonance? deception and data visualization?

7.3. Democratizing in the Anthropocene.

7.3.1. I acknowledge the structural realities, too; that is, the availability of alternatives is scarce and other reasons why changing individual behavior isn't the main focus of my argument. I'm not trying to tell everyone to drive electric cars and change their lightbulbs (that might not make a big difference at the end of the day anyway). What I'm saying is that I believe there are more effective ways of conveying compositionism (that are more democratic?) that are informed by scientific and academic discourse but move beyond the page. Latour even calls for this same kind of communication of scientific knowledge. This is important to make more earthbound (people who think about compositionist hybridity and embedded-ness) out of people that might not read scientific papers, care much about graphs, or listen to climate change hype. The goal of making more earthbound is to develop appropriate and inclusive ethical and political systems for the human age, a body-politic, a cosmopolitan citizenry. After all the Anthropocene is, by its very nature, public. That is, the ills included in the Anthropocene very much affect the entire planet (global commons - i.e. atmosphere, etc.) even if the negative impacts of climate change are not evenly distributed over various regions and socio-economic classes. (See: steffen et al conceptual and historical perspectives chapter 6). In fact, this possibility only makes it more imperative that we democratize the Anthropocene (i.e. proliferation of the concept of hybridity, compositionism, and conversation to include a wider array of voices and opinions to manage inevitable impacts on some as a result of the actions of others). Shouldn't everyone have a voice in the Anthropocene, especially when the actions of few are proving to make the lives harder for many? (and furthermore, it's only the few that have access to/the ability to understand that information!) (1-2)