February 22, 2009

GSD 1202: Cities, New Ecologies

GSD1202 : 4th Semester Core Studio

Coordinator Lluis Ortega
Prof Florian Idenburg

(introductory text from studio brief)

There is a long history of proposals and reflections on the city and the environment. Since Vitruvius there have been attempts to construct relationships between the City, Society and Nature. Whether we are considering the aesthetic history of the architectural Sublime, techno-futurist visions for utopian cities, the hygienics of orthodox Modernism, or the ideals of garden cities and the proliferation of suburban sprawl; architecture’s preoccupation with its relationship to the environment and the role it has to play in the interpretation or construction of Nature has taken many shapes. So what is the contribution that we could make today to the history of that discussion? Can we resume some of the unresolved questions of previous proposals? How do we frame our own speculations on Nature?

After a drift in disciplinary attention and energy from the city towards technology, we currently have an opportunity to revisit the discussion of urban form equipped with a new set of tools and a new conceptual framework. By new tools we refer to emergent capacities in production and analysis enabled by digital technologies, and by new conceptual framework we mean the reorganization of the architectural or urban problem through the lens of regulatory systems that has been made available by scientific developments in the second half of the 20th century. Using feedback from all and any relevant inputs and processes, particularly in this case the particularities of environmental analysis and simulation, we will search for new and optimized manifestations of the sustainable city.

Cities will be the medium with which to address effectively the pressing environmental problems of our time, and we will be exploring urban scenarios of high density. If dense, hyper-technical utopias were environmental responses emblematic of the enthusiasm over industrialization in developing countries, fatigue with urban disorder and density ultimately spawned critiques of the nineteenth century city. From that critique one counter model, the Garden Cities of Howard (1898), appeared and became incredibly powerful and influential because of its capacity to contribute to a cultural imaginary of nature, despite how it was ultimately distorted and realized in contemporary suburbia. Currently there is a resurgence in the imagination of utopian interventions at aggressive scales and high densities as a response to looming environmental catastrophe, but we are yet to see the true performative viability of proposals of this type, what their contribution to larger narratives about architecture and nature might be or how effective they will prove at capturing public imagination. Our current task is to articulate a new aesthetic and cultural understanding of nature in response to current social and environmental problems and to critically re-imagine cities to address the current and future needs of a sustainable society.