On Friday, December 4th—while hundreds of officials gathered in Paris for the COP21 UN climate change conference—scholars, historians, scientists, architects, and designers came to Columbia GSAPP’s Avery Hall for a similarly urgent conference, “Climate Change and the Scales of Environment.”
The urgency lies in the fact that buildings are accountable for approximately half of energy consumption and CO2 emissions in the United States today. At the December 4 conference, the range of experts discussed this issue across multiple scales—ranging from a single molecule to the planet as a whole. At what scale should architects engage? And how do the different scales tie together?
Dean Amale Andraos explained to AN that using these disciplinary questions of scale to enter a cross-disciplinary discussion on climate-change kept the conversation focused.
The first topic of the day, History, was moderated by Reinhold Martin (Columbia GSAPP) and included presentations from Daniel A. Barber (University of Pennsylvania, Architecture), Deborah R. Coen (Barnard College, History), Gregg Mitman (University of Wisconsin, History), and Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths, University of London, Visual Cultures). Addressing different moments in history, the speakers collectively unveiled how ecological understandings dictate societal development.
The second topic, Politics, was moderated by Laura Kurgan (Columbia GSAPP) and included talks from Michael B. Gerrard (Columbia University, Earth Institute and School of Law), Saskia Sassen (Columbia University, Sociology), Richard Seager (Columbia University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory), and Christian Parenti (New York University, Liberal Studies). Each presentation addressed environmental failures, which Kurgan called “sobering,” and the related risks facing architects, planners, and builders. Before heading to COP21 to represent the Marshall Islands, Gerrard told the audience in Wood Auditorium, “Architects might be legally liable for failure to design for foreseeable climate change.”
Jesse M. Keenan (Columbia GSAPP and CURE) moderated Uncertainty, which included talks from Radley Horton (Columbia University, Earth Institute and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies), Adrian Lahoud (Royal College of Art, London, Architecture), and Kate Orff (Columbia GSAPP and SCAPE). The presentations unveiled each profession’s individual roles and how they overlap. Horton works with quantitative climate science; Lahoud uses the qualitative method of narrative; and Orff works in both realms. Keenan concluded, “Architects and planners are mediators. They are helping make that translation to define values and vulnerabilities and to weigh what that really means.”
The final section, Visualization, was moderated by Mark Wasiuta (Columbia GSAPP) and included presentations from Heather Davis (Pennsylvania State University, Institute for the Arts and Humanities), Laura Kurgan, Emily Eliza Scott (ETH Zurich, Architecture), and Neyran Turan (Rice University, Architecture). Again, the presentations covered a wide spectrum of curation, ranging from Davis’s discussion of subject-object relationships to Kurgan’s video visualization of climate change data, EXIT, currently on display at COP21. Wasiuta, said in the panel discussion, “Laura’s work produces a different type of knowing, or knowability. Fascinating, the idea of curating a dataset: curating as the construction of a political form.”
The day’s presentations ended with keynote speaker Dipesh Chakrabarty (University of Chicago, History). Chakrabarty’s talk, “The Human Significance of the Anthropocene” was a fitting way to pull together the wide-ranging but interrelated disciplines contributing to the conference.
Videos of the conference will appear on Columbia GSAPP’s YouTube channel in the coming weeks.