The effects of climate change have become increasingly apparent, with implications across multiple geographical scales and regions. Read as ecological and environmental transformations, accelerated transitional states are unfolding consequences and prompting responses within social, political, economic, human and non-human spheres alike. For instance, the term “cli-migration” was coined by an Alaskan human rights lawyer in 2008 to describe the permanent forced relocation of communities due to climate change. That same year, Ecuador introduced articles 10 and 71-74 to their constitution that explain the “Rights of Nature” as both a definition and the means to its legal and practical application.
While climate change can be described as a “hyper-object” whose effects are generally conceived to exist at a scale that far surpasses one’s capacity to grasp it, its causes are grounded in the accumulation of various actions that are linked with the extractivist and capitalist logics resulting in a positive feedback loop – more resource extraction leads to more consumption and vice versa. Architecture is indeed one facet among an ecosystem of production- and consumer-based economies that has inextricably linked resources to commodities. Further to this, the use of territorialising technologies and mediums (such as satellite imagery and land surveys) is now coupled with artificial intelligence such as machine learning, optimisation algorithms and sensory devices, increasing the efficiency of all aspects of the supply chain; from prospecting, to extraction, and transport. It would seem that technology’s inevitable end is towards colonisation.
This, however, has in turn drawn the attention of some to investigate alternative modes of land and resource management, such as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), which offer perspectives and methods based on indigenous groups’ locally developed practices. Meanwhile, contemporary trends in circular economies have begun questioning and testing the viability of re-utilising materials and rethinking logistical processes. Parallel to this, relatively recent technological trends that are predicated on decentralised protocols such as blockchain inherently possess political ideologies whilst exhibiting practical implications. Although technology tends to be presented as generic, the aforementioned hints at the possibility, and perhaps the inevitability, of interlacing and encoding ethics.
Can technologies be designed and utilised without falling into territorialising tropes? Can AI be used to challenge current production-based economies? What are ways of subverting existing power structures? What decisions would nature make if it could govern itself? What kinds of technologies, protocols and policies can afford such autonomy? How would this affect architectural production, design and habitation, at individual, urban and larger ecological scales?
This issue aims to put in dialogue the works and thoughts of different practitioners and researchers which, while distinct, share proximities when read through the lens of our current climate regime.
Departing from the classical notion of landscape and wilderness, Marantha Dawkins and Bradley Cantrell reframe the Earth’s future through the promise and limitations of data and turn to embracing and actively engaging with uncertainties through Earth’s increasing unpredictability.
On the notion of data, Catherine Griffiths explores the critical notion of “data situatedness”, removing it from its once neutral state of information and instead exploring from how and where we see data, as much as from how and where data sees.
Moving into the ground, Andrew Toland revisits the epistemological underpinnings of “land” and the consequential perceptions of it; weaving a thread through social, legal and design practices, uncovering precedent limitations and strides, hinting that the extent of nature’s rights could be found a little deeper.
Between the digital and the material, Theo Dounas explores the practical and ecological implications of blockchain technology in architecture, reconsidering design not from the perspective of a building, but rather a non-extractive and circular economy.
Turning to the virtual, Damjan Jovanovic questions new modes of imaging through worldmaking, whereby games and simulations offer the possibility of interacting across multiple scales through dynamic and complex systems.
Questioning how our futures might unfold, what might inhabit them, and how they might be experienced, Andrew Witt creates an observatory; a place hosting possible realities from the scale of newly evolved plant and animal life up to the scale of the Earth as a geo-dynamic system.
The remaining contributions extend this constellation, some taking position through theoretical frameworks, and others as projective projects.
Climate F(r)ictions proposes a turn away from dichotomies and binary thinking, and instead straddles the lines of our realities and imaginations, interconnecting technologies, ecologies, law and worlds, giving multi-scalar agency to humans and non-humans alike – it operates in the speculative realms of the plausible and the probable.
Welcome to Prospectives!
“Half an acre of oblong pond – one that is open as a mirror,
in it, the light of sky and shadow of clouds co-linger.
One asks: how can it be so clear?
For there is a source of living water.”
– Zhu Xi (1130–1200 AD), GUAN SHU YOU GAN (“Two Thoughts from Reading Books at Living Water Pavilion”: PART I)
“Good rain knows the season, when spring is here.
It sneaks into the night wind, moistening things fine and silently.”
– Du Fu (712–770 AD), “Delighting in Rain on a Spring Night”
大學之道，在明明德，在親民，在止於至善。 … 物格而後知至；知至而後意誠；意誠而後心正；心正而後身修；身修而後家齊；家齊而後國治；國治而後天下平。自天子以至於庶人，壹是皆以修身為本。
“The way of great learning consists in manifesting one’s bright virtue, consists in loving the people, consists in stopping in perfect goodness. … When things are investigated, knowledge is extended. When knowledge is extended, the will becomes sincere. When the will is sincere, the mind is correct. When the mind is correct, the self is cultivated. When the self is cultivated, the clan is harmonised. When the clan is harmonised, the country is well governed. When the country is well governed, there will be peace throughout the land. From the king down to the common people, all must regard the cultivation of the self as the most essential thing.”
– The Great Learning, The Book of Rites (770–476/403 BC) (Translated by A. Charles Muller, July 4, 1992)
With this trilogy of excerpts, I sincerely welcome you to another issue of Prospectives: a literary platform that is free and open to all. As a lecturer of History and Theory at the B-pro, I am grateful to say that I have the best of teachers – the consolidation of thousands of years of world history and theory – and I hope that Prospectives’ readers can and will also learn from the best. With The Bartlett’s efforts in promoting equality, diversity and inclusivity (EDI), we always encourage students to embed their own cultural ontology in their study; interculturality and interdisciplinarity are novelty in research, and add to the efforts in spawning shared cultural expressions and mutual respect through reciprocal understanding.
Searching through my own culture, the three excerpts above – respectively from the 12th century AD, the 8th century AD, and the 8th century BC – are chosen because of their timelessness. On the other hand, matters of open-sourcing, education, co-learning and self-cultivation are as timely as ever; traditional institutions are simultaneously challenged and complemented by new ways of learning.
The first excerpt is a metaphorical poem of Chinese landscapes (借景喻理), taking an open pond as an analogy for a clear mind, able to reflect as clearly as a mirror. How can the mind be clear? “For there is a source of living water” – which speaks to me of open sourcing.
At the same time, the clearest mirror of all is history (以史為鏡):
“Taking people as a mirror, you can understand the pros and cons; taking history as a mirror, you can know the ups and downs.”
– (Emperor Taizong of Tang, 598–649 AD)
In more recent history, when Martin Heidegger was interviewed for Der Spiegel in 1966, he said that “academic ‘freedom’ was only too often a negative one: freedom from the effort to surrender oneself to what a scientific study demands in terms of reflection and meditation.” To reverse engineer this, then, a positive freedom demands reflection and meditation. Coming from a philosopher who is famous for his reflections and meditations on a hammer and its relationship to “being”, his thinking testifies that “when things are investigated, knowledge is extended”. What is the value of extending knowledge? Sincerity, correct minds, cultivated self, harmony in governance, and peace: “From the king down to the common people, all must regard the cultivation of the self as the most essential thing.” In other words, investigate things so that we may know how to be in this world. Such is the urgency in our epoch of climate change, which demands collective reflections and meditations – or co-learning.
Lastly, what determines good education? Good education is like fine rain in springtime: it comes at the right season; not early, not late – it teaches according to each individual’s aptitude and tempo (因材施教). It washes and enriches, quiet and non-clamorous – it teaches by example, beyond the verbal (身教重於言教). It is fine and gentle, it cultivates the environment, day and night – so that knowledge and virtues may immerse the ears and imbue the eyes (耳濡目染).
Following those reflections on rain, ponds, and water, perhaps there is no better segue to the discussion of Climate F(r)iction – a polysemy of climate friction and fictions (Cli-Fi). According to a journal article published in 2003 by B. Levrard and J. Laskar, “[d]elayed responses in the [ice/water] mass redistribution may introduce a secular term in the obliquity evolution, a phenomenon called ‘climate friction’”. Although this piece of research was investigating the Earth’s major glacial episodes, which took place on a geologic timescale, it nevertheless warns us that the consequences of our actions may lead to immediate effects on a planetary scale, and of a magnitude beyond the imagination of any Cli-Fi.
Curated by our very own Déborah López and Hadin Charbel at the B-pro, “Climate F(r)iction” is an issue that looks at the intersection of ecologies, technologies, and ideologies. López and Charbel, who are architects and founders of the Pareid studio, lead Research Cluster 1 “Monumental Wastelands” at the B-pro, which focuses on cli-migration and autonomous ecologies, using methods of “decoding” and “recoding” through Cli-Fi.
In the production of this issue, an exceptional panel of guests were invited to participate in an open-seminar and roundtable on 27 April 2022 at the Bartlett B-pro. The work and methodologies which they have used to scrutinise, communicate, and respond to our techno-climatic future(s) were incredibly diverse, and yet, their combined contributions reminded me, above all, of a line spoken by Rufus Scrimgeour: “These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today.” These words may have been spoken in a work of fiction and in an entirely different context, but despite this, the sentiment should not be taken lightly.
I have here tried to curb my own tendency to assemble hopelessly long lists of acknowledgments – Prospectives is blessed to have been indulged by numerous supporters – but as those who have contributed to Prospectives and the B-pro continue to serve relentlessly, please do refer to the acknowledgements in Issue 02.
Nevertheless, I must give thanks once again to those who have strived and delivered within the timeline, especially our authors, curators, advisory board members, copyeditor and proof-reader Dan Wheeler, web-developer Arjun Harrison-Mann, our research assistants, and all the professional services staff. Most important of all, our internal senior advisors – Professor Mario Carpo, Professor Frédéric Migayrou, Roberto Bottazzi, Andrew Porter, Gilles Retsin, and Professor Bob Sheil – without whom Prospectives would not have been possible. Last but not least, our Managing Editor Mollie Claypool, who has made the ground fertile for the germination and growth of ideas.
Prospectives has been generously supported by our subscribers and readers, as well as the Architecture Projects Fund (The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London), which enables authors and readers to publish and access knowledge free of charge. With this, I shall leave you to enjoy the third issue of Prospectives: Climate F(r)ictions.