Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rachel Armstrong: Beyond Sustainability 25 Points 2

We continue on with the Twitter University lecture delivered by Dr. Rachel Armstrong, titled, Beyond Sustainability.

"In today’s commercial climate, the term ‘sustainability’petitions for preserving the use of industrial technologies in the promotion of human development, where current practice is wedded to environmental destruction. The success of machines that endorse this perspective is responsible for a century and a half of systematic, environmental rape."  
Rachel Armstrong (Armstrong, R. (2011), Is There Something Beyond ‘Outside of the Box’?. Architectural Design, 81: 130–133. doi: 10.1002/ad.1331)

2. Sustainability is not enough to drive positive human development. It has become a set of truisms about the present 
If it is granted that global warming is caused by human intervention in the form of the massive industrialization that has occurred for the last 200 years, then there are already forces in place, the accumulation of CO2 that is already in the atmosphere, that has started this climactic change in the world.  So sustainability, (that no natural resource would be used that is not naturally renewed by nature) zero-emissions (the idea that nothing harmful wold be added to nature through a particular process) would be analogous to suggesting stopping more water from entering the ship Titanic once it has started it's downward plunge.  Once the  this process is started a different approach is required.  Water must be removed from the ship and replaced with air if the ship is to remain afloat.  In the case of our environment, Carbon must be reduced from the atmosphere if the warming is to be stopped or reversed.

But Dr. Armstrong is speaking here ab0ut far more than the reversal of the global warming process.  The key term in this second point is the phrase "positive human development."  Dr. Armstrong defines this as being (email),
...the establishment of communities that return to and remediate their environments - not damage them, nor remain 'neutral' to their surroundings - as stated by the Brundtland report which describes sustainable development as meeting the current needs without harming the needs of our future generations.
Recent tissue engineering successes with growing bone cultures could quite easily cause bone to become one of the new structural materials. The murky blanket of the body is being understood, unwrapped and rewrapped. Neil Spiller
This remediation of the environment is the key to the beyond sustainability movement.  Back to our Titanic analogy, the object is not to slow down the rate of the ship's sinking, but to reverse the process and repair it so it will float.  If one notices the present talks about sustainability they all talk about "near" zero emissions, or using resources which the earth naturally replenishes.  This is simply not enough.  We encountered a video which illustrates the need to move beyond sustainability.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

 3. We must do more than nurture the status quo and embrace the inevitable change incumbent for our unstable earth 
Unless there is a dramatic change in the governments of the world, environmental changes which will greatly change the topography of the world as it is now is quickly approaching.  Examples this nurturing the status quo is the approach that some major cities, (New York, Venice, London, etc.) have towards preserving their geographical dimensions.  To "embrace" the status quo to us means to accept it with a shrug and expect the inevitable.

Perhaps an article planted in a the ecology global network provided an interesting perspective on this embrace.  The writer of the article formulated 3 principles.  The first was that "humans are part of the natural world."  On this the article states,
People have argued for hundreds of years now that human activities like burning fossil fuels, manufacturing chemicals and clear-cutting forests go against the laws of nature, yet if human beings are a species that evolved naturally, all of our activities must also be a natural progression of evolution. The great exponential swell in our global human population, fed by fossil fuels and the expansion they have enabled, is no different than an ant colony that grows and thrives in an area where food is abundant, only to collapse as soon as the food source is depleted.
The second principle was that "change is the only  constant."  The explanation of this second principle was also explained,
Modern humans have enjoyed an unusually calm climate during the last 10,000 years, but quick and violent climate changes have been the norm for much of the planet’s history, argues Fred Pearce, who recently penned a book titled “With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change.” As we perceive the approach of rapid climate alterations, humans are scrambling to stave off change and preserve the peaceful climate our species has always known. Perhaps our inability to accept change, then, is simply the tale of a species so new to the planet that it doesn’t yet realize the long-term ways of the world.
The third principle presented in this article was that "human fossil fuel burning may be a natural part of carbon's life cycle."
Burning fossil fuels and releasing the tons of CO2 that have been trapped underground for ages will facilitate the earth’s next climatic stage – could it be inevitable that some force (be it humans, another species, volcanic eruptions, etc.) would eventually cause the release of this sequestered carbon? The consequences of our fossil fuel addiction may seem detrimental to us now within our narrow temporal perspective on this earth, but human-caused climate changes may prove in the long term to usher in a new and even more advanced phase of life’s evolution.
Of course this resignation, which to some might sounds like a justification toward any abusive and irresponsible behavior on the part of corporations falls short of several other issues.  As far as we know no other "natural" process, kills off other species or pollutes areas of the world for eons for any form of life.  Yet at least when it comes to the role of CO2 this is not the case, seems this is a natural substance found in nature.

via: Fastcompany
But there may be other alternatives to embracing the coming climactic change.  One possible approach is to use the excess CO2 for the manufacturing process.  One is example is the discovery of how to make cement by absorbing CO2 instead of producing it.  This process was discovered by Bret Constanz who is described as a "biomineralization" expert from Stanford University.  We include a short video of Professor Constanz explaining the process.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

 4. The city is a moving target. This proves an insurmountable issue for industrial processes that make static objects 
To Dr. Armstrong, machines no matter in what form, are "static objects."  They are not living.  To her life is a complex system.  In line with her proposals for the city of Venice (which is crumbling in its infrastructure before an ever advancing sea), Professor Armstrong wants a change in the present mindset in the manufacturing process.  In an email she expanded on this point:
...machines come from a world comprised of objects ... they are when they are built ... because they are built as a system of objects ... even if a philosopher wants to deconstruct this later ... and since machines are built ... the scientists perspective in the intentions of building are completely valid ...I am trying to change the building process from a very practical perspective ... which is not easy ... so it is important to say what life 'is' ... as then I know when I have one ... and I know I've arrived ... In my world ... machines are objects ... and life is a system ... Machines are true because the machine world is a subset of complexity ... so it's not false to think in terms of machines ... it's just missing out a lot of very interesting stuff ... When we get reassured that machines are the same as life I think this is a political and economic issue ... it's saying that the way we do things now is good enough ... and there is no point in change as it's all the same kind of stuff anyway ... This is not only defeatist - it is unimaginative and non-progressive  
 5. Industrial processes are not benign even when using renewable energy. They channel earth's resources one-way without giving anything useful back
This thesis very few would debate at the present time.  Suffice it to show this chart from the EPA from 1986, which, we have little reason to think has substantially changed since then.

An group of interesting alternatives are discussed in an article entitled, Is there Something Beyond "Outside of the Box?" published pamphlet titled Counterpoint (July 2, 2011) by Rachel Armstrong. She believes that one of the obstacles preventing a new digital age of manufacturing is based on the false idea that "...biology is a machine."  She goes on to eloquently explain,
Until these dogmas are challenged, dismantled and new educational programmes are created as a counterpoint to monolithic doctrines, then the same systems of supply, demand, design, manufacturing and implementation will necessarily prevail and architecture will simply be an ‘ecological’ machine for living in.
Armstrong goes on to further see the inherent problems in this mechanical-machine view of architecture and manufacturing,
Strangling society of energy, making it more expensive and engineering machines to operate more efficiently is not the way to create a positively constructed future. Absolute energy efficiency is desirable within a machine-centered system, but this is not necessarily true for living systems. In fact, energy needs to be freely available and widely exchanged within ecological systems, not just used once and wantonly discarded, as in the case of industrial practices. Energy efficient processes and careful resource consumption only address the tip of a very large iceberg of systemic issues that have been caused by global industrialisation. Contemporary building practices do more than simply deplete resources and energy. They also, for example, reduce biodiversity, increase waste production and reduce land fertility. A radical reimagining leading to a much more ambitious architectural practice is necessary to change the expectations of what the very act of making a building actually entails.
Examples of a new kind of manufacturing cited by Dr. Armstrong is the work of Markus Kayser.  We provide a short video of his machine and process with a demonstration of a finished product from sand into glass.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

New biomaterials developed by Evan Douglis, chair of the Undergraduate School of Architecture at Pratt Institute.  We found a lecture by Mr. Douglis delivered at the Future of Technology Conference on September 25, 2010.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

Armstrong gives an insightful description of his present work, including a project called Moon Jelly done in 2011.
...Douglis engages cutting-edge technology with architectural design in bold new ways. His latest animated exploration, Moon Jelly 2 (2011), suggests a new generation of building tactics by creating a juncture between the old and new that is not imposed on a system, but arises from the fundamental properties of the material itself. His use of the real and apparent slippages between the liquid and solid qualities of glass offers a receptive, material protoplasmic counterpart to the genetic programs of digital manufacturing techniques. The outcome is an approach that encompasses a whole ecology of complementary design techniques from which fundamental architectural agents emerge.

The above video is another presentation by Even Douglis of his Moon Jelly project.

Another project Ms. Armstrong cites is the work of Neil Spiller Communicating Vessels.  In Spiller's own words, project Communicating Vessels. Communicating Vessels because it harks back to Andre Breton and the surrealists and basically my notion is that I want to create an architecture that somehow grows, that somehow is determined by chance but also is kind of like a memory theatre and engages with certain elements in the history of art and the history of architecture, and so has a sort of continuity back in time, but fully utilises advanced technology, particularly cyberspace, biomechanical organisms and nanotech.
If this is abstract and confusing to some, we suggest it is because most of us are still in the habit of thinking "inside the box." Perhaps this quote from a lecture Spiller delivered in 2006, titled, Deformagraphy: The Poetics of Cybridized Architecture will illustrate our point about him,
I like architecture that is mythic, enigmatic, oblique and encrusted with decoration. I like it to suggest worlds, essences and super natures.
Even more dramatically he states, 
Recent tissue engineering successes with growing bone cultures could quite easily cause bone to become one of the new structural materials. The murky blanket of the body is being understood, unwrapped and rewrapped.
These biological materials would be able to adjust to their environment in a way that machines would not be able to do.

We will continue with more of the points in Dr. Armstrong's Twitter lecture in the next article in this series. 

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