Two themes stand out prominently in discussions, projects and strategies that are at the forefront of contemporary urbanisation. It is, on the one hand, the question of ecology, where the city and architecture are reconceptualised in "green" terms, such as sustainability, resilience, metabolic optimisation and energy efficiency. On the other hand, there is the cybernetic question, where the futures of architecture and urbanisation are staked upon the pervasive use of digital communication, interactive technologies, ubiquitous computing, and the "big data". Moreover, these two questions have become increasingly intertwined as two facets of a single environmental question: while real-time adjustments, behaviour optimisation and "smart" solutions are central to urban environmental agenda, the omnipresent network of perpetually interacting digital objects constitutes itself as a qualitatively new environment within which urban citizens are enfolded. But, as digital networks become our "second nature," we also hark back to the models derived from the "first nature."
There is growing pressure on architects, urbanists and planners to deliver ecological and techno-informational solutions, with (self-)monitoring of citizens "behaviour", optimisation of the buildings "performance" and smoothing of urban "flows", along with the respective substitution of democratic politics by automated governance models. As such, it is ever more important to interrogate the historical, theoretical, methodological and epistemological assumptions beneath the above set of processes that can be described, following Michel Foucault, as environmental governmentality. These questions will be explored under three thematic tracks.
Optimised urban ecosystems
While urbanisation had for centuries relied on nature as its constitutive outside—as a resource and as a fantasy—it is only during the 1970s that the urban-nature dichotomy was subjected to the paradigm of limits and risks. Protection, conservation and sustainability had been institutionalised as regulative planning ideas in the following decades and the city itself was thereby reconceptualised as an ecosystem. More recently, however, urban "ecosystems" are being subjected to the criteria of resilience, and the ideals of harmony and balance replaced with emergence and complexity. Urban planning and development are transformed into variants of metabolic governance, the objective of which is to optimise energy flows, smooth eco-infrastructures, and stimulate ecosystemic self-organisation, even at the price of insulating the optimised, smooth and self-organised from the labour on which it essentially rests.
- What are the histories and futures of sustainability, resilience and ecological optimisation and how can they be addressed as epistemic categories beyond their implied "solutionist" imperative?
- What roles have architectures and urbanisms played in these epistemic transformations?
- What are the broader political consequences of thinking the city as an ecosystem and urbanisation as a metabolic flow?
- To what extent is the widely analysed shift from planning and government to management and governance (or from Fordism to post-Fordism more generally) itself rooted in the urban ecological imperative of the last 40 years?
Architectural turn to nature?
In terms of their relationship with nature, urbanisms and architectures today are caught in a peculiar paradox. On one side these disciplines recognise that there is no pure nature, that nature has been "planetary urbanised". On the other hand, they are drawn to the idea of pure nature as a blueprint for spatial action. The morphology and morphogenesis of biological organisms inspire ostensibly resourceful tectonic solutions and efficient material performance. The evolutionary model and the ecological cycling of nutrients inspire ostensibly non-deterministic, open-ended models of urbanisation.
- But why and how have biomimesis and ecomimesis come to constitute an unquestioned ideal for architecture and urbanism in the first place?
- What is a more fundamental historical and epistemological stake underneath their biomimetic and ecomimetic impulses?
- Why has nature, as described by natural sciences, been appropriated as a model and a teacher?
- Why is nature viewed as inherently efficient and intelligent and how does current architectures' "turn to nature" differ from earlier such turns?
- What are the social costs of urbanisms' green, "clean-tech" imaginations?
"Big data" and urban subjectification
Similar questions can be directed at the notions of human nature and subjectivity. As the proliferation of data de-stabilises human subjectivity, rendering individuals into profiles and substituting individuation with algorithmic personalisation, the idea of a human-friendly city continues to inform urban design. While we expect that "big data" will help us to better design "for people" and make cities more "liveable", we tend to ignore how these data simultaneously undo the very meaning of people and life. The ultimate embodiment of this paradox is the "smart city," wherein puerile idea of a desirable urbanity correlates with the transformation of life into a data stream.
- How have the environmental powers of architectures and urbanisms mutated since these disciplines started to unfold subjects in cybernetic environments?
- Who are the past, present and future subjects of digital governmentality-through-environments?
- Who is the "smart", optimised, efficiently behaving and algorithmically desiring citizen?
- And, in what sense, if any, can they be called a democratic citizen?
- Have social classes and political parties been replaced by de-territorialised swarms?
- Has government been replaced by environmental modulation?
Authors are welcome to submit analytical papers, theoretically well-grounded case studies, or architectural counter-projects for presentations while indicating their preference for one of the above tracks. At the same time, we ask that their contributions consider specifically how natures and data are intertwined in architectural and urban politics today, how the politics of environments is simultaneously ecological and cybernetic.
Please submit your proposal (max 400 words) and a short bio (max 50 words) to architecturesnaturesdata[at]gmail.com
Conference keynotes will be given by Matthew Gandy, Antoinette Rouvroy and Douglas Spencer.