DESIGN EARTH / Impermanence
Impermanence - Young Architects 18
Rania Ghosn + El Hadi Jazairy, 2018
How do we make sense of Earth at a moment when it is presented in a crisis of impermanence? To live in an epoch shaped by extensive environmental transformations is to be confronted with risks and uncertainties at a planetary scale. Paradoxically, one of the reasons we remain so little mobilized is because of our failure to comprehend the scale of this story, which is difficult both to tell and to hear. In this respect, the environmental crisis can be seen not only as a crisis of the physical environment but also a crisis of the cultural environment—of the systems of representation through which society relates to the complexity of environmental systems in their vast scales of time and space. DESIGN EARTH is concerned with such relationships between design and geography (which is literally earth-writing, from its Greek roots) to open up aesthetic and political concerns for architecture and urbanism. The practice involves writing about—projecting or representing Earth—and also writing—marking, forming or presenting again—a world. The following projects, collectively known as Geostories, outline a manifesto on the environmental imagination by means of the architectural drawing. The prefix geo- engages Earth as a grand question of design: as a site with a scale and an aesthetic. The root -stories channels these matters into geographic fictions on technological systems. This geographical worldview renders visible the unaccounted for spaces of environmental externalities and speculates on ways of living with legacy technologies, such as oil fields and landfills, on a damaged planet. Although these technologies are central to urban life, the prevalent city-centric framing of urbanism has relied on the abstraction—the “designed” erasure—of such technological geographies, which are out of sight and external to urban representation. In response, Geostories proposes an “architecture with externalities” that draws on the geographic imagination to foreground such technological systems as elements of design. The architectural project becomes the medium to synthesize disciplines and address complex environmental questions, such as space debris, soil erosion, air pollution, freshwater shortage, energy transition, and a host of other chronic social-ecological issues. Geostories thus stages a plot to make sense of the world and reimagine it in ways that generate inquisitive, delightful, and potentially subversive responses. To design Earth with externalities might be, after all, necessary in the age of environmentalism to move beyond the promises of technological fixes and pragmatic opportunism.