Architecture, Ecology and Hubris

Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation


Writing in the context of the emerging environmental consciousness of the 1960s and 1970s, cybernetician Gregory Bateson identified one of the root causes of ecological crisis as Western culture’s hubristic tendency to see humans as separate from, above, and in competition with their environment and each other. While Bateson framed hubris in theoretical terms as an “epistemological error”, I argue that addressing hubris is not simply a matter of constructing a better epistemology. Hubris is reinforced by experiences of material artefacts and especially the built environment, for instance in the way that buildings (literally) construct sharp distinctions between human and ecological worlds. Hubris can even be replicated in design projects that aim (and seem) to be sustainable, with the result that it is hard to identify and address. If the built environment has promoted hubris, then perhaps it can also be a way to challenge it. Bateson characterized ecology in terms of ideas and mind (rather than matter and energy) and advocated aesthetic (not just technical) modes of engagement with ecological systems. Connecting Bateson’s work to architecture’s traditional role of situating humans within the world, I explore ways in which the aesthetic (spatial, communicative, experiential) qualities of buildings might contribute to unmaking hubris. In so doing, I sketch out an enriched role for architecture in addressing environmental concerns that encompasses but is not limited to the technical concerns through which sustainability has tended to be framed within architectural discourse. In addition, by locating some of Bateson’s key insights with respect to spatial examples, I engage this richly theoretical work in tangible ways.
Period17 Jun 202323 Jun 2023
Event title67th Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences: Systems Practice for Professions
Event typeConference
LocationSouth AfricaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational