Enacting Gregory Bateson’s Ecological Aesthetics in Architecture and Design

  • Sweeting, Ben (PI)
  • Perera, Dulmini (PI)
  • Boehnert, Joanna Jody (CoI)
  • Davidova, Marie (CoI)
  • Goodbun, Jon (CoI)

Project Details


Social and ecological transformation requires design and architecture fields to develop new, more expansive, ways of thinking and acting that better engage questions of ecology. This project examines how the work of anthropologist and cybernetician Gregory Bateson (1904-1980) might contribute an alternative frame of action to navigate this challenge. Drawing on the concerns of Bateson's later work, this project asks: What forms of thinking and acting can work through the particular complexities of environmental crises in the contexts of design and architecture, bridging between rich ecological ideas and the practical challenges of concrete situations?

As early as the 1960s, Bateson argued that the environmental crisis resulted from a broader crisis of ideas and the forms of organisation that resulted from this. Bateson criticised piecemeal approaches to environmental action in ways that continue to resonate today. By addressing only those 'problems' that are identifiable and solvable, one acts only on parts of an ecosystem, with unpredictable consequences that reverberate through the whole. Drawing on their anthropological work, Bateson pointed to various aesthetic practices that support fuller ecosystemic engagements. This idea of an 'ecological aesthetics' opens up new possibilities (as well as challenges) for creative disciplines in contributing substantial responses to environmental crises, in contrast to where environmental concerns are seen primarily through the lens of technology.

While there are a number of resonances between Bateson's work and the contexts of architecture and design, engaging Bateson's ideas is inevitably complex. Mobilising Bateson's work is not simply a matter of better articulating its concepts - these are ideas that need to be enacted not just explained. In later work, Bateson attempted to address the overly complex character of their ideas, reworking them in ways that were more open to practical contexts, often through forms of dialogue where form and content intersect. Taking its point of departure from these aspects of Bateson's work, the project explores, develops, and critiques Bateson's ideas in varied contexts of practice. These include: (1) a prototype installation for enriching urban eco-systems; (2) communication design mapping of Bateson's concepts across ecological domains; (3) storytelling that engages with pre-rational forms of knowing to speculate on alternative technology futures; and (4) the development of new modes of dialogical engagement. Coming out of these activities, the team will work collaboratively to produce accessible resources such as maps, illustrations, and games that can support new forms of engagement with Bateson's ideas amongst students, teachers, researchers, and practitioners in design and architecture.

The project is jointly funded through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the German Research Foundation (DFG), brining together investigators working with Bateson's ideas in architecture and design in the UK and Germany.
Short titleEnacting Ecological Aesthetics
Effective start/end date1/02/2331/01/25


  • AHRC


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