Architectural roots of ecological crisis

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In architectural design, sustainability is primarily thought of as a technical discourse concerned with mitigating the harm that the construction and use of buildings cause to their environment—minimising the energy that buildings consume, the waste they produce, and the habitats they destroy. While there is an urgent need to reduce (and, when possible, reverse) the harm caused by the built environment, these types of responses are not the full extent of the possibilities and responsibilities to address environmental concerns that come with designing architecture. In this presentation, I draw on the work of anthropologist and cybernetician Gregory Bateson to explore ways in which architectural design might contribute to addressing the underlying causes of present and future ecological crises, in addition to responding to the immediate symptomatic challenges that these crises give rise to. Writing in the context of the emerging environmental consciousness of the 1960s and 1970s, Bateson understood one of the root causes of ecological crisis as the epistemological error or hubris of Western culture’s tendency to see humans as separate from, above, and in competition with their environment and each other. This hubris has been supported and propagated by processes of marginalisation and colonialism, which have dominated many ways of knowing and doing. Here I argue that hubris is implicitly reinforced by the conventional built environment, which (literally) constructs a sharp distinction between human and ecological worlds. Connecting ecological thinking to architectural theory through Bateson’s characterisation of the former as an inversion of traditional Western cosmology, I sketch out an enriched role for architectural design in relation to ecological crisis, including but also going beyond mitigating the ecological harm caused by the built environment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD11) Symposium
PublisherSystemic Design Association
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)2371-8404
ISBN (Print)2371-8404, 2371-8404, 2371-8404
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2022


  • Architecture
  • Ecology
  • Cybernetics
  • Sustainable design


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