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Eco-Prometheanism

UG 2 2021-22

Undergraduate Design Studio at The Bartlett School of Architecture

Tutors:

Barry Wark

Maria Knutsson-Hall

In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan who moulded man from clay and stole fire from the Gods to give to humanity. He was so inventive that in Western classical traditions he became a figure who represented the quest for innovation and scientific knowledge. In giving fire to the humans, Prometheus had disobeyed Zeus and was severely punished; thus his name has also become associated with the unintended consequences of our actions as well as mass suffering. In a more contemporary sense Prometheanism is a term popularized by theorist John Dryzek to describe an environmental orientation which perceives the Earth as a resource whose utility is determined primarily by human needs and interests and whose environmental problems are overcome through human innovation. The unintended consequences of this anthropocentric world view have leveraged technology to accelerate productivity beyond sustainable levels and led to the ongoing exploitation of natural resources creating the so-called Anthropocene age. Daily, we are presented with the devasting impact of human activity on the planet, becoming aware of how our actions and lifestyles ( predominantly in the Global North) are creating seemingly irreversible changes. This messages are ultimately horrific and create an outlook of dystopian gloom.

To address the environmental crisis, we need a monumental shift in how we perceive our relationship to the natural world. We can no longer view humans and our artefacts as privileged, separate and impervious to everything on the planet ( which we call nature) and instead take a new position that all things on earth are enmeshed in a global ecology. Ecocentrism is an ontological and ethical belief that denies that there are any existential privilege or division between human and non-human beings and could offer direction for redefining how we see our place within the biosphere.

This year UG2 will look to reinvigorate the environmental project in architecture with a sense of hopefulness, asking how Ecocentric values might redirect promtheanism towards creating buildings that mitigates or even reverses environmental destruction. Students will strive for innovation and lateral thinking, harnessing whichever technologies across design, simulation and fabrication that resonate with their own personal interests towards that goal. 

In many cities our primary interaction with nature is through two perceptive models of appreciation, either as an object or as the picturesque. 

The object model is most commonly found in the potted plants filling our workplaces and homes. Here nature is removed from its context and turned into a sculptural artefact, in turn focusing our attention on its formal qualities. 

The picturesque model is served to us in abundance through documentaries and social media feeds where we bask in the visual stimulus of the colour, lines and compositions of what we see on our screens. This 2D representation of nature again draws us to the formal qualities of nature as image.


Nature is not an object, nor is it an image, it is a wide variety of environments and spaces in which we have evolved in and experienced for millennia. It is a complex ecosystem; it evolves over time and seasons; it is fragile and volatile and has to the power to comfort and unnerve us. As inhabitants of cities we experience very little of the afore mentioned qualities of nature. Our built environment has increasingly controlled, minimised and mitigated the natural world to the point where we have become physiologically and perhaps psychologically separated from its true essence.

We are now experiencing a period in history where natural disasters, recording breaking weather and the climate change activist group ‘Extinction Rebellion’ are bringing the message to the forefront that our planet is drastically changing through our actions. How can we re-establish our biophilic connection in the hope that it can change our behaviour and habits for positive environmental change?  How can we establish a sense of place within the biosphere as well as the city ?


This year UG2 will explore the territory between the object and picturesque in the creation of environments where nature is experienced and appreciated beyond its current prevalent consumption. We will create spaces that flood, rooms that wilt and decay and atmospheres that changes as often as the weather and seasons themselves.