[20-21] DECADENT ECOLOGIES: AN INQUISITIVE PRACTICE

The unit helps students develop their own methods of practice, concentrating on finding a resonance between the means of representation in design, where the media they invent or appropriate either hold or provide a critical resistance to their architectural ideas. We see this as a parallel to the way in which ideas can be made present through the careful and inventive application of materials and processes when building architecture. 

Normally we have started the year by building a research project. These have ranged from surveying items to understand a site on the terms of each student, to inventions that project an idea onto the site at full scale, or often to build the instruments that invents or takes possession of a medium. This year due to the lockdown and little access to the workshops this has not been possible. Despite this, many students have developed their own voice through whatever is available working from home. 

We started the year with the observation that most of the methods used to address climate change operate on the same terms as the actions that caused the difficulties in the first place – reductive systems of problem solving that ignore the larger and more diverse ecologies in which we are intertwined. We have therefore not set out to establish problems and solutions. Rather, we have asked about the diverse influences that play on the built environment and how architecture discusses these simultaneous differences. We were also interested in how the cessation of activity during the first lock down had revealed aspects of our lives that we had taken for granted. Examples included the new opportunities for seismologists to listen to the earth without so much human noise, or the less accurate weather forecasts without all the up to date data normally collected by commercial flights – the diverse connections between practices that we might normally notice. 

Such a broad ecology is synonymous with the way architecture gathers diverse concerns and needs. We embarked on the work by looking at examples that took in the most surprising differences of discipline or needs. Our sites were mostly in Brighton or on the South Downs and we also examined how long-term knowledge about the use of local materials such as flint and chalk was built into the vernacular architecture. 

As is typical in the unit, each student took the work in their own direction looking at a range of connections between social groups in the city, issues of trespassing, new landscapes, connecting diverse groups with local knowledge to more disciplinary researchers, playing out the pleasures of geomorphological movement and so on. Despite the circumstances, most students developed their own means of studying their territory. 

Image 1: Eleanor Evason

Image 2: Abi Cotgrove