…………………………the research base of jon goodbun

Another good year for my students!

In 2015 my students have received a few accolades, I am once again pleased to say. Both Natalie Barton and Sam Douek from the Department of Ontological Theatre (ADS5 DOT) won awards from RIBA at the RCA, whilst Isis Nunez Ferrera, who I co-supervised with Jeremy Till as a part of the EU HERA Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment research project, was commended on her excellent PhD in the RIBA Research Medals.

And Boni Yuen, again from ADS5 DOT, was listed by Wallpaper magazine in their  ‘world’s hottest new talents’ list http://www.wallpaper.com/graduate-directory/2016

Filed under: Uncategorized

Some notes on the anthropocene (or, welcome to the pre-anthropocene!)

These brief notes were given by me at an event on the anthropocene at the University of Westminster on Tuesday 25th November 2014. (see http://instituteformodern.co.uk/2014/the-anthropocene-cities-politics-law-as-geological-agents)
I should probably start by saying that I claim no particular expertise in this area. The anthropocene is a concept that I have to deal with… mostly in the context of students who want to use it. Occasionally I use it myself, though generally in a heuristic sense, to explore the ways that the concept is being deployed, the political stances and potentialities that it contains. The following is a series of notes that have emerged from my engagements with the concept (in teaching both design studio, and history and theory, as well as recent research projects that I have been involved with, notably the scarcity project, and more recent work around questions of energy)). Hopefully this will provide some material to discuss what is at stake in the concept. how is the concept being deployed today and by whom, and perhaps most importantly for us this evening, whether the concept of the anthropocene might actually be conceived in such a way that it has useful conceptual structure that we can all do some work with, in our different fields.
The basic proposition of the concept of the anthropocene is a simple one: that the collective productive labour of the human species has become a global, geological force. The evidence can seem compelling: humans move more rock and earth than all of the Earth’s glaciers and rivers combined, we fix more nitrogen in the soil than microbial activity does, we consume in various ways vast quantities of the biological, material and energetic resources of the planet, and of course, we have our own sedimentary layer, what has become known as ‘Anthropocene rock—the concrete, steel and bitumen of the planet’s cities and roads’.
One of the biggest problems encountered with the anthropocene concept is that it is too easily adopted in a simplified form, as simply referring to this quantitative aspect, often all too enthusiastically by those who seem to take a rather adolescent male delight in the idea that at last (or once again) mankind has overcome his imagined nemesis in mother nature. We might start by saying that this is by far the most trivial and conservative reading of the term, and one which none of the initial authors (Paul Crutzen 2002) or primary users of the concept actually deploy. Nonetheless, one often encounters this kind of boosterish reading  – which of course, is particularly ironic, given that the anthropocene – should we chose to accept the term – could well be the geological era in which humanity becomes extinct! Paradoxically, we need to be careful that the anthropocene concept does not in fact naturalise, in terms of political ideology, our current way of being in the world.
But one of the problems with the concept is that it can seem to promote a naive and one-dimensional mode of Prometheanism, there are other problems too. Its is, it is hardly worth saying, a anthropocentric concept. Yet one wonders what it even means to say anthropocene when we learn that only 10% of the cells in the human body contain human DNA – is it already anachronistic, a legacy of outmoded ways of thinking about life. Concepts such as anthropocene often obscure as much as they illuminate, making us forget that every other living process on the planet also feeds into the anthropocene, and that this is an unfolding process that that ecological systems theory tells us we can in no viable way control.
There is perhaps also a danger that the concept acts to underplay more important categorisations. It might be more useful to think in terms of the difference between a biotic and abiotic planet, or a pre and post language planet. The anthropocene concept can act to compound our broader difficulty in recognising the complexity of other forms of species-life and who knows, other forms of species-being that are in the world.
One often hears that the anthropocene designates the first time that a single species has had such a global effect. Again, this is dubious.
We are certainly not the first species to have had a transformational geological affects at the scale of the planet. We might note for example that the Earth’s atmosphere is a non-equilibrium mixture of 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen, and 1% other gases (mostly argon), including the all important carbon dioxide which makes up a mere 0.4%. However, 2.4 bn years ago the Earth was a very different place, there was no free oxygen in the atmosphere, and a great deal more carbon dioxide. This condition was transformed into the kind of atmosphere that were have today through what is known as the Great Oxegenation Event – the fundamental transformation of the oceans and atmosphere brought about through the photosynthetic activities of phytoplankton, such as cyanobacteria in the ocean, which produced sugars from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight, with oxygen as waste.
In this process the anaerobic life forms that had existed on the planet were wiped out in the first great mass extinction event, but which opened the way to the explosion of oxygen based life that we have on the planet today (well..) . Right now, 98% of the oxygen in our atmosphere is produced on an ongoing cyclical basis, through the photosynthetic labours of plants, trees and still primarily sea based organisms.
If we are impressed by our sedimentary activity in anthropocene rock, then we might do well to remember how much of our own landscape here on this island was directly produced out of the bodies of other species, producing limestone, and granite.. materials that we might think of as geological, but which are absolutely organic too. These materials of course, have provided the basis for our own anthropogenic building activity, both directly in the form of stone structures and claddings, but also indirectly as concrete.
Nor do we have the biggest structures on Earth. There is an ant colony that stretches 6000km from the Iberian peninsula through France to Italy in what National Geographic journal has described as ‘the largest cooperative biological unit ever discovered’.
And we would do well not to forget the global production of soils by microbes… I could of course go on…
So on one level, the concept seems to mark the last gasp of a particular mode of anthropocentric thought, the end of a way of thinking. However, beyond the trivial claim that human activities have changed the planet, there is a bigger, and more interesting claim, which doesn’t depend upon sedimentary activity, but is rather a question concerning consciousness. For example, we might concede that yes, many species have had, and continue to have, as profound a geological and atmospheric impact upon the planet as we have, but, as Marx famously noted, what distinguishes the worst of architects from the best of bees is that the human has a plan. Now, we might look at the world today and wonder ‘where’s the plan’, but in a sense, this is precisely the point in what I think is a more useful construction of the conception of anthropocene.
In fact, right from the start, the concept is tied to our emerging understanding of complex systems theories, of the material-energetic complexity of physical and natural systems, and humanities metabolic relations with those systems. Rather than an adolescent Promethean glee, the anthropocene can offer a more of a sober acknowledgement of both the real complexity of our inorganic body in ‘non-human’ nature, and accepts and works with the reality of our ecocide practices. Perhaps the most important, though still problematic intended use of the concept was to foreground an attempt to create a new kind of ecological literacy, and a global subject capable of perceiving its interdependencies with other life forms and systems, in the words of Paul Crutzen, one of the co-authors of the term.
Dipesh Chackrabarty developed an influential post-colonial critique of Crutzen’s formulation, focusing on the kind of universal human subject implied. Chackrabarty was also significant in pointing out how the concept had the potential to entirely reorganise the task of historiography, and called for a new kind of history writing that would work through the old distinctions of natural and human history… work which became useful in thinking about a lot of the practical and written work that has been developed in architecture schools in recent years. And more recently, a new wave of work on the anthropocene has taken the consciousness question further… Ben Dibley’s work on Marx’s conception of species-being and the anthropocene is particularly suggestive I think.
The concept of species-being is introduced by a young Marx in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, and although it reappears in various forms in his later writings it remains a concept that has caused some controversy of interpretation, which I do not have the space to go into here. But we can say that for Marx species-being is a potential, the potential of human existence to consciously reflect through practice on its own conditions of life as a mode of life, or in Marx’s words: ‘making life activity itself an object of will and consciousness’. However for Marx we do not yet experience life as species-being… we are as yet alienated from it:
‘The universality of man manifests itself in practice in that universality which makes the whole of nature his inorganic body, (1) as a direct means of life and (2) as the matter, the object, and the tool of his life activity. Nature is man’s inorganic body – that is to say, nature insofar as it is not the human body. Man lives from nature – i.e., nature is his body – and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say that man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature … Estranged labor turns . . . Man’s species-being, both nature and his spiritual species-property, into a being alien to him . . . It estranges from man his own body, as well as external nature and his spiritual aspect, his human aspect’
So if for Marx the natural world is our extended body, but one which is alienated from us. I will conclude these brief notes by suggesting (following Dibley) that the progressive reading of the anthropocene – framed as a question of raising our self-consciousness of our deeply implicated order with the non-human world – might be rethought through species-being. But I would have then to conclude that today we live in the pre-anthropocene. We could of course move into the anthropocene, but this would be a necessarily revolutionary act. To paraphrase the young Marx, to do this, we would need to make ourselves, including our extended body in nature, the historical subjects of the anthropocene, as the form of our species-being.

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching,

SCIBE on Kindle

The kindle edition of the collected works of the Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment research project is available here. I have 4 articles in there.



Between 2010 and 2013, the project Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment (SCIBE) explored how conditions of scarcity might affect the creativity of the different actors involved in the production of architecture and urban design, and how design-led actions might improve the built environment in the future. Research was based on the analysis of processes in four European cities: London, Oslo, Reykjavik, and Vienna. For more information on the research project, visit   www.scibe.eu   and   www.scarcity.is

This collection brings together some of the essays and reports produced by team members on the conceptual and on-the-ground work around scarcity, creativity and housing in the four respective cities and elsewhere in the world. Contributors include Barbara E. Ascher, Isis Nunez Ferrera, Jon Goodbun, Deljana Iossifova, Michael Klein, Arna Mathiesen, Andreas Rumpfhuber, and Jeremy Till.

SCIBE is financially supported by the   HERA Joint Research Programme   which is co-funded by AHRC, AKA, DASTI, ETF, FNR, FWF, HAZU, IRCHSS, MHEST, NWO, RANNIS, RCN, VR and The European Community FP7 2007-2013, under the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities programme.

Filed under: research

Spatial Thinking II conference Innsbruck

Two weeks ago I gave a paper entitled ‘Mediating the Ecological and the Neurological: An Architecture of the Extended Mind’ at the Spatial Thinking 2 conference at the University of Innsbruck. It was a great conference – highlights including keynotes by Thomas Metzinger and Deborah Hauptmann. I paste the introduction to my paper below. The full paper can be read here

Mediating the Ecological and the Neurological: An Architecture of the Extended Mind

Despite the widespread turn to various conceptions of embodiment in contemporary theory across the arts and sciences, many thinkers continue to default to the habit of assuming a tight and reductive correlation between mind and brain – or at least between mind and brain-plus-body. Yet as Alva Nöe has made clear, “not only can we not explain mind in terms of brain alone, we can only explain the brain, and its role in helping give us minds, by thinking of the place of the brain in the context of our interaction with the world.” Drawing upon the work of thinkers ranging from Gregory Bateson to Alva Nöe, from Marx and Engels to Clark and Chalmers and others, it seems today that that mind and consciousness must be understood as irreducibly extended and relational processes which are played out through ecological, social and neurological spaces. It is not then simply the case that new insights from the cognitive sciences can help us to ask new questions regarding how and why architecture is produced and spatial environments are experienced. Rather, I argue that much stronger questions can now be be framed regarding the roles that space itself plays in the construction of mind (rather than reducing architecture to neurology as some neuroaesthetic thinking tends to do). Indeed, we might suggest that the production of space necessarily precedes modern human consciousness (as Julian Jaynes anticipated). In my broader work in this area I have reflected upon a series of recent insights concerning the multiple neurological mappings of active bodies in space, and have offered some architectural interpretations of this material through frameworks provided by Gregory Bateson, JJ Gibson, Evan Thompson and Tim Ingold in particular. Following Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ observation that “consciousness is from the very beginning a social product”, I conclude that architecture today can be re-defined as a social interface which mediates the ecological and the neurological.
Above all, I note that the claims that we can legitimately make concerning our minds, bodies and environments, and the attempt to define an architecture of mind, is not an abstract and neutral scientific or philosophical endeavour, but always a live political project; it is a way of making claims about who and what we are, individually and collectively.

Filed under: ecology, research

RIBA President’s Awards for Research 2012

I am honoured to be shortlisted for the RIBA President’s Awards for Research 2012

RIBA President’s Award for Outstanding PhD Thesis

  • Nicholas Beech of the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL: Constructing Everyday Life: An architectural history of the South Bank in Production, 1948-51
  • Edward Denison of the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL: Architecture and the Landscape of Modernity in China up to 1949
  • Jon Goodbun of the University of Westminster: The Architecture of the Extended Mind: Towards a Critical Urban Ecology
  • Steve Parnell of the University of Sheffield: Architectural Design, 1954-1972: The contribution of the architectural magazine to the writing of architectural history
  • William Tozer of the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL: A Theory of Making: Architecture and Art in the Practice of Adolf Loos

Congratulations to Steve and Ed for ultimately winning

Filed under: research

Department of Ontological Theatre at RCA

There have been some changes in ADS5 at RCA over the summer. My teaching colleagues from last year – Justin Lau and Kenny Kinugasa-Tsui – have moved to the Bartlett, and instead this year I will be joined by Dr Victoria Watson (and later in the year Aran Chadwick from Atelier One). The studio will be known as the Department of Ontological Theatre.

Ontological Theatre: time-lapse image of Earth perceived by ISS International Space Station (NASA 2012)

ADS5 Dialectical Ecologies: Ontological Theatre

‘The language of architecture rests on the dialectic between memory of past architectural forms and the experiences of the present… [these] contradictions are thought of as being derived from ambiguity between real and virtual structure which is inherent in all architecture.’

Alan Colquhoun, Reflections on Complexity, Las Vegas and Oberlin (1978)

This studio will confront the contradictions of the present – ecological, economic, social, political, cultural, technological – but will attempt to do so through a strategic re-engagement with specific moments in the history of architecture. Rather than starting from surface level phenomena in the present, we will adopt a dialectical approach, tracing those contradictions back in time, identifying earlier dynamics. From here we will stage Ontological Theatre: architectural experiments into the nature of order, planning, design, and technology, and speculations about how we might think of matter, mind, social collectivity, and ecological systems in the future.


Filed under: ecology, research, teaching

Architectural Association 22nd October: Dialectical Ecologies — Architecture and Politics in the Age of Capitalist Crisis

I will be talking at the Architectural Association in London on October 22nd 6pm


Dialectical Ecologies — Architecture and Politics in the Age of Capitalist Crisis

Out of the deep contradictions of global capitalism an interconnected series of social, political, economic and ecological crises are emerging. These are transforming cities and regions around the planet in unpredictable and uneven ways, even whilst being generated through them. At the same time, our intellectual tools for thinking about these developments are also changing. Studies of systemic complexity have demanded major revisions in how we conceive of matter, life and agency, and what is meant by mind and self. Lessons from disciplines as diverse as quantum mechanics, the cognitive sciences, anthropology and ecology, are suggesting new relational paradigms for thinking about the unfolding dynamics of material and life processes. This lecture will situate a critical research practice within these emerging trans-disciplinary configurations, and will argue for an architecture that, as a dialectically autonomous producer of values and concepts, can stage a distinct political engagement with these socio-ecological questions.

Filed under: research, teaching

ADS5 at RCA Show 2012 and ‘Between the A12 and River Lea’ exhibition.

It has been a great first year teaching MA/diploma studio at the Royal College of Art with Justin Lau and Kenny Kinugasa-Tsui. The (rather out of date) studio blog is at http://ads5.wordpress.com/

Particular congratulations to final year students Jack Wates, Joseph Deane (who will represent the RCA in the RIBA Silver medal awards) and Emma Emerson (who was awarded the NLA prize by Peter Murray).

The work is on show at the RCA Show 2012 until July 2nd, and at the exhibition ‘Between the A12 and River Lea‘ at Assemble’s studios, which is open until July 8th as a part of the London Festival of Architecture.

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching, , , , , ,

Architecture Today: Review of Project Japan by Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist

The review (by David Cunningham and me) of the Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist’s book ‘Project Japan’ on the metabolist movement in post-war Japanese architecture is available free online at http://www.architecturetoday.co.uk/?p=23259

Filed under: ecology, research, , , , ,

Ecological Urbanism: Re-imagining the Project of Planning for a Post-Capitalist World

I am happy to have been one of 20 researchers invited to present their work at the launch event of the new Graduate School of the University of Westminster. Here is my poster:

Ecological Urbanism: Re-imagining the Project of Planning for a Post-Capitalist World

Dr Jon Goodbun

We are today, according to the UK government’s chief scientist John Beddington, facing a ‘perfect storm’ of social, political, economic and ecological dimensions. The full extent of our problems is yet to be determined, but one thing seems certain: our foreseeable futures will not be like our recent pasts. Leading analysts of all the major resource domains – water, food, material resources and energy – tell us that our global industrial and financial models, driven by the short-termism of market forces, are stressed and close to systemic failure.

Our economic naiveté is compounded by the widespread disregard of science’s warnings regarding our planetary environment. Biologists tell us that we are in the midst of the biggest mass extinction event in 65 million years, whilst in recent weeks atmospheric monitoring stations in the Arctic have recorded levels above 400 ppm CO2e for the first time. The built environment is responsible for around 60% of carbon emissions, yet a recent report by engineers Ove Arup declared that global attempts by governments and industry to self regulate and reduce emissions have been ‘a near total failure’.

In fact, our economic and ecological problems are interconnected, and the production of the built environment straddles both domains. My work explores new models for thinking about the complex interactions between buildings, cities, and the broader social and ecological networks within which we exist. I argue that we can develop new conceptual, political and design tools out of the legacies of several centuries of systems theory research, which can help us think about buildings and cities as processes more than objects – as complex and interconnected multi-scalar systems and hybrids of human and natural ecologies. I argue that such a project suggests not just a rethinking of architectural practice, but a renewal and expansion of the social project of planning more broadly. Yes, we need to start planning smart ecological urban infrastructures, but that shift in political priorities can only be delivered through a democratic planning of the global economy.


I have a book contract with Ashgate to publish my PhD (completed last summer): ‘The Architecture of the Extended Mind – Towards a Critical Urban Ecology’. Since completing my doctorate I have set up a design research practice called Rheomode (see www.rheomode.org.uk). Rheomode is currently involved in 4 main research projects, including

1. Scarcity, working as a part of the SCIBE AHRC/HERA European research team, based at the University of Westminster. I have recently co-guest-edited (with Prof Jeremy Till and Dr Deljana Iossifova) a special issue of the journal Architectural Design on ‘Scarcity – Architecture in an age of depleting resouces’.

2. A RIBA funded teaching and research project looking at the political ecologies of concrete and digital fabrication.

3. Re-imagining the project of planning, a broad urban ecology teaching and research project (and book in progress).

4. Space and Mind, an ongoing research interest in thinking about the role that ecological, technological and spatial environments play in our cognitive processes.

Filed under: ecology, research


rheomode is a research lab run by Dr Jon Goodbun

rheomode is currently working on 4 main research projects, including

1. Scarcity, working as a part of the SCIBE AHRC/HERA European research team, based at the University of Westminster. I have recently co-guest-edited (with Prof Jeremy Till and Dr Deljana Iossifova) a special issue of the journal Architectural Design on 'Scarcity – Architecture in an age of depleting resouces'.
2. A RIBA funded teaching and research project looking at the political ecologies of concrete and digital fabrication.
3. Re-imagining the project of planning, a broad urban ecology teaching and research project (and book in progress).
4. Space and Mind, an ongoing research interest in thinking about the role that ecological, technological and spatial environments play in our cognitive processes.



You can reach me:
jcgoodbun (a) mac.com

Twitter Feed @jongoodbun


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