rheomode

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

Something I wrote four years ago…

In a conversation at the RCA last week the Oxford Conference on architectural education in 2008 was briefly mentioned. It reminded me that I wrote an open letter to the conference with Karin Jaschke, which was published on by BDOnline at the time. It is interesting to reread this article now – especially in the light if the current discussions at the RCA with Alex de Rijke and Charles Walker and other staff and students, regarding rewriting the architecture course.

The article (pasted below) was written towards the end of the Labour government,  and before the Lehman Brothers crash. Clearly the economic crisis and the new right wing UK government have shifted priorities and political debate enormously, but it is still remarkable how much the discussion around the environment has moved in the wrong direction. There is of course also a lot in this article that I would not say in the same way today. We seemed to be fairly comfortable using the word ‘sustainability’ without too much qualification. This was partly in response the Oxford conferences use of the term, but today I would be much more critical of that term. I would also not use the term ‘autonomy’ in the same way regarding architecture. We were obviously referring to some of the more myopic design studios, but today I think have a much more dialectical conception of architectural autonomy, and would state much more strongly the way that a certain way of working with and thinking about architectural autonomy is key to grasping architecture’s political dimensions – following in particular recent writing by Victoria Watson and Pier Vittorio Aureli (and in a different sense Patrik Schumacher). In general I would make more of the usefulness of urban political ecology in thinking about cities and the environmental question, following more recent work by for example Erik Swyngedouw and Matthew Gandy, and would avoid some of the more eco-apocalyptic language.

In any case, I include the original article below unedited:

Dear conference,

We apologies for not being with you in person. We are writing in response to the short opinion piece by Iain Borden on this Oxford Conference, sustainability and architectural education, which is circulating amongst delegates, and which is going to be published in the September issue of Blueprint. We are also writing to report back on the major international pan-disciplinary design research conference held in Turin earlier this month, ‘Changing the Change’, to which we contributed.
In his piece, Iain refers to ‘a certain sense of unease’ that he feels at the ‘clarion call’ of sustainability. His uneasiness is shared by many colleagues. Indeed, we have been watching with some fascination the real sense of fear that the ‘environmental question’ has instilled in many architectural educators in recent years. For many design tutors this fear is well founded, as they are in no way intellectually equipped to deal with the practical demands of students, nor the critical demands of the issues at stake. We find ourselves in the curious position of watching design tutors demanding their right to autonomy, that is to say, demanding their right to social irrelevance, and we wonder with Marx, who will educate the educators?
Yet the challenges ahead might prove to be architectural and design education’s greatest moment. To understand why this is, we need a sober reflection upon where we are now, and the nature of the intellectual, social and political struggles that we face.
Firstly, let us be clear, the ‘environmental question’ is of a completely different order to any other issue that we are facing. This is because the environmental question forces us to confront the question of value production in capitalism head on, in a way that no other contemporary issue does. Iain wonders whether, “global health, intercultural interaction, and well-being”, might be “other challenges of equal or perhaps greater significance.” These are all important issues, and indeed for many thinkers they are inseparable and fundamental to the question of sustainable living. However, they will all be completely determined by outcome of the confrontation between ‘the environmental question’ and capitalist production. Period.
The kind of scientific reports on climate change that have been coming out over the last year are of a different order to what has come before. Benchmarks that had been thought to be fifty years away in a worse case scenario are now, it seems, upon us. In the coming weeks the North Pole will be navigable to normal shipping for the first time, whilst Australia has already shifted to a new pattern of seasons and rainfall. The recent Stockholm Networks report suggested that even if we were to meet Kyoto plus standards, which we certainly will not, there will still be fast and massive negative change to the world that we know. The kinds of discussions that we are having in construction, which are almost exclusively around carbon emission control (ie a tiny part of the environmental impact of building), will at best slightly delay change. Considered as technical solutions alone, they are irrelevant. There is after all nothing special about carbon – it is the most currently pressing of many natural cycles that have been distorted as capitalist growth hits planetary limits, but we are also losing control of our food, water, material and energy futures too. We need to start asking, exactly what scenarios are we designing for, and for whom?
Naomi Klein in her recent book has brilliantly exposed how some of the most criminal and un-progressive forces in global capitalism use crises to dominate entire areas of the global economy. On the basis of our current situation, we have to conclude that by far the most likely scenario that we are heading towards, is that of a degraded planet, with huge regions becoming increasingly uninhabitable, producing massive migration shifts, whilst even the wealthier areas struggle to meet energy and material needs, and have significant problems with food crops and supplies.
These are unfortunately exactly the kind of conditions that ‘crisis capitalism’ loves. In the absence of any popular shared vision of a new way of being on the planet, an atmosphere of real fear will emerge. In this situation, the corporations with for example interests in nuclear power and GM foods will put pressure on governments to give them full access to global markets. These will even seem like common sense solutions.. indeed to our current Prime Minister they already do. Increasingly, the only food that will grow is from the seeds of privately owned and centralised GM corporations (with proprietary pollinating GM insects already being developed!), and the main energy supplies will come from centralised nuclear ‘big power’ interests. This is not centuries away. This is being put in place now. This is Green Capitalism!
So what does this have to do with architectural practice, education, and the Oxford Conference? Well, firstly, we need to understand that the questions confronting us are not about avoiding climate change – it is already far too late for that. It is about damage limitation and amelioration. It is about creating positive visions of alternative futures, as a form of resistance, and to counter the fear that will come. It is about designing properly local-global decentralised network structures of power, food, information and infrastructure that are both robust enough to exist on their own in a worst case scenario, and which take power away from the criminal centres of capitalism today. It is about properly training designers in systems theory, ecology, cybernetics etc… training designers to be social facilitators and political activists, designers of processes and economies as well as beautiful objects. It is about producing new kinds of design schools, which are active agents of local and global change. It is about producing new kinds of professionals, and facilitating new kinds of participatory design.
If architectural and design education is to meet this historic role, then it will need to free itself from the constraints of the professional bodies to which it is shackled, or it will need to transform those bodies entirely. Let the students redesign the curriculum, and not only will you find that sustainability issues are suddenly at the core of all subjects areas, but that some very interesting shifts in pedagogy, content, and indeed definitions of architecture and architectural work would materialise. Indeed, among the first critiques that properly sustainable architectural institutions will make will be concerning the many relationships between professional architecture and capitalist criminality.
Iain’s unease is then understandable. Sustainability is in its broadest form grounded in values that are antithetical to those underpinning the architectural profession and architectural education in most institutions today: the importance of authorship, the premium on individualism, an idea of creativity that is still fundamentally rooted in 19th century romantic and idealist artistic thought. Instead sustainability thinking, at least tendentiously, foregrounds co-authorship, co-creation, and an agency oriented rather than ego-centric approach to design.
Last week’s ‘Changing the Change – An international conference on the role and potential of design research in the transition towards sustainability’ conference in Turin, chaired by Ezio Manzini, demonstrated the breadth of definitions that are active in current sustainability discourse, ranging from environmental and carbon-focused thinking to socially and psychologically oriented research; from highly theoretical systems thinking to hands-on, bottom-up engagement. Manzini’s research project, ‘The Sustainable Everyday’, is grounded in designers going out into the world and looking for progressive grass roots activities to network, up-scale and support. It is a living demonstration of real design research in action. It has wide geographical spread and enormous trans-cultural and co-operative potential. Designers (architects were invited but thin on the ground) have clearly caught on to the fact that sustainability is an infinitely sensible, realistic, and energising proposition in a world with obvious and potentially lethal flaws in its structural (economic, material) and, arguably, philosophical (social, spiritual) set-up. Yes, sustainability is a systemic cultural critique.
Ultimately Iain’s unease is in defence of a plurality of approaches to architecture, and with this we concur – diversity is fundamental to the robust health of any ecology. We would also join him in resisting any overly ambitious common declaration of intent. There is very little consensus or understanding around what sustainability is or means in architecture, and we should not pretend otherwise at this stage. And above all, architectural education should be in the business of critiquing definitions of sustainability provided by the profession, for reasons that we hope are by now clear.

Jon Goodbun (University of Westminster) and Karin Jaschke (University of Brighton), 2008

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching

Gregory Bateson – An Ecology of Mind documentary film

I am co-organising (with Kevin Power (Centre for Action Research, Ashridge Business School) and Wallace Heim) the London premier of:

An Ecology of Mind: A Film by Nora Bateson
Monday 27 February 2012, 18:30-22:00 pm
Old Cinema, University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW

Tickets: £9.50; £3.50 (student/unwaged/Westminster staff)
Book your ticket from: http://anecologyofmindlondon.eventbrite.co.uk/

The Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture (IMCC) at the University of Westminster is proud to host the London premier of Nora Bateson’s An Ecology of Mind: A Daughter’s Portrait of Gregory Bateson. The screening will be followed by an interdisciplinary panel and audience discussion with Nora Bateson, and will end with a wine reception in the Regent Street foyer.

Panel with Nora Bateson; Iain Boal (Birkbeck College); Jody Boehnert (Brighton University); Ranulph Glanville (American Society for Cybernetics); Peter Reason (Action Research); and Wendy Wheeler (London Metropolitan University). Chaired by Jon Goodbun (IMCC and Architecture, Westminster)

“Tell me a story” … of life, art and science, of systems and survival. Gregory Bateson’s way of thinking – seeing the world as relationships, connections and patterns – continues to influence and provoke new thinking about human social life, about ecology, technology, art, design and health. Nora Bateson, Gregory’s youngest daughter, introduces Bateson’s ideas to new audiences in her film An Ecology of Mind, using the metaphor of a relationship between father and daughter, and footage of Bateson’s talks.

There are several other screenings around the country – see www.anecologyofmind.com Each screening, too, hosts a discussion between Nora and a wide range of people working in depth with Bateson’s ideas: artists, architects, action researchers, ecological activists, mental health practitioners, scientists, urban designers, cyberneticians. These screenings and discussions intend to show a way of thinking that crosses fields of knowledge and experience, one that can lead out of the ecological crisis and towards a more sound way of living.

Awards for the film:
Gold for Best Documentary, Spokane International Film Festival, 2011
Audience Award Winner, Best Documentary, Santa Cruz Film Festival, 2011
Winner, Media Ecology Association, John Culkin Award for Outstanding Praxis, 2011

Event organised by Jon Goodbun (Westminster), Wallace Heim, Kevin Power (Centre for Action Research, Ashridge Business School) and Eva Bakkeslett

To book a ticket go to: http://anecologyofmindlondon.eventbrite.co.uk/

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

PechaKucha: ‘Re-imagining the Possibility of Planning’

This is my PechaKucha presentation – ‘Re-imagining the Possibility of Planning, or, How to Become an Urban Ecologist – for Rip It Up and Start Again given at The Gopher Hole on Weds 2nd March 2011. I was asked to speak about the future of architecture and the university.. Apparently there will be audio recordings to follow on their site…

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching

Rip It Up and Start Again – PechaKucha

I will be presenting for 400 seconds at a PechaKucha evening curated by Robert Mull and Kieran Long to launch the website of the Rip It Up and Start Again series. I will talk about re-imagining the project of planning in the era of disaster capitalism.

Wednesday 2 March 2011, 6:30pm, Gopher Hole 350-354 Old Street Shoreditch EC1V 9NQ
Rip It Up and Start Again is a lecture series curated by Robert Mull and Kieran Long to place the work of the school in relation to broader debates about the city.

Filed under: miscellaneous, teaching

Old Video Interviews

At a conference a few weeks ago, some masters students came up to me and said that they had watched some video interviews with me as a part of their course, which they had found useful. I have attached them here below. Personally I find them unbearable to watch..

The first was filmed in 2008, and was recorded as one of a series of interviews that were made as a part of an EU funded research project into sustainability in design. In the interview I was asked to respond to a series of principles that the DEEDS team had formulated.

The second interview was Kieran Long, then editor of the Architect’s Journal, with myself and Filip Visnjic. We were discussing a WAG installation in 2008, called Open Tables Ecology, which had won the Workspace Group Urbantine Project competition, and was built at the Tent London show in the Truman Brewery, London. The project was a study in interaction design. The interview with Kieran Long can be found here:

Jon Goodbun and Filip Visnjic from WAG at the DeTank.tv Studio

Filed under: research, teaching

Critical Urban Ecology: Symposium at Brighton Uni 8th Dec

I am giving a paper at the concluding symposium of a lecture series on ‘Critical Urban Ecology’ organised by Karin Jaschke at the University of Brighton – together with Doug Spencer and Ross Adams. I know Doug well from Westminster – where we both teach (and finish PhDs) and the AA, where he organises the theory component of the interesting Landscape Urbanism MA. I have not met Ross Adams before, but I recommend his excellent recent critique of ‘Eco-Cities’ in Radical Philosophy journal.

I will be first on and will give an overview of some concepts taken from ecology and in particular the development of the concept of metabolism in Marx and recent urban political ecology. I will briefly consider how metabolism has been theorised in neocybernetics, and will suggest how some ideas taken from Gregory Bateson might inform the development of these ideas today.

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching

Hydrotecture and Urban Metabolism: The Timing of Space

Last year (2009-10) I ran a post-graduate diploma studio at University of the Creative Arts, Canterbury. This project by Chris Jennings-Petz was submitted by the school to the RIBA Presidents Medals competition.

Jennings-Petz Ashford Metabolism

Jennings-Petz Ashford Metabolism

Ashford, an old Kent industrial/market town on the Stour river complex, plans to double in size over the next two decades, with 30,000 new homes. However, although Ashford has recently plugged-in to international rail networks, the town has remained formless, indistinct, unconscious.
Research started with a mapping of the Ashford landscape as a metabolic entity, defined through demographic, infrastructural, economic, geological and urban flows. Forming what Bateson called “an ecology of mind”,  this allowed intriguing insights into socio-geographical processes. Work soon focused upon socio-geological water flows, and included a novel report into the embodied water of building production. Through his regional analysis, major weaknesses were found in the city’s water planning. This issue defined the design strategy remit and project thesis.
The hydrological, agricultural and geological surveys revealed a band of clay and aquifer running below the city. In an ingenious move, Chris chose this as the (sub)site, and  proposed to excavate a string of region/city-defining reservoirs passing through the urban centre, slowly filling to meet the expanding water requirement. The waterside edges create a series of new urban landscape conditions, transforming land values, and introduce a new metropolitan space, and metabolic relation, into the heart of Ashford.
A reservoir infrastructure was elaborated through a strong leisure programme, incorporating an ultra deep diving well, surface sports, a new ecological corridor with urban food production potential, and hundreds of floatation tanks. At the core of the scheme, the landscape both mounds, and drops to deep vertical wells, countering Ashford’s dominant horizontality. This move transforms the topography of the city, and perhaps reconfigures the cognitive maps of the city, in the inhabitants’ imagination.
Working across scales, strategic regional moves were paralleled with 1:1 material prototypes that crystallised a series of open-ended experiments involving salt solutions and clay castings of various kinds. Samples and apparatus accreted around Chris’ drawing board through the year, defining a metabolic aesthetic. His evolving installations animated the diploma studios, whilst the proposal staged a urban landscape infrastructure, as a new ecological domain of social experience.

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching

About

rheomode is the research lbase of Dr Jon Goodbun
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I have a background in architectural theory, design research and practice, which over the last two decades has focused ever more on environmental and ecological research and practice, and what this means for how we think about space. or spacetime, as a semiotic mediating field of material, biological and mental worlds. This has led me to work with ideas and thinkers who present challenges to some of the very premises of modern science, and the divisions between both the natural, social and political sciences, and between the sciences and humanities… divisions which are the legacy of western enlightenment thinking. I have pursued this work both in mainstream academic institutions such as the RCA, but also non-orthodox institutions such as Schumacher College, the Pari Institute and Burning Man, as well as in activist political arenas, and a series of independent educational and research initiatives.

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jcgoodbun (a) mac.com

Twitter Feed @jongoodbun

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