Animate Architecture and Ecological Ethics

By Andrew Macklin.

Published by The International Journal of Design Education

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Explaining her philosophy of “vibrant matter,” American political theorist Jane Bennett poses a question pertinent to thinking about architecture in this era of ecological crisis: How would ideological, political or social problems be repositioned if we really engaged with the idea that things, matter animate and inanimate (i.e. wind, animals, metal, trees, microbes, buildings) are “vital”—that they have their own lives with their own trajectories and histories, and act as agents in human lives powerfully shaping human culture (Bennett 2010, viii)? Vital materialism’s inherent critique of human arrogance as above things and/or nature or humans as the key causal actors in the world returns thinking to the ecological tabula rasa indigenous cultures such as Australian Aboriginals have always known under our term “animism”—that all “things” are “living,” entwined in an integrated, interdependent web of relationships and events; hence, if one is to revere and respect life, there are no distinctions or dichotomies between animate and inanimate. The design of a multi-purpose building for the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council (LPLALC), Sydney, Australia, in a university Masters of Architecture studio allowed me, as an architecture and ecological educator to teach traditional ideas of sustainability in architecture (i.e. passive design). But it also allowed me, by cross-pollinating indigenous and non-indigenous philosophy, to extend the idea of a building beyond aesthetics or a collection of inanimate materials designed to passively to support human functions albeit sustainably, to thinking of it as animate—a living force in human and non-human lives. This paper discusses the pedagogy of a course that challenges students to think about architecture in the anthropocene (Steffen, 2011) as a key political actor contributing to the ethical development of an ecological culture.

Keywords: Animate Architecture, Biodiversity, Koori “Law,” Permaculture, Vital Materialism, Earth Democracy

The International Journal of Design Education, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp.41-49. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 231.488KB).

Andrew Macklin

Lecturer, Architecture, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Macklin is a lecturer in the Architecture Program at the Faculty of Built Environment (FBE) at The University of New South Wales (UNSW). He is an architect and an academic with a strong interest in the relationship between architecture and ecology, bringing to this area his expertise in organic architecture, phenomenology (Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty), eco-phenomenology (David Abram), and new movements in ecological thinking—evolving from political ecology and ethics—that explore architecture that grows from humans working with and respecting the rights of nature.