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Urbanization of the Gran Via, one of the main arteries of Cerdà’s Extension Plan for Barcelona, 1928

Conference in Tallinn: “Architectures, Natures & Data: The Politics of Environments” 0

The architectural politics of nature and data will be explored at a conference in Tallinn

Two themes stand out in contemporary architecture and urbanism: ecology, revolving around sustainability, resilience, metabolicoptimisation and energy efficiency, and cybernetics, staking the future upon pervasive interactivity, ubiquitous computing, and “big data”. They are really two facets of a single environmental question: while real-time adjustments,behaviouroptimisation and “smart” solutions are central to urban environmentalism, the omnipresent network of perpetually interacting digital objects becomes itself the environment of everyday life.

Gruppo 9999: Florence University Competition, 1970. Gruppo 9999 archive

There is a growing pressure on architects, urbanists and planners to deliver ecological and techno-informational solutions. Yet (self-)monitoring citizens' “behavior”, optimising building “performance” and smoothing urban “flows” run the risk of replacing democratic politics by algorithmic governance. It is urgent to interrogate the historical, epistemological and methodological assumptions of such environmental governmentality, as Michel Foucault termed it.

The conference Architectures, Natures & Data: The Politics of Environments is organised around three thematic strands: the promises and perils of optimised urban ecosystems, the question of architectural turn to nature, and the relation between “big data” and urban subjectification.

Keynote speakers of the conference are Prof Matthew Gandy and Dr Douglas Spencer.

Prof Matthew Gandy is Professor of Cultural and Historical Geography at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK and the Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, UK. He is a cultural, urban, and environmental geographer with particular interests in landscape, infrastructure, and urban biodiversity. He is the author of The Fabric of Space (MIT Press, 2014) and Moth (Reaktion Books, 2016). In the presentation “Negative Luminescence” Matthew Gandy explores the politics of light pollution, focusing on such phenomena as the loss of the night sky, energy wastage, and the effects of artificial light on circadian rhythms and nocturnal ecology.

Dr Douglas Spencer teaches in the Graduate School of Design at the Architectural Association, London, and at University of Westminster, London. He is the author of The Architecture of Neoliberalism (Bloomsbury, 2016). Douglas is a critical theorist of contemporary architecture and its relationship to the production of subjectivity under processes of neoliberalisation. He teaches and writes on the history and theory of architecture, urbanism and landscape. In the presentation “Environments of Indifference: Architecture and Algorithmic Governmentality” Spencer focuses on the swarm-modelled design of contemporary transit systems, asking how its perceptual regime, and its conceptualization of urban subjects as indifferent, preconscious and behaviouristic, forecloses critique.

'Strings of Code' @ Cover design by Andreea-Laura Nica. (Inspired by 'NINA', by Ingmar Spiller (no date)

Altogether 25 papers will be presented by architects, urban geographers, historians, ecologists, and artists from 15 countries. The conference is organised by the Faculty of Architecture, Estonian Academy of Arts, Estonia in cooperation with the Department of Geography, Cambridge University, UK (the research project Rethinking Urban Nature). The principal organiser is Dr Maros Krivy.

The conference takes place in Tallinn at Writers' House, Harju 1 on April 21-22, 2017. The conference is open to public and free of charge, but prior registration is needed, deadline April 15. The registration form is here.

The conference is supported by Faculty of Architecture, Estonian Academy of Arts; Cultural Endowment of Estonia; European Research Council Advanced Grant “Rethinking Urban Nature”; Estonian Ministry of Education and Research (Hasartmängumaksu Nõukogu).