[This dis­cus­sion is the con­clu­sion of a series of talks: Design and the Green New Deal; Labor, Architecture and the Green New Deal; After Comfort; and Projecting Change: Extended Realities & Sea Level Rise]

Ijlal Muzaffar: I’d like to invite all the speak­ers as well as our dis­cus­sants Amy Kulper, Head of Architecture at RISD, and Johanna Barthmaier-Payne, Head of Landscape Architecture at RISD to come up on stage and maybe we can start our dis­cus­sion and you can you can respond ini­tial­ly, but we can also quick­ly open it up to ques­tions and answers from the audience. 

So, Amy would you like to begin by respond­ing, or should we open it up to the audi­ence as well [inaudi­ble].

Amy Kulper: [inaudi­ble]

Muzaffar: Okay so per­haps you and Johanna can respond to…have ini­tial com­ments and then they [inaudi­ble]

Kulper: So first thank you. It was such an incred­i­ble offer­ing of ideas and ways to think through these issues. And as I was think­ing about today, I was remem­ber­ing an arti­cle that I read last year in The New York Times that I sus­pect many of you read as well, that was about Bruno Latour. And the title of the arti­cle was The Post-Truth Philosopher Mounts a Defense of Science. And in it there’s a kind of dis­cus­sion of Latour, who’s an advo­cate of con­struc­tion­ism, or the belief that sci­en­tif­ic facts are cul­tur­al­ly con­struct­ed. And the author of the arti­cle began with an anec­dote that talked about about Latour being approached by a devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist who asked the ques­tion, Do you believe in reality?” 

And so I’m not going to ask you that ques­tion. [laugh­ter] But Latour spent his career, or has spent his career argu­ing that sci­en­tif­ic facts need to be seen as a prod­uct of sci­en­tif­ic inquiry. In his terms that they’re net­worked, mean­ing that they stood or fell not on their strength or inher­ent verac­i­ty but on the strength of the insti­tu­tions and prac­tices that pro­duced them. And so, in a pan­el ses­sion that’s dis­cussing archi­tec­tur­al futures, I wan­na ask how we can address roles of our insti­tu­tions and prac­tices in shap­ing these future real­i­ties. So, Billy I think your exam­ple of ASLA Adapt is one ver­sion of that. Or Peggy, the CBIP Studio and Quilian Riano or… Daniel, this notion of dis­com­fort as a growth indus­try. Or Liliane, you know, the ques­tions of lol­ly­pop­ping or blue streets as pos­si­ble cul­tur­al prac­tices sur­round­ing these. And I won­der if you could maybe help us expand our vocab­u­lary about what social prac­tices design­ers, archi­tects, land­scape archi­tects, inte­ri­or adap­tive reuse archi­tects might use in these cases. 

[long silence; laughter]

Billy Fleming: That’s a real­ly hard ques­tion. I’m gonna try and…answer it, by not answer­ing it. So, rather than get­ting into spe­cif­ic cul­tur­al prac­tices I wan­na talk about maybe try­ing to place say like, ExxonMobil, McKinsey, and AECOM in the same con­ver­sa­tion. And I think it’s been real­ly inter­est­ing to watch the sort of come­up­pance of McKinsey, includ­ing just this week in a long New York Times piece, but I think peo­ple who did­n’t know a lot about the con­sult­ing firms sort of con­spir­ing activ­i­ties with sort of the worst actors the world has ever pro­duced, and that sort of chase of cap­i­tal and the sort of accu­mu­la­tion of wealth and pres­tige that McKinsey and oth­er glob­al con­sul­tants are known for. And I think about them, I think about Exxon, I think about AECOM… For folks who don’t know AECOM or are not design­ers in the room, this is the largest archi­tec­ture and engi­neer­ing firm in the world. They work in every coun­try, in addi­tion to build­ing like parks and water­fronts, they build pri­vate pris­ons, they build deten­tion cen­ters, they build all of the worst things that human­i­ty produces. 

And they all engage in a sim­i­lar set of prac­tices in the pur­suit of cap­i­tal, right. So Exxon, AECOM, McKinsey are also all giv­ing mon­ey to uni­ver­si­ties to laun­der their names, to pro­duce research, to pro­duce all of these oth­er things that help them con­tin­ue the sort of hege­mo­ny that they’ve sort of been wel­comed into and helped cre­ate and helped per­pet­u­ate. And I think you know, the lob­by has done a real­ly good job about sort of fram­ing the way that we might begin to refuse work? And I think in the acad­e­my, there’s a very active dis­cus­sion for peo­ple who are as extreme­ly online as I am, in the ener­gy and cli­mate world about fos­sil fuel-funded research. And you could extend that to AECOM and oth­er sort of fund­ed research that often schools like this are asked and invit­ed to do. 

And I think there’s a real­ly disin­gen­u­ous set of argu­ments that, com­ing from the folks who take that kind of mon­ey, that we’re pro­duc­ing valid research in like, the very social sci­ence con­cep­tion of the word valid.” And so it should­n’t mat­ter that it’s fund­ed by Exxon, it should­n’t mat­ter that it’s fund­ed by AECOM or who­ev­er. And in fact like, that’s one of the most either disin­gen­u­ous or naïve fram­ings I could ever imag­ine because who the fuck cares if it’s social­ly, sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly valid, if the move­ments and the polit­i­cal world that you’re try­ing to serve don’t trust you or the research? And David Victor has become like the per­son in that world that every­one points to as you know, help­ing to lead the Paris talks, help­ing to pro­duce all of this oth­er very I think influ­en­tial cli­mate research with indus­try mon­ey. And I think many of the folks who are very ardent sup­port­ers of doing that kind of research, are also look­ing at him as maybe the first domi­no to fall…in a long set of domi­noes that includes them, whose work will no longer be con­sid­ered the sort of elite, pres­ti­gious kind of work that we all point to.

And so I think any­way, going back to the lob­by­ists like, I think…really com­pelling point about how we might think about refus­ing work in prac­tice. I think we all have some work to do think about how we refuse to con­spire with that kind of mon­ey in the work that we do, and it’s often very invis­i­ble, qui­et mon­ey. It flows into uni­ver­si­ty ener­gy and sus­tain­abil­i­ty cen­ters. And I think you know, it’s easy to say that we can only pro­duce cer­tain kinds of work if we take that kind of mon­ey. And that’s just fun­da­men­tal­ly not true. We’ve been approached and have rou­tine­ly turned it down, because we don’t feel com­fort­able doing the bid­ding of com­pa­nies like McKinsey and Exxon and AECOM

Peggy Deamer: That was such an ele­gant response. So I feel like we should stop there. You know, I think that gives the big picture. 

What I think about in rela­tion­ship to your ques­tion but also this respons­es is, it’s not only that those organizations—including the sci­en­tif­ic organizations—are inter­est­ed in fund­ing in how they oper­ate with­in a market-driven econ­o­my and all of those things, but embed­ded in that is their own self-preservation. How do we as an orga­ni­za­tion make sure that we con­tin­ue. So they’re not ask­ing the big ques­tions, they’re ask­ing for self-preservation. So, even if they start out with good inten­tions, you know, in the end you build up the insti­tute, you build up the…pay for all those things. And then just to say you know, my feel­ing is that the AIA is an orga­ni­za­tion whose main job is one, to make archi­tects feel good about a bad sit­u­a­tion so that we’ll keep pay­ing our dues and keep doing the thing that we’ve done, begin­ning and end of sto­ry, and that’s real­ly self-preservation. 

But also I think, you know that not just AIA but these oth­er insti­tu­tions that we’re think­ing about go beyond their own work to pro­duce ide­ol­o­gy, let’s just say it. And so ide­ol­o­gy in some way…capitalist ide­ol­o­gy is the thing that makes us as sub­jects feel like when we are doing some­thing that does­n’t have our own ratio­nal and sub­jec­tive [indis­tinct] in mind, that we will do it nev­er­the­less, you know, the rea­son that we will do things that we just know aren’t good for our­selves. And so, that…you know, I think the part of what we’re talk­ing about here is how insti­tu­tions play into an ide­ol­o­gy where we for exam­ple…absolute­ly we don’t ques­tion we have to be com­fort­able, that is just part of being human. No ques­tions asked. We don’t go beyond it. And you know, no ques­tions asked that I actu­al­ly have to have that sec­ond car or the top [indis­tinct]. I mean just we…we don’t ask, you know. Or no ques­tions asked that I as an archi­tect will take that job. Don’t real­ly believe in it. I should­n’t be doing pris­ons but my god, I have to feed the staff and do like—you know, all those things. So the insid­i­ous­ness with which all these things oper­ate go beyond the insti­tu­tions themselves. 

Daniel A. Barber: I’m gonna go back to your first ques­tion. Which is to say that I don’t real­ly believe in real­i­ty, right. And I think that— I’m try­ing to kin­da riff off also what was just being said, but I think part of what cli­mate jus­tice broad­ly framed has brought to the fore is the strat­i­fied nature of lived exis­tence around the plan­et, right. And I mean these are these are things that I’m assum­ing every­body in this room knows quite well, and whether we sort of fall back to the kind of end­less rep­e­ti­tion of William Gibson’s notion that the future is already here, it’s just uneven­ly dis­trib­uted, right? And of course, in the moment it was said, that was more about kind of some­day every­body will have cell phones. And now it’s more about kind of when do you start to retreat from the coasts, right. So it’s a dif­fer­ent sort of future that’s being imagined. 

But I think to take real­ly seri­ous­ly that sort of premise that…and you know, kind of riff­ing off Latour of course, right, I mean, bring­ing that into the dis­cus­sion and his fab­u­lous new book Down to Earth, which kind of encour­ages some of this think­ing. You know, which is to say— I mean this is Negri too, this is so many of our impor­tant thinkers of the past few decades, that we are in the process of pro­duc­ing real­i­ty, right. And so this is not some exter­nal notion that we will then kind of shake hands with but that we in this room and cer­tain­ly we” is as ped­a­gogs and par­tic­i­pants in design edu­ca­tion, are in the process of con­struct­ing the real­i­ty of you know, not kind of the next cou­ple decades but tomor­row, right. 

And so I think that kind of mil­i­tan­tism as Negri calls it of sort of rec­og­niz­ing one’s role in the pro­duc­tion of his­to­ry, right, and the kind of stream of his­tor­i­cal events I think is an impor­tant way to sort of con­cep­tu­al­ize real­i­ty and our capac­i­ty to in fact artic­u­late and enforce and defend and you know, even kind of fight for a spe­cif­ic ver­sion of real­i­ty, right. Which is to say that the Green New Deal and the con­flicts that have emerged around it are in effect argu­ments about sort of whose real­i­ty is more real, right. And I think that you know again, we’re sort of pre­sum­ably most of us in this room kind of on the same team there. But you know, it’s a pitched bat­tle. And it’s going to get more and more intense, right. So I think that kind of rec­og­niz­ing that we are kind of part of that process of the pro­duc­tion of real con­di­tions will be increas­ing­ly useful. 

Muzaffar: Would you like to fol­low [indis­tinct]

Johanna Barthmaier-Payne: Thank you all very much. And I real­ly appre­ci­ate all of the exam­ples of what your stu­dents are doing in your aca­d­e­m­ic set­tings and how you guys are start­ing to approach these issues. And some­thing that I will hope to hear from you all is how do you see our stu­dents being able to exe­cute these sys­tems that you’re putting in place at a larg­er scale? How do you see our stu­dents being able to be edu­cat­ed to do that in the future?

Barber: Well I’ll just do briefly. I mean I love being embar­rassed by my stu­dents, right. I mean they’re always…I mean—you know it’s kin­da become a trope for that— And what did some­body call it, the Greta Generation or some­thing, right? That they are all kind of implic­it­ly so much fur­ther ahead in a lot of this thing— I mean quite direct­ly on this ques­tion of real­i­ty, right, I mean the kind of terms that they are kind of accept­ing and reject­ing often exceed all of the kind of care­ful thought som­er­saults that we try to do to sort of get somewhere. 

But I think you know…in the kind of straight­for­ward way of…you know, a lot of what my ped­a­gog­i­cal project has been over the past decade or so is effec­tive­ly artic­u­lat­ing a dif­fer­ent his­to­ry of the field of archi­tec­ture in par­tic­u­lar and it’s ten­drils around land­scape and else­where, to just recon­struct a notion of what that his­to­ry is, what that past has become so as to con­cep­tu­al­ize dif­fer­ent futures, right. And so, plac­ing our­selves again in the present across this broad­er stream of his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ments and giv­ing stu­dents the con­cep­tu­al tools and also the sort of his­tor­i­cal data­base, if you will, in order to con­struct a dif­fer­ent sense of iden­ti­ty of what a design­er does?, right, and how that has changed over time and will con­tin­ue to change over time. 

Muzaffar: Liliane, would you like to, in a few short—student work more direct­ly? Would you… 

Liliane Wong: I think giv­en the expe­ri­ence we’ve had in our depart­ment with quite a few spon­sored projects where we’re work­ing right on the ground, it is a huge leap for our stu­dents to step away from the thirteen-week semes­ter that we have and those twenty-six class­es that we have in stu­dio with them to focus on oth­er ques­tions. So for exam­ple with Projecting Change, we spent an enor­mous amount of time not try­ing to cut anoth­er sec­tion, which is prob­a­bly incom­pre­hen­si­ble to those who we hope would see our designs, but rather ask­ing them to do some­thing that I think that a typ­i­cal archi­tec­tur­al edu­ca­tion would not nec­es­sar­i­ly focus on. 

But I think that to—and from my own back­ground, it was a huge leap, it was a gigan­tic stum­ble from acad­e­mia into the real world when my employ­er said, Well. You know, you did­n’t learn a sin­gle thing we real­ly need you to do.” Which was great. But I think that because we have an issue of great urgency, design edu­ca­tion is going to have to grab that chal­lenge of how those thir­teen weeks and the twenty-six stu­dio class­es that we have take on a dif­fer­ent way? to get our stu­dents out in the same amount of time and jump­ing right in on the ground. 

Muzaffar: Peggy, you showed us as exam­ple of Columbia’s stu­dio which was sort of spread out over… So I was think­ing per­haps, I mean these studios—we think in stu­dio terms. Could there be oth­er mod­els of con­tin­u­ing in that stretch­ing and…you know, the cur­ricu­lum, along dif­fer­ent years, a stu­dent them­self devel­op­ing exper­tise and knowledge?

Deamer: Yeah, I mean just to focus on the fact that they had to break through that first year, sec­ond year, advanced stu­dio mod­el, you know. And insti­tu­tion­al­ly what that took for the three orga­niz­ers of that to do that in and of itself is an indi­ca­tion of how we need to break through insti­tu­tion­al rigid­i­ty around these things, whether that’s the cur­ricu­lum with­in archi­tec­ture or break­ing across in an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary round. But I think you’re ask­ing about how that actu­al­ly then con­tin­ues beyond education. 

Muzaffar: Yeah.

Deamer: And in some way that has to do with two things, I think. With oth­er kinds of… Oh I hate to say this word but, degrees, you know, where you can con­tin­ue to do this whether that’s con­struc­tion man­age­ment, or what­ev­er, or whether that’s inter­op­er­abil­i­ty or IPD, BIM exper­tise, so that one can con­tin­ue that. But it also means that we need to change prac­tice such that when you go into prac­tice you’re still learn­ing. This divide that we all feel like, between acad­e­mia, which is the only place we can do research into it and where we can do these exper­i­ments, and then you go into the real world and it’s imple­ment­ed, is a real prob­lem. And I’ll just say Sweden is an exam­ple where the gov­ern­ment gives grants to firms so that with­in a firm peo­ple can con­tin­ue to do research that is in some way inde­pen­dent of that fir­m’s work, but still is in some way under­stood to fur­ther the firm in terms of their break­ing out of their own habits and what­ev­er in terms of how you relate to con­trac­tors, in terms of how you pro­cure the mate­ri­als you’re doing. So we need to have a whole dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ment sys­tem, I think, in order to real­ly effec­tive­ly answer that ques­tion in a good way. 

Fleming: Yeah. So I would say I get asked this ques­tion a lot, these days, by like the var­i­ous edu­ca­tion and schol­ar­ly insti­tu­tions that kind of like, over­see all of us in some way? And it always strikes me that it’s typ­i­cal­ly— I mean I love my senior col­leagues but it’s like a room full of senior col­leagues ask­ing their senior col­leagues like, how to do the things the young folks in their pro­gram are demand­ing of them. 

And there are many answers to that ques­tion, prob­a­bly the first one is to like ask the young peo­ple in their pro­gram what they’re miss­ing. Which is…I think we’ve tried to do. My stu­dents are back there, they’ll tell you the stu­dio been kind of a hot mess, so it’s not like per­fect. But one of the things that we’re often asked to do in the MLA pro­gram espe­cial­ly at Penn, because there’s almost no read­ing, no account­abil­i­ty for read­ing and dis­cus­sion, is to spend a lot of time in a sort of joint sem­i­nar stu­dio envi­ron­ment where we spend the first six or eight weeks of the semes­ter doing close read­ing and dis­cus­sion of his­to­ry, of soci­ol­o­gy, of polit­i­cal the­o­ry, of all things—all the tools—they feel like they need that they don’t get in a typ­i­cal stu­dio envi­ron­ment and maybe even in the entire cur­ricu­lum, at least at Penn. 

And the oth­er has been I think through the stu­dio, through some of the pro­gram­ming we’ve cho­sen to do, because I get to put on a cou­ple of events every semes­ter through the McHarg Center and some of the oth­er things we’re involved in, is to force us into spaces with peo­ple we would like, nor­mal­ly not be in spaces with. And if you look at the line­up for the Designing a Green New Deal event in September, I think Peggy is right, one of the things that urban design­ers sort of said after they left was like, Oh, there’s no design work. Where’s the urban design brief,” which is like, the most annoy­ing com­ment I could ever imag­ine because urban design, and design in gen­er­al, tends to put itself at the cen­ter of every con­ver­sa­tion. And so of course the first ques­tion they ask is like, Where’s the work for me in this? Like, what do I tell my busi­ness devel­op­ment officer?” 

But for us, we were far more inter­est­ed in putting peo­ple who were actu­al­ly plow­ing the ter­rain that’s allow­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about the Green New Deal to be pos­si­ble on a stage. And if we did­n’t talk about like, the spe­cif­ic design instru­ments and oper­a­tions, and like the con­tract nego­ti­a­tion process, that was per­fect­ly fine with me, if only because it forced them to I think devel­op rela­tion­ships and have a con­ver­sa­tion with move­ment lead­ers that would oth­er­wise nev­er be a part of an elite design school who were also very wary, right­ful­ly so, of elite design schools which have treat­ed peo­ple and places like that like shit for a real­ly long time. 

Muzaffar: I’m tak­ing the segue away from young peo­ple…towards young peo­ple, I mean. I’d like to open the ques­tions to the audi­ence if— Especially the students. 

Audience 1: Hello. Thank you. One of the through­lines through a lot of dis­cus­sion has to do with actu­al­ly trans­paren­cy, in my view. And I’m curi­ous how in these var­i­ous projects that you’ve talked about and these var­i­ous fram­ings that you’ve talked about, how you can engage peo­ple you know, like…me. I work on the ground in low-income com­mu­ni­ties around the world. And a lot of what you’re say­ing has two kind of prob­lems for me. It’s like you know, there’s the trope of you have now devel­oped and now you’re telling us we can’t. Which I guess I don’t need to explain. And the other…you know, a lot of the stuff that you’re talk­ing about is inac­ces­si­ble to us in terms of the tech­nol­o­gy, and even the lan­guage. And so…I mean, I think I under­stand what you’re say­ing. But you know, there are a lot of peo­ple I work with who I wor­ry that they don’t. And so I’m wor­ried about that too. Thank you. Could you address that?

Muzaffar: That’s an excel­lent ques­tion. And it’s open to— Yeah let’s take one or two others.

So the ques­tion of trans­la­tion in some sense, but also to me sounds like…it’s not a ques­tion that the peo­ple on stage have knowl­edge, there’s also knowl­edge on the ground, right. But then we don’t have means to inter­com­mu­ni­cate, or to find a com­mon lan­guage one can say, but also to trans­late back and forth, right? One more, please. 

Audience 2: Speaking about like, real­i­ties and dif­fer­ent ver­sions of real­i­ty, we all… I think it’s very easy to speak about this work with­in this con­text where we’re all here due to shared val­ues, and we can to a cer­tain extent I agree and sup­port each oth­er’s work because we under­stand it with­in this real­i­ty. But speak­ing to peo­ple beyond that and to cor­po­ra­tions and indus­tries that already exist, how do you have those con­ver­sa­tions and invite them into your real­i­ty? Or is that even pos­si­ble? Or does your work have to exist by itself and like, work as an example?

Muzaffar: Okay, both hard ques­tions. So, go for it.

Damian White: A quick wrap-up.

Muzaffar: Who wants to…

Barber: Hook in quick­ly on the first ques­tion, which I think is a cru­cial one and real­ly in a way kind of the ques­tion of our con­tem­po­rary chal­lenge, which is you know pre­cise­ly how to mod­el a future, a sort of con­cep­tion of devel­op­ment,” which I’ll put in quotes, right. That it tends to…precisely the dynam­ic you played out, that kind of the North has devel­oped but now the South can’t, right. And so part of why I’ve been try­ing to work out through this research is the sort of frame­work of design for dis­com­fort, which is pre­cise­ly to sug­gest that kind of com­fort becomes its own sort of cur­ren­cy that can be redis­trib­uted, right. And so pre­cise­ly to begin to gain knowl­edge, and there’s a sort of broad­er grant pro­pos­al out there that you know, may or may not get fund­ed, but to work with indi­vid­u­als, design­ers, and oth­ers in non-industrialized areas to under­stand the terms by which they have defined and devel­oped modes of liv­ing that are rel­e­vant beyond those spe­cif­ic regions, right. So it’s in effect to bring knowl­edge from the South”, if you will and I’m not being too schemat­ic here, bring knowl­edge from the South to the North, right, in terms of respect­ing those forms of knowl­edge and under­stand­ing how those forms of knowl­edge will trans­form the lives of all of us in places such as Rhode Island, right, while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly under­stand­ing how that kind of redis­tri­b­u­tion of ther­mal cur­ren­cy or sort of car­bon cur­ren­cy can be redis­trib­uted back down South, right. 

So it’s to say devel­op­ing a dif­fer­ent sort of knowl­edge net­work that respects that type of knowl­edge base and kind of on-the-ground work in a very dif­fer­ent way than we have hereto­fore on his­tor­i­cal terms and con­tem­po­rary terms and beyond.

Muzaffar: Anyone else would like to jump in on that, or the oth­er ques­tion? Whichever.

Deamer: Yeah. Just quick­ly I mean, kind of around the sec­ond ques­tion if I under­stood it cor­rect­ly is like, how do we invite oth­er insti­tu­tions that aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly our own into the con­ver­sa­tion. And my feel­ing isn’t invit­ing them in, it’s like, we need to make sure that we’re invit­ed there. My feel­ing about archi­tec­ture is that even though I said at the end that the com­mu­ni­ties are say­ing archi­tects help us,” the gen­er­al sense is that the world thinks that archi­tects are self-serving, expen­sive, lim­it­ed in their abil­i­ty to lis­ten, and aes­thetes and effete, you know, and…rich themselves. 

So we have to do a lot of work to prove to the pub­lic the we actu­al­ly should be allowed into those doors. And that’s a whole rethink­ing prob­a­bly what this talk is about, about what we rep­re­sent as a group of design­ers. That we deserve… No…don’t deserve. That’s wrong. That we want to do more than we are now insti­tu­tion­al­ly con­struct­ed to do. And so, there’s work before that work. 

White: Okay, should we leave it on that beau­ti­ful note? Yeah? So can we have one more round of applause, please. 

Okay, so for rea­sons of time, as usu­al. We can’t keep any­thing to time here. Could we have a five-minute break, and then we are com­ing back to talk about racial cap­i­tal­ism and designs for ener­gy tran­si­tion, with the amaz­ing Myles Lennon, Shalanda Baker, and Jacqui Patterson. So, please come back. It’s going to be full of good social science.

Further Reference

Climate Futures II event page