EAHN Thematic Conference Reykjavík 2023
MoMA x Iceland University of the Arts

The Third

21–23, 2023

︎About the Conference
︎Call for Papers

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Call for Papers

In 1971, architects Serge Chermayeff and Alexander Tzonis introduced the term “third ecology” into the architectural lexicon. Conceived of in evolutionary terms, the authors argued that if organisms had originally dwelt in the sea—the “first ecology” — only to graduate to the land — the “second ecology” — now humankind’s ability to alter its surroundings via technology meant that the “man-made and the natural are now inseparable.” To study this novel human-altered environment, the authors claimed that we must develop a third ecological science. If their original conception of the term bore a similarity to other urban-focused “environmental design” programs that arose at this time, in a later 1980 lecture by Chermayeff called “The Third Ecology,” the concept had taken on a decidedly planetary scale: “Everything we now do or will do will change our environment in a fundamental way … man is global in his effect.” Moreover, the cautionary optimism of the earlier text had long gone: noting rising pollution and the depletion of nonrenewable fuels, Chermayeff contended that, unless we developed this new science fast, human civilization faced “catastrophe.”

The effects of the anthropogenic climate crisis have compelled a resurgence of scholarship about the often fraught relationship between the built and the natural environment. The connection between the building sector and the disruption of the physical systems of the planet is not merely coincidental, we now know, but causal. Currently, global building activity produces nearly 40% of the world’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions, making architecture, broadly speaking, one of the most polluting activities in human history. How should historians respond to this now well-established fact that architecture causes ecological harm? While, unsurprisingly, our field has recently shown a greater interest in topics related to climate, does the environmental crisis require us to not only change our subjects of focus but to also, as Esther da Costa Meyer argues, fundamentally change our methods of writing architectural history? Heeding insights from the field of environmental justice, is an architectural history of the climate crisis necessarily also a decolonial and anti-racist project?

To grapple with these questions, the EAHN thematic conference Third Ecology, organized by the Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and the Natural Environment at the Museum of Modern Art (New York) and co-chaired by Listaháskóli Íslands (Iceland University of the Arts, Reykjavík), invites architectural historians to investigate the relationship between the built environment and the planet's ecologies. This conference will follow on the heels of the Ambasz Institute’s first exhibition, a large-scale survey of the relationship between architecture and the rise of environmentalism as a social and political movement. While MoMA’s exhibition and catalog will focus on architecture and design work emanating from the American environmental movement, this EAHN conference seeks to broaden the remit so as to uncover environmental histories across the globe. In particular, we hope to privilege knowledge produced by communities that have been historically marginalized. Through this conference, then, we hope to redefine the types of expertise that constitute the third ecology: beyond the arts of ecological management and design called for by Chermayeff, the project of tackling our present crisis must include the voices of critical architectural historians worldwide.

Third Ecology will be hosted in Reykjavík. Iceland is a third ecology. From deforestation upon settlement in the 9th century, through a subsequent millenium of animal husbandry in a fragile ecosystem, the introduction of reindeer from Norway at the end of the 18th century to "enrich" the country´s fauna, to land drainage policies in the last century to accommodate the mechanization of state-subsidized agriculture, and landscape transforming damming projects in the current century to power a hydroelectricity plant, Iceland's environment is thoroughly human altered. Most recently, global temperature rise has caused the rapid melting of Icelandic glaciers. A plaque, laid in 2019, commemorates the “death” of Okjökull not far from Reykjavík. At the conference guided trips and architectural visits led by local scholars and architects will further instill a sense of how academic knowledge is intimately tied to the realities of our swiftly changing climate.

Proposals submitted to the conference may choose to address the following questions:
  1. How have architectural histories shaped discourses about current day environmental crises?*

  2. In what ways have concepts of environment or ecology been thematized by architects or urbanists?

  3. From nineteenth century understandings of environmental determinism to “green gentrification” today, how have architectural conceptions of the environment been used to justify, and in turn, construct social inequalities?

  4. How have architects’ concepts of the environment constructed, justify, and/or contribute to racial inequalities today?

  5. In what ways has architecture contributed to the formation of political, ideological, and pedagogical systems that have had a direct impact on the environment? How has architecture as a practice gained from such power?

  6. What role has the field of architecture—a discipline whose central concern is oftentimes posited to be the orchestration of the relationship between an individual and its natural surroundings—played in defining the now highly influential concept of the “environment”?

  7. How can we reimagine architectural histories not as accounts of isolated objects but as narratives of relationships and processes? That is, how can we begin to see buildings as nodes within larger networks of material extraction, capital accumulation, and waste expulsion?

  8. What is the role of aesthetics in the development of “green” or ecology-based architecture?

  9. How can architectural histories of the environment inform the present day politics of planetary management? In what ways have the declared urgencies of past environmental crises led to incursions upon national sovereignty and other forms of neocolonialism?

  10. From the vantage point of a conference convened at the faultlines of the “Global North” and the “Global Far North” in the middle of a climate crisis, is this crisis felt differently in traditionally “cold” and “warm” environments, and how does architecture serve as a mediator? Are architectural histories of “the environment” the same everywhere, just told through different objects and actors?

  • Submit proposals (300 words), bio (200 words).
  • Deadline: 13th of March 2023.
  • Scientific committee of the conference will go through, select and organize proposals around themed sessions. Notifications on participation will be sent by April 2023.

Call for Papers and Discussion Positions
Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted through the Conference website in the form below, along with applicant’s name, professional affiliation, title of paper or position, a short curriculum vitae, home and work addresses, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers.

Sessions will consist of four papers and a respondent, with time for dialogue and questions at the end. Each paper should be limited to a 20-minute presentation.

Abstracts for session presentations should define the subject and summarize the argument to be presented in the proposed paper. The content of that paper should be the product of well- documented original research that is primarily analytical and interpretative rather than descriptive in nature.
Round tables will consist of five to ten participants and an extended time for dialogue, debate and discussion among chair(s) and public. Each discussant will have 10 minutes to present a position. Abstracts for round table debates should summarize the position to be taken in the discussion. Papers may not have been previously published, nor presented in public. Only one submission per author will be accepted. All abstracts will be held in confidence during the selection process.
In addition to the thematic sessions and round tables, open sessions may be announced.
The Organizing Committee has the prerogative to recommend changes to the abstract.

The Organizing Committee may suggest editorial revisions to a paper or discussion position in order to make it satisfy the conference guidelines or publication purposes and will return it with comments to the speaker.

Speakers must complete any revisions and distribute copies of their paper or discussion position to the chair and the other speakers or discussants. The Organizing Committee reserves the right to withhold a paper or a discussion position from the program if the author has refused to comply with these guidelines. It is the responsibility of the Organizing Committee to inform speakers of these guidelines, as well as of the general expectations for both a session and participation in this meeting.

Each speaker is expected to fund his or her own registration, travel and expenses to Reykjavík, Iceland.

Third Ecology will be held at Harpa (Austurbakka 2, 101 Reykjavík), September 21st and 22nd 2023. Guided tours to sights around Reykjavik will be organized on the days of and following the conference.