Uncertainty, risk, and instability are determinant features of contemporary life. In recent years, substantive new scholarship has emerged around structural conditions of economic precarity—on both the individual and societal levels—and around the systemic effects of climatic instability, increasingly evident in storms and other events, the impacts of which are intensified by spatial and economic inequities.
The sources of structural instability are manifold, and have long been understood to be essential aspects of capitalist economic systems, of colonization and its aftermath, of institutional forms of racism, gender inequity, and economic injustice. Environmental insecurities have both served to intensify and rhetorically justify these forms of spatio-temporal oppression. Colonial expansions, states of exception, emergency management, corporate exceptionalism, and discourses on resilience all inform our historical understanding of these instabilities and their systemic relationship to historical change; they also inform capacities for collective resistance.
Architecture, broadly considered as the intentional design of the built environment, is an important symbolic and material aspect of this structural instability. Operating at the nexus of processes of financialization, material metabolisms, and urban organization, the work of design mediates these conditions and contributes to our understanding of them. The seemingly unpredictable relationship between social practices and planetary systems also has a rich history, as do the conditions of social inequity that environmental pressures continue to intensify. By framing this symposium through architecture, the intent is to emphasize the intensity and indeterminacy of how economies and ecologies interconnect.
This symposium is interested in understanding instability as a theme in architectural, urban, and environmental histories and theories. We will explore how the structural instabilities of the 21st century are legible in histories of architecture and related spatio-political disciplines, insofar as they engage questions of economy, gender, race, and environmental change. Scholarly explorations around these terms have necessarily been interdisciplinary, and abstracts are welcome from any field.
Symposium Convened By
Daniel A. Barber, Associate Professor, Graduate Architecture, PennDesign
Sophie Hochhäusl, Assistant Professor, PennDesign and 2017-2018 Frieda L. Miller Fellow, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Eduardo Rega, Lecturer, Graduate Architecture, PennDesign
Naomi Waltham-Smith, Assistant Professor, Department of Music, Penn Arts & Sciences