Considering James Steel’s themes

Today I find myself reading James’s Steels Ecological Architecture – on Antonino’s recommendation. I’m sat at my dining room table in my small flat in Bristol. It’s balmy after the first really warm days of summer. Further south in Europe, our neighbour countries struggle under the weight of a heatwave – the strongest since 2003. An invisible line along the English channel appears to protect us and we in the UK remain unscathed. As I write baby is in her highchair – staring at a dangling cheerful looking butterfly toy. Today she is 8 weeks and 3 days old and this is my first re-entering into the realm of my phd. I find my thinking muddled – like I have thrown the pieces of the puzzle of my work so far onto the floor and they are all jumbled.

Steel’s book – is really something. Firstly it’s large and heavy. But more prominently for me is the first few pages, the consideration of colonisation as a force that dismantled the ecologically sane architectures of indigenous cultures around the world.

I want to spend time with this. I exist with the background sound of the Extinction Rebellion, and the spectacle that is Greta Thunburg – in my ears. It seems that there is a – perhaps known (though not to me) relationship between those advocating decolonisation, and those advocating for action to ‘save us from climate change’… In anycase, we can say the colonial culture, institutions, attitude… got us to where we are today for better and for worse.

Steel suggests 3 themes as lens’ through which to view the history of ecological architecture: Tradition, Technology and Urbanism. I want to take note of this as I think this might provide some useful structure for my work too. I wonder where is the place for tradition, in a future of precision 24/7 soilless farming – disconnected from landscape and environment? I question – when we decouple food from landscape – what do we lose? What do we gain? If our traditions bind us, I wonder if it boils down to a loss of identity, a feeling of alone-ness, a lack of belonging. How do we maintain human identity in an increasingly mechanistic world?




Ecological Architecture

Steel – A Critical History, by Thames&Hudson Ltd, 2005