This semester we are continuing to explore the theme of cohabitation: the interplay of human and nonhuman systems in our built environment. But this time, we are focusing on a given ecosystem, as the context for our architectural proposals. Further, we are expanding our toolbox: storytelling and film continue to play an overarching role, but we are opening up the studio to other media and forms of architectural exploration. (see learning objectives)
“Europe's sea of plastic”, Almería in the south of Spain, is our point of departure. It is one of the many places where our globalized and accelerated ways of life become visible and take on built form. Together, we want to explore and understand the different types of architecture that can be found on site. Dating from different times, created for different needs. A deeper understanding of the systemic relations of these local structures is essential in order to become active and to produce architectural models for the future — for Almeria and beyond.
The ongoing industrialization and urbanization of our environment is the main driver of depletion on our planet. These changes are human-made, which is why we speak today of the Anthropocene: an unofficial unit of geologic time, used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems.
It is indispensable taking a look at the motives and conditions of our global actions, which laid ground for the occurrences and changes we are experiencing today and which led to the concept of the Anthropocene. Exponential growth has long been the western societal leitmotif, which places economic interests over ecological ones. But as economist Kenneth Boulding puts it: Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.
And although Western societies have access to data and knowledge about the consequences of their actions, and the limits and finiteness of the Earth's ecosystem, we still seem unable or unwilling to act differently. The concept of the Anthropocene sees humanity equally responsible for this change. But it was mainly Western societies that emitted and benefited from the massive industrialization and are triggering the ongoing urbanization of our environment. From a relative point of view, it was the capital that drove Western societies. This is why other scholars such as environmental historian and political economist Jason W. Moore have been prompted to recast the notion of the Anthropocene, with the more nuanced and connective concept of the Capitalocene.
Capital-driven thinking is also evident in architecture, both in the built and unbuilt environment. Every crisis, including the most recent one, has caused economic eruptions that led to increasing investments in land and real estate and thus, resulted in profit-oriented-architectures. These take shape in different places, forms and typologies. Exploring them is of great importance, in order to understand the local and global role architecture plays in different systems. By doing so, we reflect on how urbanization — as the most prevalent socio-material form of environment-making under capitalism — has re-ordered human and non-human relations in profound ways. This knowledge enables us to design an architecture that questions the status quo and, beyond that, creates new spaces for our coexistence.
The Spanish city of Almería, in the region of Andalusia, is one such place where different global systems collide and take built form. Known as Europe's plastic sea, it is the largest greenhouse in the world. The industrialized production of food requires certain production conditions: extraction of resources such as land and water, combined with cheap labour and corresponding habitats. The region is also a gateway to Europe for many African migrants. According to local authorities, last year more than 400 boats with a total of around 12.000 migrants arrived in Almería, supplying further labour for the region's 100.000-plus workforce.
Yet, Almería was not always dominated by industrialized agriculture. It is merely an episode in its recent history. Nearby, there are other places of cultivation and growth. For instance, in the northern town of Tabernas: located in Europe's only desert, the place became the global film set for Western movies. For years, production teams from all over the world came to Spain, to re-enact the story of man's conquest of nature. While in Cabo de Gata National Park, not far to the east, illegal hotel developments emerged, trying to get their share of growing mass tourism. We will visit these places as part of an integrated seminar week. On site, we will take the time to discover and explore the context. In free tours, in different formats and with various media.
Between Fact and Fiction
In order to approach this complex political landscape we use the tool of storytelling and introduce a fiction: the story of Willi, a farmer from Zurich, who decides to move to Almeria with his family to start anew as a farmer in Spain. What are his motives? What are the conditions and relations of his actions, coming from one of Europe’s wealthiest regions, entering this very specific social and economic context? These motifs help us to formulate the brief and the requirements for the architectural design. In doing so, we are challenged to question the contexts:
What are the relations Willi is emerging from, being in, entering?
What are the reasons, the wishes and goals, the constraints and limitations?
Which architecture takes active form in relation to the local and global ecosystems?
How does an architecture materialize if we do not think of architecture as managing the environment but also architecture as being managed by the environment?
 Environmentality, Environment-Making in the Age of Anthropogenic Climate Change by Marc Angélil, Arno Brandlhuber, Cary Siress, Christopher Roth (Zurich; 2019)
 After the Collapse: Architecture for the 99%, by Park Chan-sol and Suhail Malik, in 2038 – The New Serenity, Arts of the Working Class N°120 (Berlin, Venice; 2021)