Explaining her philosophy of “vibrant matter,” American political theorist Jane Bennett poses a question pertinent to thinking about architecture in this era of ecological crisis: How would ideological, political or social problems be repositioned if we really engaged with the idea that things, matter animate and inanimate (i.e. wind, animals, metal, trees, microbes, buildings) are “vital”—that they have their own lives with their own trajectories and histories, and act as agents in human lives powerfully shaping human culture (Bennett 2010, viii)? Vital materialism’s inherent critique of human arrogance as above things and/or nature or humans as the key causal actors in the world returns thinking to the ecological tabula rasa indigenous cultures such as Australian Aboriginals have always known under our term “animism”—that all “things” are “living,” entwined in an integrated, interdependent web of relationships and events; hence, if one is to revere and respect life, there are no distinctions or dichotomies between animate and inanimate. The design of a multi-purpose building for the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council (LPLALC), Sydney, Australia, in a university Masters of Architecture studio allowed me, as an architecture and ecological educator to teach traditional ideas of sustainability in architecture (i.e. passive design). But it also allowed me, by cross-pollinating indigenous and non-indigenous philosophy, to extend the idea of a building beyond aesthetics or a collection of inanimate materials designed to passively to support human functions albeit sustainably, to thinking of it as animate—a living force in human and non-human lives. This paper discusses the pedagogy of a course that challenges students to think about architecture in the anthropocene (Steffen, 2011) as a key political actor contributing to the ethical development of an ecological culture.
|Keywords:||Animate Architecture, Biodiversity, Koori “Law,” Permaculture, Vital Materialism, Earth Democracy|
Lecturer, Architecture, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia