The Building of the Environment; Disciplinary Mediation as an Architectural Laboratory (1967-2017)
The contemporary scene brings to light, on one hand, the aims of work from diverse fields triggering processes and results typical of architecture and, on the other hand, the exploration of an architectural practice that holds a very broad professional range as its reference point. Since the beginning of the 20th century, movements such as Russian Constructivism and the Bauhaus School have explored the confluence of artistic practice and engineering technique as a way forward for architecture. In their wake, art, science, and architecture have shown a mutual transfer of knowledge, resources, and areas of action.
The building of the environment from the disciplinary mediation (1967-2017)
This research identifies and presents the recent forefather of the disciplinary collaboration. Fifty years ago, exploratory projects produced alternative habitable conditions and released the concept of “environment” to refer to a surrounding that could serve the vital needs of human beings and answer new social and ecological concerns. The environmental awareness was part of a first-time epoch conscious of the consequences of the industrial development on the landscape. That mindfulness led to the simultaneity of several artistic and scientific theories that broadened the meaning of the environment with an essence of social and ecosystemic turn, headed by the authors Reyner Banham, Kees Boeke, Stewart Brand, György Kepes and Ray and Charles Eames.
The unpublished case studies
As a starting point, attention is focused on the programs Experiments in Art and Technology (New York, 1967), the Art and Technology Program (LACMA, Los Angeles, 1967-1971), and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (MIT, Cambridge, 1967) which, at the end of the sixties and in different areas of the United States, drove projects where artists, engineers, and architects collaborated and constructed new environments for society. The work they carried out has remained largely unknown, even more in architecture, a field that is often distant to what other disciplines can provide to its progress. However, the achievements of the three programs were key for cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Boston, and the architects linked to them such as Jane Jacobs, Frank Gerhy, and Juan Navarro Baldeweg, among others. The simultaneous founding of these three multidisciplinary organizations forms the main section of this research and draws the panorama that the last third of the 20th century has left in heritage and which now serves for the discussion of new architecture.
The social and ecological basis of the new environment
The understanding of the case studies distances itself from the idea of buildings and cities as universal constructs —as passive agents of social convergence— to approach a more complex expression of public and private spaces —as concepts that must be reexamined through a critical, transdisciplinary lens. The speculative endeavor of reviewing the work makes reference to a medium formed by alternative techniques, processes, and collaborations that are the starting point in understanding the global character with which these examples face the environment. Beyond the fact that the nature of this multidisciplinary work may be described as something in the way of art, a scientific experiment, or architecture, what transcends is a wider understanding of the surroundings, based on the collaboration between different agents, where society, ecology, and construction are the most fruitful exploratory paths.
Final notes: a contemporary review
For the epilogue and as proof of the research argument, the work includes some recent international examples in which social and ecological concern modifies 21st-century architecture. Across the chronological roadmap, the analysis of this set of practices in disciplinary mediation presents a series of strategies that constitute an experimental laboratory for architecture, emerging in the North American context following environmental awareness and expanding into Spanish and international territory over the period from then until the speculative reach of our current time.