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M. Janssens Conflict


M. Janssens, M.Arch

There’s all sorts of baggage with the word: sustainability. And using the word with architectural adjacency elicits a broad range of responses, from a groan (see: Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne) to a sigh (see: everyone working for Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne) to an extended sort of anticipation (see: me looking over elective options 18 months ago). But release it from the grasp of actualized architecture, and sustainability becomes a conceptual apparatus for conflict, pitting the optimists against the pessimists against the realists in philosophical battle for a sort of existential glory — bragging rights to the timeline of the apocalypse. There is power here, in the topic’s ability to divide or inspire. Concerning parties, it is especially clear — on a macro level — that participation requires a side to be taken. And in this current climate, not taking a side is taking a side. The debate then takes any fuel, meaning that even criticism of the means and methods of the thing called sustainability burns it brighter in the zeitgeist.

The micro is trickier, restricted to anecdotes. It’s different to understand sustainability on a personal level.

That conflict now is not exactly the same — it is internal and individual. Sides of optimism, pessimism, and realism are replaced by concern, confusion, and apathy. Last semester saw my development of a studio project for Laguna Gloria. An art gallery, or three, intended to expand the Contemporary Austin’s potential on the north side of the historic Driscoll Villa. Inherently rife with possibilities, I rejected all

mechanisms of approaching the program in a typical sense, and proceeded to bash sustainability into the mix. But this was not about orientation, or energy analysis, or being particular about materials in a traditionally sustainable sense. This was about considering what happens to a building when humans no longer occupy it. Not empty in the sense of vacant, empty in the sense of “there are no people at all” — an imagining of the apocalypse from the buildings point of view. This was about embracing that pessimistic side of the conflict. In a phrase adopted from Paola Antonelli, it dealt in building form with the opinion that: “designers don’t have the power to stop our extinction.” There was good intention. On a very, very personal level, adding sustainability in this mode aimed to at the very least elicit a conversation: concerning architects’ range of complicity and complacency with climate change; concerning professors’ role in introducing sustainability as a topic for studios; concerning the mental health implications of studying the relationship between global warming and architecture, between mapping the direction we are taking and the direction we should be taking, even at the basis of studio project. I abandoned it for something else; and I’m fine with the result. I jumped into a topic brimming with conflicting conjecture and conclusions, a liminal zone between practice and pedagogy; and I can only be happy, to be spat out from the void. I’m conflicted in a different way, though: how to go back in without losing myself?