Ecoliteracy for architects? It is essential

This place- and culture-sensitive process of redesigning the human presence and impact on Earth bioregion by bioregion will be much more than simply ‘ecosystems restoration’. It will be a pathway towards regenerating our communities, our societies, our regional economies — a path walked through glocal [global-local] awareness and action, coming together in global collaboration to heal the Earth and her people one place at a time.

Daniel Christian Wahl 2019 ‘Making the most of the ‘UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration’:
bioregional regenerative development as a deep adaptation pathway’

Understanding ideas and practices for sustainable futures, translating them so they are relevant to our places and communities is a key and urgent concern for architect students, since they are increasingly designing for both people, places and planet.

Ecoliteracy is therefore vital for architecture students to gain an overview of what has caused the intersecting and accelerating environmental and social crises the world is now facing. Ecoliteracy empowers us to consider the historic philosophical, ethical, aesthetic, and political shortcomings of modern culture that has consistently ignored environmental wellbeing. Understanding how our culture, our way of life, has become so inherently unsustainable and unjust, is vital – so we can employ our creativity collectively toward ushering in a more life-sustaining, just and beautiful world.

Twice in recent months, I’ve been asked to share ecoliteracy understanding with university architect students and their lecturers.

I’ve shared ideas with 43 students from the Dublin University of Technology (DUT) who came with their lecturers, Emma Geoghegan and others, to visit my ongoing eco-social art practice, The Hollywood Forest Story– the transformation of a conifer monoculture plantation into a forest at my home in rural South County Carlow (see image above).

Focussing on imagining a zero carbon future for Carlow County, these DUT students are researching infrastructure, landscape, agriculture, settlement and forestry practices as part of their initial analysis. I shared my knowledge of collaborative art and ecology practices and my deep knowledge of new-to-Ireland continuous cover forestry.

Giving a talk in Hollywood forest can bring to life the challenges and potentials of this type of ecological forestry – but, there are no quick-fix solutions! Transforming forests, like restoring any landscape will take an enormous shift in educational priorities and national policy, and it takes years for ecosystems to recover. (Hollywood forest will require many decades to transform to a more biodiverse forest and there ominous threats to forests from climate change already – milder, wetter weather is fostering tree disease and pests that have already decimated some trees in Hollywood and other forests across Ireland).

I was also asked by Carlow-based architect lecturer, Helena Fitzgerald (no relation) to give a workshop to the History and Theory of Architecture: Landscape module for third year students (@UCC_ArchSoc) in Cork city. Helena asked me to give an account of the Anthropocene – the unsustainable, ecocidal culture we have inherited and I showed a new slide-show film video about my ongoing Hollywood forest project to illustrate how my work was seeking an alternative to industrial, unsustainable forestry. Helena especially requested I give some attention to new terms, like the Symbiocene – the new term coined by eco-philosopher Glenn Albrecht. This term describes the ecological era that prioritises thriving ecosystems as the basis for all life – this is where we must focus all our creative efforts. I was able to bring the idea of the Symbiocene alive, with the recent new short poetic-art-performance film Solastalgia (2019), an artistic interpretation, I have previously mentioned on this site.

In summary, it’s a difficult future for students everywhere, when scientists and media headlines are increasingly revealing catastrophic scenarios amidst widespread political delay and inaction. On both occasions, I reminded students that they shouldn’t work alone on such a difficult, sometimes overwhelming topic. I was heartened to be reminded by Helena, that architect students are taught to work collaboratively – this skill will be so vital in the coming decades when will all have to come together to rethink, reimagine and redesign regenerative living, for all our futures.