Nature is constantly shifting and evolving. It is radically inconsumable, the other that exists without caring about us, humanity.
There is no stasis in the environment as a whole (Desbonnet and Costa-Pierce 2008), or in the water cycle. Water moves in enormous cycles that respond to gravity and pressure differences (Atelier Groenblauw n.d.). What we typically think of when we conceptualize the water cycle is what can be conceived of as a ‘fast’ water cycle. This includes the evaporation of water from land and sea, forming vapor and clouds, then precipitating back to the earth and evaporating again. The majority of the water humans use comes from the 32 billion acre feet of surface water that travels from land to sea, of which about 7 billion acre-feet of water are available for our needs (Pearce 2006). The ‘slow’ water cycle is a testament to the ever expanding reach of human impact. The ‘slow’ cycle includes oceans, ice caps and vast underground aquifers, some of the largest located “beneath deserts that receive virtually no recharge because there is no rain” (Pearce 2006). We are expanding our reach from the ‘fast’ water cycle and imparting an increasing amount of accelerated change in the ‘slow’ cycle: draining ground water, melting ice and warming oceans.
Coastlines are largely seen as a resource for economic development. Industry and the built environment have encroached on and overtaken natural systems so much that we have largely disabled ecology’s most valuable function: the inherent ability to adapt and maintain a balance of biodiversity in ever shifting conditions. Our globalized world is now at point of transition marked by the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December 2015, where representatives from 195 countries committed to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, moving towards the goal of reducing the most drastic effects of climate change (Davenport 2015).
In this moment of transition, humanity is now faced with the need to drastically transform how we intersect with hydrological and ecological systems. Groundwater is depleted without being re-charged, wetlands are disappearing, mass droughts and flooding are instigated by climate change. We are shifting from debating the reality of climate change to realizing its inevitable effects. As sea levels rise and storm surges increase, coastal landscapes must be adapted to allow for affects of the changing climate. Coastal structures and their use must be adapted to function as conduits that facilitate the regeneration of the natural environment and hydrological cycles as human function declines and ecological needs become the primary function of the coastal environment. This calls for the responsible abandonment of coastal structures. They can be harvested for reusable building materials and their shells can become sites of regenerated habitat for wildlife and natural hydrological systems.
It is difficult to for us to look at the water cycle through the lens of holistic ecological systems rather than human development and capitalism. In the capitalistic human world view, we are at the center of the biosphere and ecological systems are diverted for our relative short-term gain. Almost nothing is off limits to development. Indeed, the ‘developing world’ includes not only what has come to be defined as the nation-states of the Third World after the Marshall Plan in the 1950s but also what is considered undeveloped or under-developed natural environments, seen as an inanimate resource ripe for extracting. If we shift our world-view from economic development to ecological restoration, we reduce our need to control the natural world. We can approach our need for shelter by seeking to integrate architecture into the natural systems of its site, not to create a barrier between human function and natural function but to coexist with as little impact on the ecology as possible. The built environment becomes small in relation to the vast systems that make up the Earth.
Post-colonial theory as conceived by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak gives us a tool to shift our focus from expansive development in a globalized world to localized ecologies and human needs. This allows us to acknowledge the complexities of our intersection with the natural world. (Moore and Rivera 2011). There is no simple solution to climate change and water pollution, no simple way to be more “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” if we are to remain a viable species on our ever changing planet. We must eat, we must build shelter, we must drink clean water and clothe ourselves. We will impart change on the environment. However, while we provide for our immediate needs, we can also reveal the complexities of our challenge and point to the broader systemic issues that brought us to our current situation. We can expose our struggle and failure to cohabitate in the world without destroying it, and in time, ourselves.
Architecture has no neutral position. It always presents an opinion, a suggestion for how we are to exist in the world. Its existence speaks not only of itself, but presents a point of view on its surroundings and the time in which it was created and now exists. This manifesto is a manifestation of our moment of awakening, an opportunity to observe the changes that we have put in effect that are now beyond our control. Designers must now reveal a sublime beauty that overwhelms and shocks the system, dislocating the user from the everyday (Muzaffar 2015) and forcing one to come to terms with the nature of change in our environment that is beyond human control.
Atelier Groenblauw. n.d. “Urban Green-Blue Grids .” Water Challenge. Accessed November 2015. http://www.urbangreenbluegrids. com/water/.
Davenport, Coral. 2015. “Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris .” The New York Times, December 12.
Desbonnet, Alan, and Barry A. Costa-Pierce. 2008. Science for Ecosystem-Based Management Narragansett Bay in the 21st Century. Edited by Alan Desbonnet and Barry A. Costa-Pierce. New York: Springer.
Moore, Stephen D., and Mayra Rivera. 2011. Planetary Loves: Spivak, Postcoloniality, and Theology. New York: Fordham University Press.
Muzaffar, Ijlal. 2015. “Discussion of ‘Can There Be a Feminist World?’ by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.” Providence: Rhode Island School of Design, November 13.
Pearce, Fred. 2006. When the Rivers Run Dry. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press. Sample, Hilary, and Byron Stigge. 2014.
“Building Soft.” Harvard Design Magazine (Harvard University Graduate School of Design) (39): 77-87.