Neyran Turan urges architecture to propose a new planetary imagination

Can architecture act as a measure in which the simultaneity of the planetary and the quotidian are read together?

by Aastha D.Published on : May 19, 2021

Neyran Turan’s Architecture as Measure is an extensive and incremental body of work that spans media; books, Instagram, design installation, website, essays, events, drawings, conversations, architecture and more. It is a call to disentangle the epistemological foundations of nature, the planet, the human, the human made, their shifts, and the position of architecture at these intersections. The book Architecture as Measure (Actar Publishers, Feb 2020, ISBN 978-1-948765-29-9) is a speculation that treats climate change as a cultural and political idea, one that requires a renewed architectural environmental imagination.

The Introduction of the book mentions:

In light of the current political crisis around climate change, what can architecture possibly contribute towards a new planetary imaginary of our contemporary environment beyond environmentalism and technological determinism? Instead of conceptualizing the idea of the environment as purely natural and in need of protection, as solely a problem that needs to be managed, or merely as the Earth, which limits the scope with a scalar bias, can we speculate on architecture as a measure both to assess and to act upon the world?

STRAIT: A Geographic Fiction, 2015. Still from the silent film |. | STIRworld
STRAIT: A Geographic Fiction, 2015 Image: Courtesy of NEMESTUDIO

The book places the work of anthropologists, legal scholars, novelists, public ethics scholars, media theorists, historians, climate scientists, and other experts across disciplines, alongside the speculation of architecture as measure, specifically in its aestheticism and representation, and examines alternate points of inquiries. The points challenge long withstanding notions of dichotomies of nature—human vs. non-human, urban vs. rural/wilderness—to suggest a more spatial and temporal conception and understanding of the environment.

Turan calls for a radically new approach to our very understanding of the idea of the environment. With the term “Anthropocene”—the proposed name for our geologic era that is marked decisively by human terraforming of the earth—gaining familiarity in our neologisms, it becomes imperative to complicate the position of the anthro (human) instead of trying to flatten and universalise noble and virtuous convictions around it. The book sheds light on the inadequately critical debates around climate change, and our limited approaches in contemporary discourse—

  1. Environment as nature; to be saved and protected and reinstated to its original ‘innocence’. This paternalistic-saviour-complex approach lacks a humility integral to understanding the futility of our feelings of guilt, and disintegrates under the indifference of nature. The earth is indifferent to our love, too unconcerned by our destiny (Bruno Latour / Clive Hamilton).

  2. Environment as system; to be made more efficient, fixed and subjected to managerial problem solving, and system integration, almost as a form of planetary housekeeping. This situating of the Anthropocene as the hero, is not only counterproductive on a geological scale, but also reductive and myopic. It exacerbates our overestimations of human specialisation, especially in calibrating what cannot be calibrated.

  3. Environment as earth, limiting the scope of examination with a scalar bias.

Our Junk, Their Ruin: Dis-Assembly, 2018, video. Diorama tableau as construction | STIRworld
Our Junk, Their Ruin: Dis-Assembly, 2018 Image: Courtesy of NEMESTUDIO

Table of Contents: A brief overview

In addition to the introductory essay, the book consists of nine chapters, each of which contains an essay by Turan and is coupled by a project by her architectural practice, NEMESTUDIO (based out of San Francisco, California). Each essay, and thus the associated project in each chapter, positions certain problems brought by climate change, such as resource extraction, materiality, long time span, representation, geology, waste and more in architectural terms. The essays and their associated projects are—

– Another Planetary: Measure for the Anthropocene

– After Nature, Museum of Lost Volumes project; the incapacities of human understanding of nature objectively, as a social construction or material repository. The project is a satiric commentary on resource extraction to facilitate “green” projects.

NEMESTUDIO, Museum of Lost Volumes, 2015. Rare Earth Cenotaph | STIRworld
Museum of Lost Volumes, 2015 Image: Courtesy of NEMESTUDIO

– Geographic Object, Strait; a tracing of the histories of collating geocentric data, the resultant notions of sterile empirical facts that invisibilise context in the understanding of the environment. It questions our subjective understanding of data as representation, governed by aesthetics, rhetorics and expectations from visual media.

STRAIT: A Geographic Fiction, 2015. Still from the silent film | STIRworld
STRAIT: A Geographic Fiction, 2015 Image: Courtesy of NEMESTUDIO

– Matters Around Architecture, Nine Islands; the trajectory of material from extraction to assembly to maintenance and waste or decomposition, provokes discourse around life spans of architectural materiality.

– Geology of Media, Digital Rubbish; a juxtaposing of trash scenes on fragile seashores with digital ‘stuff’ that piles up in digital (and physical) warehouses. Human debris surpasses media and materiality, digitality camouflaged in data points as intangible and hence inconsequential in the measurement of a ‘carbon footprint’ or ‘trash’.

– New Cadavre Exquis; an extension of the above in a neo surrealist technique taking the form of assemblages from the digital readymade.

– Planetary Diorama as Tableau; Middle Earth; a museum of post-natural history at a point in time when the climate change is complete—glaciers have shrunk, sea levels risen to unprecedented levels, global carbon dioxide is at an absurd high—and supersedes the need for discussion, it is fact, a lived reality.

Middle Earth: Dioramas for the Planet, 2017. Plastic Pacific Hall | STIRworld
Middle Earth: Dioramas for the Planet Image: Courtesy of NEMESTUDIO

– Territory as Interior, Flatbed junk; taking the human aerial view to visualise the interior and roof or architecture as one object put through the mischievous and removed act of ‘flatness’.

Flatbed Junk, 2017. Interior perspective close-up view.| | STIRworld
Flatbed Junk, 2017. Interior perspective close-up view Image: Courtesy of NEMESTUDIO

– Planetary Theater, Fake Earths; a theatre play that takes place in a post-Anthropocene era where earthlings are a trope for the representation of acts of extraction, waste creation and extinction.

– Wonder Room as Assembly, Our Junk, Their Ruin; a diorama tableau that stages the construction of a large Wonder Room. The room contains drawings and models of architectural ruins as well as techno-fossils, which all belong to a time in which junk is more abundant than resources.

– Subtlety as Engagement, Nine Drawings, Seven Models As Built-As Lived.

Our Junk, Their Ruin: Dis-Assembly, 2018, video. Diorama tableau as construction | NEMESTUDIO | STIRworld
Our Junk, Their Ruin: Dis-Assembly, 2018, video. Diorama tableau as construction Image: Courtesy of NEMESTUDIO

Inherent in the premise of the book is the proposition of a new conception of architecture’s engagement with the wider world through a specific focus on architecture’s capacity to boost its planetary effect from within. Curated by Neyran Turan and coordinated by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), the Pavilion of Turkey will present Architecture as Measure  at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition, titled How Will We Live Together?, to be held from May 22 - November 21, 2021. Co-sponsored by Schüco Turkey and Vitra, the Pavilion of Turkey is located at Sale d’Armi, Arsenale, one of the main venues of the Venice International Architecture Biennale.

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