Invention of the Environment in Architecture - CCA Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project

Kim Förster's picture
April 21, 2017
Subject Fields: 
Architecture and Architectural History, Environmental History / Studies, Geography, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Urban History / Studies

Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project

“Architecture and/for the Environment,” 2017-2019


Open Call

10 February to 21 April 2017

CCA, Montreal


External advisors

Daniel Abramson, Boston University

David Gissen, California College of the Arts

Imre Szeman, University of Alberta


CCA Committee

Mirko Zardini, Director

Giovanna Borasi, Chief Curator

Kim Förster, Associate Director, Research


Invention of the Environment in Architecture

As the effects of man-made climate change become apparent, it is now clear that architecture needs an environmental history. The Canadian Centre for Architecture is initiating a collaborative and multidisciplinary research project to write such a history. From Sorry, Out of Gas in 2007, in which we highlighted the histories of specific alternative energies, to our most recent exhibition It‘s All Happening So Fast, exploring counter-narratives of progress in Canada, the CCA has come to understand the environment as not merely reducible to nature, but first and foremost a battleground for social, political and economic issues.

At the CCA, we propose to rethink the discipline of architecture by offering a different understanding of how architecture and the environment have been co-produced. While attention across disciplines has focused on the new realities of the Anthropocene, architecture’s complex historical relationship to nature has yet to be surveyed. We fear that the pragmatic, techno-utopian, or even environmentalist stances that have monopolized the subject do not equip us to face the challenges ahead, and that we must pursue a more critical engagement.  With “Architecture and/for the Environment,” we propose to dismantle positivistic discourse on architecture’s environmental history, and to move beyond the narratives of tragedy and apocalypse that often accompany it.

The CCA solicits proposals for research projects that deal with unresolved, and perhaps irresolvable, problems in architecture’s environmental history, which point to its contradictions and ambiguities. The projects should ask how architecture manifests such problems, and through what kinds of narratives environmental histories are told and connected. The thematic spectrum includes the processes of industrialization and urbanization vis-à-vis the effects of pollution; the regulation of population, food, and resources in imperial and post-colonial contexts; the rule of petro-cultures and the reliance of architecture on oil as an energy base; the lure of obsolescence and of sustainability as paradigms of change; the recognition of human impact on earth and its limits; the constricted scope for action at the scale of the sovereign state despite the planetary scope of the environmental crisis; paralysis of stakeholders in times of scarcity while inequality and injustice prevail; and the parallel hyper-regulation of nature and deregulation of the economy.

With funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as part of the Architecture, Urbanism and Humanities initiative, the CCA will run a research project to analyze and historicize the ways in which architecture has constructed our socio-spatial relations with nature since industrialization and has reinvented the environment through using resources, in causing footprints and impacts, and by thinking in cycles and systems. The grants will support original research on specific projects or building materials, on architectural concepts or techniques, and on topical publications or events that provide concrete cases for a new history of architecture’s relationship to the environment.

Applicants may propose projects that revisit familiar cases in architecture’s history, introduce new episodes, or offer unexpected readings of material that one would not normally consider “environmental.” Importantly, to be successful, applicants must locate the particular cases they will be investigating in longer narratives of architecture and the environment. Proposals should also address the transdisciplinarity inherent to the theme “Architecture and/for the Environment” by engaging fields other than architecture, planning, and landscape architecture. As such, applicants should identify and explain how their project addresses open questions in disciplines such as anthropology, cultural studies, economic history, energy humanities, environmental history, historical geography, the history of science and technology, political ecology, and the social sciences, among others.


The collaborative and multidisciplinary research project directed by the CCA is open to academics and cultural producers across ranks. Those interested should submit their proposal through our application portal by 21 April 2017. Applications must include a 750-word project outline based on the selected cases, a 500-word synopsis locating the proposed research within larger narratives of the environment in architecture, a bibliography of key literature and of pertinent holdings in the CCA Collection or in other archives (2 pages maximum), a CV (5 pages maximum), and a short bio of no more than 300 words highlighting the applicant’s engagement with the subject.

Mellon Seminar

“Architecture and/for the Environment” will unfold in two phases. First, the CCA will invite sixteen shortlisted applicants to participate in a multiday Mellon Seminar, which will take place in Montreal in mid-July 2017. Seminar participants will discuss their individual projects and debate the conceptual terms and the methodological tasks of contending with the environment through history. All sixteen shortlisted applicants will receive a stipend to attend the Mellon Seminar. However, following a peer-review process, only eight applicants will be selected to return for the second phase of the project, and participate in the Mellon Research Project. It is essential that applicants demonstrate a productive engagement with the work of the other participants to be considered in the selection.

Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project

The eight selected Mellon Researchers will reconvene in the fall of 2017 to begin their eighteen-month engagement with the Mellon Research Project on “Architecture and/for the Environment,” and will continue the work through the spring of 2019. Each Mellon Researcher will receive a grant to support their research and production, including a CCA residency of twenty to thirty working days total, and to participate in three multiday Mellon workshops and seminars. Mellon Researchers will contribute to various objectives and outcomes of the research project by writing a collaborative white paper with the other Mellon Researchers, by producing individual essays in conversation with the group and with CCA staff, and by critically engaging the CCA Collection and library holdings.

Contact Info: 

Canadian Centre for Architecture

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