In 2023, the New York publishing platform e-flux and the Jencks Foundation in London launched ’Isms and ’Wasms: Chronograms of Architecture, a project asking designers to reimagine Six Streams of Architecture and Evolutionary Tree—illustrations by the theorist and architectural historian, Charles Jencks.
MOULD—a research collective based out of Central Saint Martins in London, University of the Arts, London, and Technische Universität Braunschweig in Germany, and comprising Sarah Bovelett, Anthony Powis, Christina Serifi, Tatjana Schneider, Jeremy Till, and Becca Voelcker—completed one of the six resulting illustrations, reexamining architecture through the lens of the global climate emergency. Here, MOULD breaks down its diagram titled Architecture is Climate.
"The diagram, Architecture is Climate, entangles architecture with the conditions of climate breakdown. For too long architecture has stood outside climate, seeing it as a problem to be fixed through the technocratic interventions of so-called sustainability. No longer standing outside and applying superficial patches to the wounds of climate, architecture is climate binds the discipline and its humans to the scars, violence, and emotions of climate breakdown.
If architecture is climate, then climate breakdown is inherently accompanied by an architecture breakdown as well. The architecture of the modern project has relied on extractive and combustive processes. Exposing these dependencies and reckoning with their impact on climate breakdown is the first step towards reforming the discipline of architecture.
The diagram shows the mountain of global heating, tracing the rise of atmospheric CO2 emissions against a linear time scale. The ubiquitous rising line of greenhouse gas emissions is not an empty abstraction, but is built on extractive practices. It is also a line that needs to come down.
The mountain is cut along the axis of the present day to reveal various layers, the sediments that have collectively produced the inexorable steepening of the mountain. Each of the six sedimentary layers is identified by a verb describing the forces that have accelerated the production of CO2 in relation to the production of the built environment. Our verbs describe the violence of capitalism’s imperative of endless growth and the modes of thought that appropriate nature and labor in an exploitative manner. They indicate the causes rather than the symptoms of climate breakdown and so, in turn, describe the conditions from which modern architecture has arisen and, by implication, the forces that future architectures must face and resist.
Along the top of the diagram are eight sites that identify the contexts in which climate and architecture are entangled (Economy, Policy, Resources, Land, Infrastructure, Knowledge, Culture, Labor). They are understood thematically as sites where climate and architecture are produced and thus are sites of potential intervention.
The pockets of white space are seen as rifts that break through the multiple sediments of exploitation, pollution, and crisis. While we cannot erase the bedrock, or foundations, upon which our present is built, we can tap caches of pressure, resistance, and solidarity that lie within it. In this way, we can to help construct architectures and climates that are fit for the future."
MOULD is a research collective of Sarah Bovelett, Anthony Powis, Christina Serifi, Tatjana Schneider, Jeremy Till, and Becca Voelcker.
The diagram Architecture is Climate was commissioned by e-flux and the Jencks Foundation as part of their Chronograms project.
This article first appeared in the September 2023 issue of ARCHITECT.