Architecture's Other Environments
7 x 9 inches (17.8 x 22.9 cm), Paperback , 224 pages
80 color illustrations ; 65 b/w illustrations
While many books have developed the correlation between nature and architecture, few have examined the more specific link that buildings have with ‘Subnature’ defined by the author as « the denigrated forms of nature…ones that envisioned as threatening ». He classified these forms as primitive (mud and dankness), filthy (smoke, dust, and exhaust), fearsome (glass and debris), and uncontrollable (weeds, insects, and pigeons).
David Gissen subdivided his book in separate sections dedicated sections. In a clear, well-structured analysis, he examines how Subnature forms an integral part of our life. It is a problem for the clean modern building that cannot age gracefully when these aspects of nature are ignored. The book also looks at a group of Architects and researchers, who try to identify these elements and integrate solutions that adapt to their long-term impact, even embrace them as form givers.
We are conditioned over time to regard environmental forces such as dust, mud, gas, smoke, debris, weeds, and insects as inimical to architecture. Much of today's discussion about sustainable and green design revolves around efforts to clean or filter out these primitive elements. While mostly the direct result of human habitation, these "subnatural forces" are nothing new. In fact, our ability to manage these forces has long defined the limits of civilized life. From its origins, architecture has been engaged in both fighting and embracing these so-called destructive forces. In Subnature, David Gissen, author of our critically acclaimed Big and Green, examines experimental work by today's leading designers, scholars, philosophers, and biologists that rejects the idea that humans can somehow recreate a purely natural world, free of the untidy elements that actually constitute nature. Each chapter provides an examination of a particular form of subnature and its actualization in contemporary design practice.
The exhilarating and at times unsettling work featured in Subnature suggests an alternative view of natural processes and ecosystems and their relationships to human society and architecture. R&Sie(n)'s Mosquito Bottleneck house in Trinidad uses a skin that actually attracts mosquitoes and moves them through the building, while keeping them separate from the occupants. In his building designs the architect Philippe Rahm draws the dank air from the earth and the gasses and moisture from our breath to define new forms of spatial experience. In his Underground House, Mollier House, and Omnisport Hall, Rahm forces us to consider the odour of soil and the emissions from our body as the natural context of a future architecture. [Cero 9]'s design for the Magic Mountain captures excess heat emitted from a power generator in Ames, Iowa, to fuel a rose garden that embellishes the industrial site and creates a natural mountain rising above the city's skyline. Subnature looks beyond LEED ratings, green roofs, and solar panels toward a progressive architecture based on a radical new conception of nature.
David Gissen is the former curator of architecture at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. He is an assistant professor of architecture at the California College of the Arts and the author of Big and Green: Toward Sustainable Architecture in the 21st Century.