THEORY seminars
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Selected Topics in Landscape Architecture Ecology and Technology
OVERBURDEN - The Political Economy of Resource Extraction

w/ Scott Sørli
MLA Graduate Seminar, Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design
University of Toronto
Winter Term 2013
Friday 2-4:30pm, PCL

Fill your pockets up with earth,
get yourself a dollars worth
- Tom Waits

Untitled (Slag), by Lisa Hirmer (2011).


The research seminar addresses multiple topics in contemporary landscape architecture ecology and technology, with specific reference to the political economy, public aesthetics, and environmental consequences of large scale resource extraction projects. The course contends that we can no longer see ourselves outside of nature or ecology; instead, we are fully imbricated – each individual and the species as a whole – within the eco-technical milieu of our current epoch, the anthropocene. The course will examine some of the key ‘hypercomplexities’ and ‘superhybrids’ emerging within the eco-technical matrix, especially those in a close proximity to major sites of extraction. The course title – OVERBURDEN – refers to the area of the surface of the earth that separates the desired but buried resources from those seeking to extract them. The course suggests that the devastation caused by the human hubris that removes the “overburden” to accelerate the profits of extraction now requires what the physicist and historian of science Isabelle Stengers calls a cosmopolitics of design. The course argues that Landscape Architecture is the key discipline for creative experimentation to initiate a cosmo-political design agenda through tendentious analysis and forensic investigation.

Syllabus is available here.
To discuss projects or possible collaborations in teaching, learning, or other research,
please content me via email.

Photograph of TSX courtesy of Alex Berceanu.
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Architecture After Deleuze: Formalism to Forensics
Arch 509 Experimental Seminar
Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning
Fall Term 2012, Wednesday 1-4pm

Problems get the solutions they deserve according to the ways in which they are constructed as problems.
— G.D.


This experimental seminar examines the contribution of Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy to architecture discourse and practice, considering figures such as Peter Eisenman, Greg Lynn, Manual DeLanda, Brian Massumi, John Rajchman, Elizabeth Grosz, Paulo Tavares, and Eyal Weizman, among many others. The seminar is organized around four themes - promiscuous methods, tactical operations, locative territories, and transformative strategies – that track the various ways Deleuzian concepts have been appropriated by the discipline and the profession of architecture. Students will produce discursive and non-discursive artifacts that engage Deleuzian concepts as a means to unfold individual commitments and convictions. Overall, the course is designed to provide constructive support for students who desire to locate their practice within a contemporary theoretical framework.

Syllabus is available here.
To discuss projects or possible collaborations in teaching, learning, or other research,
please content me via email.

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The Construction of Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project
Arch 603 History & Theory Seminar
Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning
Winter Term 2012, Tuesday 1-4pm

The construction of life is at present in the power of far more facts than of convictions,
and of such facts as have scarcely ever become the basis of convictions.
— W.B.


To track the historical lineage of our contemporary wish images, the seminar returns to the material culture of the 19th century, especially its novel architectural and technical manifestations, in order to analyse and evaluate the representational carrying capacity of these material wish images and their indexical civilizational values. To instigate an intensive investigation of these themes, the seminar will examine the construction of Walter’s Benjamin’s Das Passagen-Werk, which was first assembled in the fifth volume of his Gesammelte Schriften, and which is comprised of research on Paris that Benjamin conducted for over thirteen years. For Benjamin, the Paris Arcades are the most consequential architectural expression of the 19th century, not least for their connection to the various cultural phenomena that form the promise of progress in modernity. The seminar will track Benjamin’s materialist history of the Arcades and their attendant cultural forms, bringing his analytic into relief through a careful reading of the city of Paris and its artifacts, characters, processes, and events.

The goals of the seminar include: locating the intellectual contribution of Benjamin to architecture and urban planning history; examining, in detail, the construction and composition of his project; exploring the influence of this project on his contemporaries, as well as subsequent architecture histories and theories; tracing the intellectual trajectory of materialist history as it is manifest in his project; and, finally, developing contemporary adaptations, amplifications, and potential theoretical compliments to the project. Our key objective for the course is to read Benjamin as a contemporary thinker, whose project suggests the possibility for articulating positions of conviction in relation to current ‘constructions of life’ and their attendant architectural, cultural, and technological articulations. Students are expected to approach the course with the goal of developing a broad understanding of relations among theoretical commentary, technological mediation, cultural criticism and architecture history and theory.

The syllabus is available here.
To discuss projects or possible collaborations in teaching, learning, or other research,
please content me via email.

Excerpt from Benjamin's One-Way Street

To the Planetarium

If one had to expound the doctrine of antiquity with utmost brevity while standing on one leg, as did Hillel that of the Jews, it could only be in this sentence: "They alone shall possess the earth who live from the powers of the cosmos." Nothing distinguishes the ancient from the modern man so much as the former's absorption in a cosmic experience scarcely known to later periods. Its waning is marked by the flowering of astronomy at the beginning of the modern age. Kepler, Copernicus, and Tycho Brahe were certainly not driven by scientific impulses alone. All the same, the exclusive emphasis on an optical connection to the universe, to which astronomy very quickly led, contained a portent of what was to come. The ancients' intercourse with the cosmos had been different: the ecstatic trance. For it is in this experience alone that we gain certain knowledge of what is nearest to us and what is remotest to us, and never of one without the other. This means, however, that man can be in ecstatic contact with the cosmos only communally.

It is the dangerous error of modern men to regard this experience as unimportant and avoidable, and to consign it to the individual as the poetic rapture of starry nights. It is not; its hour strikes again and again, and then neither nations nor generations can escape it, as was made terribly clear by the last war, which was an attempt at new and unprecedented commingling with the cosmic powers. Human multitudes, gases, electrical forces were hurled into the open country, high-frequency currents coursed through the landscape, new constellations rose in the sky, aerial space and ocean depths thundered with propellers, and everywhere sacrificial shafts were dug in Mother Earth.

This immense wooing of the cosmos was enacted for the first time on a planetary scale, that is, in the spirit of technology. But because the lust for profit of the ruling class sought satisfaction through it, technology betrayed man and turned the bridal bed into a bloodbath. The mastery of nature, so the imperialists teach, is the purpose of all technology. But who would trust a cane wielder who proclaimed the mastery of children by adults to be the purpose of education? Is not education above all the indispensable ordering of the relationship between generations and therefore mastery, if we are to use this term, of that relationship and not of the children? And likewise technology is not the mastery of nature but of the relation between nature and man.

Men as a species completed their development thousands of years ago; but mankind as as species is just beginning his. In technology a physis is being organized through which mankind's contact with the cosmos takes a new and different form from that which it had in nations and families. One need recall only the experience of velocities by virtue of which mankind is now preparing to embark on incalculable journeys into the interior of time, to encounter there rhythms from which the sick shall draw strength as they did earlier on high mountains or at Southern seas. The "Lunaparks" are a prefiguration of sanatoria.

The paroxysm of genuine cosmic experience is not tied to that tiny fragment of nature that we are accustomed to call "Nature." In the nights of annihilation of the last war the frame of mankind was shaken by a feeling that resembled the bliss of the epileptic. And the revolts that followed it were the first attempt of mankind to bring the new body under its control. The power of the proletariat is the measure of its convalescence. If it is not gripped to the very marrow by the discipline of this power, no pacifist polemics will save it. Living substance conquers the frenzy of destruction only in the ecstasy of procreation.