Ecoliteracy for architects? It is essential

This place- and culture-sensitive process of redesigning the human presence and impact on Earth bioregion by bioregion will be much more than simply ‘ecosystems restoration’. It will be a pathway towards regenerating our communities, our societies, our regional economies — a path walked through glocal [global-local] awareness and action, coming together in global collaboration to heal the Earth and her people one place at a time.

Daniel Christian Wahl 2019 ‘Making the most of the ‘UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration’:
bioregional regenerative development as a deep adaptation pathway’

Understanding ideas and practices for sustainable futures, translating them so they are relevant to our places and communities is a key and urgent concern for architect students, since they are increasingly designing for both people, places and planet.

Ecoliteracy is therefore vital for architecture students to gain an overview of what has caused the intersecting and accelerating environmental and social crises the world is now facing. Ecoliteracy empowers us to consider the historic philosophical, ethical, aesthetic, and political shortcomings of modern culture that has consistently ignored environmental wellbeing. Understanding how our culture, our way of life, has become so inherently unsustainable and unjust, is vital – so we can employ our creativity collectively toward ushering in a more life-sustaining, just and beautiful world.

Twice in recent months, I’ve been asked to share ecoliteracy understanding with university architect students and their lecturers.

I’ve shared ideas with 43 students from the Dublin University of Technology (DUT) who came with their lecturers, Emma Geoghegan and others, to visit my ongoing eco-social art practice, The Hollywood Forest Story– the transformation of a conifer monoculture plantation into a forest at my home in rural South County Carlow (see image above).

Focussing on imagining a zero carbon future for Carlow County, these DUT students are researching infrastructure, landscape, agriculture, settlement and forestry practices as part of their initial analysis. I shared my knowledge of collaborative art and ecology practices and my deep knowledge of new-to-Ireland continuous cover forestry.

Giving a talk in Hollywood forest can bring to life the challenges and potentials of this type of ecological forestry – but, there are no quick-fix solutions! Transforming forests, like restoring any landscape will take an enormous shift in educational priorities and national policy, and it takes years for ecosystems to recover. (Hollywood forest will require many decades to transform to a more biodiverse forest and there ominous threats to forests from climate change already – milder, wetter weather is fostering tree disease and pests that have already decimated some trees in Hollywood and other forests across Ireland).

I was also asked by Carlow-based architect lecturer, Helena Fitzgerald (no relation) to give a workshop to the History and Theory of Architecture: Landscape module for third year students (@UCC_ArchSoc) in Cork city. Helena asked me to give an account of the Anthropocene – the unsustainable, ecocidal culture we have inherited and I showed a new slide-show film video about my ongoing Hollywood forest project to illustrate how my work was seeking an alternative to industrial, unsustainable forestry. Helena especially requested I give some attention to new terms, like the Symbiocene – the new term coined by eco-philosopher Glenn Albrecht. This term describes the ecological era that prioritises thriving ecosystems as the basis for all life – this is where we must focus all our creative efforts. I was able to bring the idea of the Symbiocene alive, with the recent new short poetic-art-performance film Solastalgia (2019), an artistic interpretation, I have previously mentioned on this site.

In summary, it’s a difficult future for students everywhere, when scientists and media headlines are increasingly revealing catastrophic scenarios amidst widespread political delay and inaction. On both occasions, I reminded students that they shouldn’t work alone on such a difficult, sometimes overwhelming topic. I was heartened to be reminded by Helena, that architect students are taught to work collaboratively – this skill will be so vital in the coming decades when will all have to come together to rethink, reimagine and redesign regenerative living, for all our futures.

#FridayArt4Emergency: ‘Solastalgia’ – the film

I have been thinking for some time, in my development of an online course for essential ecoliteracy, that I should begin sharing creative works.

Many people have asked me how to develop creative work for the ecological emergency that is not too preachy. This sometimes seems a hard thing to achieve with a complex topic in which many creative workers and their audiences are little informed of the environmental collapse that modern civilization promotes. In these urgent times, we need all types of creative approaches to envision and inspire a new ecological way of living, that safeguards lives now and for the future.

I also wanted to chime with Greta Thunberg’s extraordinary efforts, and many other young people across the world who are raising awareness that we must all understand the environmental science that confirms our way of living is causing accelerating ecological collapse and mounting social injustice in many countries. With Greta and the children schoolstriking every Friday, I will likewise post an art practice every Friday that I feel touches audiences and inspires creative workers too.

Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 10.51.32.png

For my 1st post of #FridayArt4Emergency, I’m starting with a new short film work that incorporates dance, spoken poetry, and audio-visual recordings of the other-than human world. The film work is titled Solastalgia (2019, Pascal Tremblay and Sean Stiller, British Columbia). The film embodies responses to a new term for the grief many of us now feel for our environment ‘solastalgia’, particularly highlighted these last few weeks with the devasting increasing deforestation and fires set off across the Amazon region.

Although the film doesn’t mention it, the film also ably depicts, through dance, image and words, a powerful, underlying ‘soliphilia’, our graditude and love for the Earth.

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These new terms, solastalgia, soliphilia, and more, are from Australian farmer-philosopher Glenn Albrecht. In his recent book Earth Emotions: New Words For a New World (2019) (which I previously have written about here), he details how such terms, and shared in creative works have much power to inspire a new, sustainable way of being with the Earth. He believes that creative workers will be at the forefront to share ideas of a new age, the Symbiocene, where we live life so all beings thrive.

Solastalgia the film below conveys the context of the crisis many creative people are now approaching in a emotive, engaging way. Works like this can move us in ways science can’t – we need both understanding and engaging ways to change societal behaviour to the better world we know is possible.

Congratulations to the communication agency, Good Kind Films – their ethos speaks to a new ecological age, the skilled filmmaker, dancer and world renowned eco-poet and educator Craig Santos Perez from Guam.

Lets share this film, this meme for the Symbiocene, far and wide.

The background story to this film is here

PS I have found other filmworks on Solastalgia made in recent months since writing the above. It’s so fantastic to see more creative expressions, more ecoliteracy fluency and confidence developing in the arts, for these urgent times.

Do feel welcome to share works that inspire you too!