Landscapes of the Scientific Imaginary
As we enter into a period of critical reflection and activism on behalf of design, I would like to bring attention to the technoscientific histories and directions of scientific and engineering inquiry that both produce and continue to problematize the built environment. In part, this reading list is a response to Ananya Roy’s recent article, “The Infrastructure of Assent: Professions in the Age of Trumpism,” in which she reminds those engaged in the critical discourse of design that “the design and planning professions along with the field of international development have a long record of complicity with colonialism and imperialism.”
Developments in computation have permitted extraordinary methods of mapping, monitoring, control, and management, contributing to an era of (not unrelated) heightened surveillance and profound environmental degradation, as Robert P. Marzec articulates in Militarizing the Environment: Climate Change and the Security State. As design disciplines struggle to address the issues of the Anthropocene – issues that often prompt the application of methods and technologies outside of the traditional purview of design – the tendency to propose technical solutions should be situated within a longer history of technoscientific environmental transformation. Taking a science and technologies studies perspective on the history and epistemic formation of scientific modeling and experimentation for the purposes of large-scale landscape research and manipulation may help to identify productive moments of collaboration and resistance.
[Image: Phytoplankton bloom in the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska, courtesy NASA/Norman Kuring]
The Enlightenment is Dead, Long Live the Entanglement
Journal of Design and Science
Danny Hillis introduces the “The Age of Entanglement,” in which acts of knowing and creating are deeply intertwined in the blurring of what could once be defined as artificial or natural.
Masters of the Universe
306090: A Journal of Emergent Architecture and Design
In this interview, D. Graham Burnett and Jonathan D. Solomon discuss the role of scientific modeling in producing knowledge and shaping the world.
From Scaling to Simulation: Changing Meanings and Ambitions of Models in Geology
Science Without Laws: Model Systems, Cases, Exemplary Narratives
Duke University Press
Naomi Oreskes tracks the evolution from explanatory modeling to simulation through a careful study of scientific models in the earth sciences starting with the early 18th century physical analogues used in geology and concluding with climate change simulations. The key insight of her historical analysis was to state that the development and application of simulation for prediction is far from the primary task of knowledge production: rather, it is driven by a number of political forces and motivations to alter the landscape.
Levees That Might Have Been
Richard L. Hindle has been scouring the US Patent Archives to uncover alternative histories of innovation in landscape infrastructure – revealing unknown design histories and futures that might have been.
The Scale of Nature: Modeling the Mississippi River
Kristi Dykema Cheramie’s narrative description of the Mississippi River Basin Model exposes the social, political, and environmental histories and drivers of the largest engineering effort in the United States.
Deconstructing the Imperialist's Approach to Geomorphology
Kristi Dykema Cheramie's Reading List complements the article above with an expanded list of sources.
Sensing an Experimental Forest: Processing Environments and Distributing Relations
Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet
University of Minnesota Press
Jennifer Gabrys describes the continual concretization of techno-social relations between the ecologies of environmental sensors and the environments they monitor as “becoming environmental” in a “project of instrumenting or programming earth.”
Logic of the Managerial Surface
Praxis: Journal of Writing + Building
John May attends to the self-referential “managerial surface” in design as a product of “modern managerial-scientific representation” produced by satellite surveillance, the monitored landscape, and the representational methods that accompany this obsessive instrumentation.
Paul N. Edwards introduces the necessity of establishing a “control earth” within the science of climate modeling, ultimately positioning the role of simulation (past, present, and future) in decision making.
A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming
Paul N. Edwards describes in detail the historicity, politics, and performance of the global knowledge infrastructure required for current climate change science.
Unsimple Truths : Science, Complexity, and Policy
University of Chicago Press
Sandra D. Mitchell describes the polemic of scientific modeling and the pursuit of indefinite knowledge surrounding complex environmental issues. Mitchell argues that instead of searching for the perfect all-encompassing model or representation, the kind of science we need for complex biological problems requires a plurality of models and the use of scenarios to inform policy and make decisions.