It is often imagined that we should return to nature in order to avert ecological catastrophe, restoring the balance between man and environment upset by industrial and fossil capitalism. But which man? Which environment? What nature? Such questions may seem beside the point given the urgencies of our current conditions of crisis, yet they go to the heart of its origins and causes.
This talk critically engages with the concepts of ‘man’, ‘nature’ and ‘environment’ usually taken as given in ecological and environmental design, especially in relation to the racial, colonial and political economic suppositions embedded within these. Addressing in particular the current convergence of neoliberalism and environmentalism in design, I argue that each is premised on sustaining the figure of homo economicus: an entrepreneurial, opportunist, go-getting, and ultimately unsustainable version of humanity.
Douglas Spencer is Director of Graduate Education and Pickard Chilton Professor in Iowa State University’s Department of Architecture. He has previously taught at the Architectural Association, the Royal College of Art and the University of Westminster. He has delivered keynote and guest lectures internationally, and contributed essays for publications including Log, The Journal of Architecture, Radical Philosophy, Architectural Design, e-flux, The Avery Review, AA Files, New Geographies, and Volume. He has also contributed chapters for collections such as Architectural Affects after Deleuze and Guattari (Routledge, 2020), Architecture and Feminisms (Routledge, 2017), Landscape and Agency (Routledge, 2017), This Thing Called Theory (Routledge, 2016) and Architecture Against the Post-Political (Routledge, 2014). His The Architecture of Neoliberalism (Bloomsbury 2016) has become a critically acclaimed, widely-cited, and standard point of reference in the analysis of contemporary architecture. His subsequent book, Critique of Architecture: Essays on Theory, Autonomy, and Political Economy, was published by Birkhäuser/Bauwelt Fundamente in 2021.