The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure

Responding to contemporary ecological pressures and current high demand for infrastructure development worldwide, this course brought together a series of thinkers and researchers from the design commons across Eurasia to discuss different methods, models and measures of large scale, long range infrastructure projects for the 21st century. This course challenged the commonplace assertion that the work of infrastructure remains invisible until it fails. Instead, It opened a horizon on infrastructure’s cultural valence that remains primarily symbolic — of technological development, of political patronage, of resistance to sovereign power. In addition to the weekly guest lectures and occasional screening of films, students worked in pairs to develop a videographic essay. Focusing on the multilateral transnational infrastructure development projects at China’s borderlands that are playing a significant role in current Chinese initiatives to create transnational China-centric development corridors, these videographic essays explored the following questions: How are environments and infrastructures built? Who builds them? What materials are required? What influences and forces act upon them? How are they changing? Through digital means, students explored and interpreted historic spatial processes and contemporary ecologic patterns to open a new lens on urbanization, where representation is, in and of itself, a form of research.

Landscape As Development

“Landscape as Development” was a technology-theory seminar that surveyed the epistemological and practical gap between ecological planning (as construed by landscape architecture) and biological conservation. This course was designed to facilitate critical reflection on the selection and appropriation of secondary scientific research for environmental planning practice and policy. The course’s reading list was a mix of: a) foundational texts in landscape architecture, landscape planning, and landscape ecology; b) novel papers in spatial ecology; and c) case-based literature from science and technology studies (STS), land change science, and political ecology. We focused equally on theory, bridging between the design disciplines and the axioms, problem framing, and project types of the above conservation-related fields, and building students’ technical geospatial skill sets for working within complex and contested natures. Students’ term projects for the course introduced them to how landscape ecologists and landscape scientists are engaging a major ongoing international development plan, this year focused on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) running from Ruili in Yunnan to Rakhine State in Myanmar via Mandalay. In-class workshops helped students develop an understanding of this corridor as an assemblage of pre-BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) development projects and critically assess plans for its improvement and conservation.

Design Analytics: Nature, regions, and the erosion of conservation in Hong Kong

At the end of 2016, Hong Kong detailed its commitments to the Convention on Biological Diversity through its Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. Given Hong Kong’s unremitting development pressures, both pro-development and pro-conservation groups are now calling for ways to evaluate sites for development based on environmental metrics and new conservation agreements. However, for the built-environment disciplines in Hong Kong, sustainability discourse is predominantly aligned with economic and urban sustainability, rather than the new forms of conservation that contend to use environmental modelling to justify the conversion of conservation uses. For Hong Kong’s urban and landscape resilience, we must ensure the critical and innovative deployment of conservation instruments and tools, including the analytical measure of biodiversity, vulnerability, and ecosystem services, alongside the territory’s increasing politics of sustainability and eco-development. This advanced computation-theory seminar explores the paradoxes of environmental valuation through a combination of computational design and environmental planning. Similar to past “Design Analytics” seminars, we place equal focus on theory in development geography and technological innovation. For term projects, students constructed scenarios at a selection of landscapes across Hong Kong that were converted from conservation uses within the past five years, architecturally documenting their degradation, natural capital, species richness, maintenance, enforcement, and participatory spaces.