Calendar of Events

Fri 05.16.2014

Urban Nature: Between Human and Non-Human

AIA CES: 5.5 LU; ASLA CES: 5.5 PDH | 5.5 HSW

When: 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM FRIDAY, MAY 16

Where: At The Center   

Today, the built environment and the urban are often perceived to be synonymous. Societies the world over – so we are taught in surveys and exhibitions – are constantly attracted to the metropolis. In the near future, we hear, almost all humans on the planet will live in cities. The grand narrative of the urban has replaced the grand narrative of progress, which dominated the 20th century. At the same time, this new grand narrative becomes questionable as “nature” enters into the focus of our attention by way of global climate change, frequent natural disasters, and ever more popular destinations for domesticated natural beauty, retreat, and recreation. What is meant by the “urban” and “nature” however, remains largely up for debate. How can we resist this dualistic and teleological way of thinking? Can the concept of “urban nature” help us focus more clearly on the interrelation between the human and the non-human? Can it help explain pervasive fascinations with the zones of transition, the wastelands between the urban and the natural? Can it serve as a platform of exchange between different fields of knowledge such as architecture, urban planning, biology, history, and anthropology?

For most inhabitants of Zurich, New York is the very emblem of the urban. New Yorkers, on the other hand, might identify Zurich with the pastoral and thus with “nature.” In reality, New York is at the forefront of an urban “green revolution,” and the emergence of public spaces like the High Line are emblematic of this transformation. Conversely, Zurich is witnessing the most rapid building boom in its history — and turning grey. New York is regularly hit by natural disasters, while nature in the environments of Zurich is completely domesticated. What can we learn from these dynamics? How do the urban and nature, or more generally, the human and the non-human, relate to each other? Which are the implications of this interaction for design, for historical research? Explore some answers in this interdisciplinary discussion, challenging our notions of "urban" and "nature."


9:00 am
Philip Ursprung and Mark Wigley: Opening remarks: The Concept of “Urban Nature”

9:30 am
D. Graham Burnett: Leviathan and the Young Republic
Laura Kurga, Respondent

10:00 am 
Emily E. Scott: Exploding the Garden-as-Usual: Manhattan, c. 1969
Kate Orff, Respondent

10:30 am
David Benjamin
Christophe Girot, Respondent

11:00 am
Günther Vogt: Nature of the City
Jannette Kim
, Respondent

11:30 am
Response to the morning session by Elisabeth Bronfen and general discussion

12:00 pm
Lunch break

1:00 pm
Laura Kurgan: Urban Datafication: Data Naturalization
D. Graham Burnett, Respondent

1:30 pm
Christophe Girot: Next Natures and Other Topologies
David Benjamin
, Respondent

2:00 pm
Janette Kim: What Happens When You Sit Still for Too Long
Günther Vogt, Respondent

2:30 pm
Kate Orff: Rebuilding Eco-Infrastructures
Emily E. Scott, Respondent

3:00 pm
Coffee break

3:15 pm
Discussion moderated by Philip Ursprung and Mark Wigley

4:00 pm
End of conference

Zürich Meets New York: A Festival of Swiss Ingenuity
, May 16-23, 2014, highlights the contemporary relevance of visionary movements and ideas born in Zurich and their impact on American culture. Building on the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Dada movement and Zurich’s role as a 21st-century hub for artistic and scientific innovation, the festival features 25 events at venues across the city, and is presented by the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York, the City of Zurich, ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich (UZH).

This symposium is a program related to The Swiss Touch in Landscape Architecture exhibition on view at the Center for Architecture in the spring of 2014.

Price: Free

Presented by ETH Zurich, in partnership with the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), Columbia University, and AIA New York Chapter | Center for Architecture.


David Benjamin, Columbia University GSAPP
David Benjamin is Director of the Living Architecture Lab at Columbia GSAPP and Founding Principal of The Living. His research and design projects explore the intersection of technology and architecture, with an emphasis on advanced computation, biological systems, physical sensors, public space, and the environment. The Living is dedicated to creating architecture that is both interactive and responsive to environmental conditions. His innovations include Living Light, a permanent, illuminated pavilion in Seoul that visually reports changes in air quality, and Amphibious Architecture, a floating installation in New York’s East River that enabled participants to communicate with fish and learn about water pollution. Along with his partner Soo-In Yang, he has recently released the book series Life Size, which explores the possibilities of creating open source design processes. He holds a B.A. in Social Studies from Harvard and a Master of Architecture degree from Columbia.

Elisabeth Bronfen, University of Zurich
Elisabeth Bronfen is Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Zurich and Global Distinguished Professor at New York University. She received her PhD at the University of Munich. Her book publications include Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic (Manchester University Press, 1992) The Knotted Subject. Hysteria and its Discontents (Princeton University Press, 1998), Dorothy Richardson’s Art of Memory. Space, Identity, Text (Manchester University Press, 1999), Home in Hollywood. The Imaginary Geography of Cinema (Columbia University Press, 2004), Specters of War: Hollywood's Engagement with Military Conflict (Rutgers University Press, 2012), Night Passages: Philosophy, Literature, and Film (Columbia University Press, 2013).

D. Graham Burnett, Princeton University
D. Graham Burnett is professor of history and history of science at Princeton University, where he teaches in the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities and directs graduate studies in the Program in History of Science. He is an editor of Cabinet magazine, based in Brooklyn. He is the author of A Trial by Jury (Knopf, 2001), Masters of All They Surveyed: Exploration, Geography, and a British El Dorado (University of Chicago Press, 2000), Trying Leviathan (Princeton University Press, 2007) and The Sounding of the Whale: Science and Cetaceans in the Twentieth Century (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

Christophe Girot, ETH Zürich
Christophe Girot is Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Department of Architecture of ETH Zürich. His research addresses new topological methods in landscape design, new media in landscape analysis and perception, recent history and theory of landscape design. He holds a double Masters in Architecture and in Landscape Architecture at University of California at Berkeley and has taught at the École Nationale Supérieure du Paysage in Versailles, France, the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, and the Royal School of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. He practices landscape architecture in Zurich. His built projects include Invaliden Park in Berlin, as well as the Alp Transit Sigirino Mound. His work has been published and exhibited in several countries including “Groundswell”, the first exhibition on Landscape Architecture at the MoMA in New York.

Janette Kim, Columbia University GSAPP
Janette Kim is Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where she directs the Applied Research Practices in Architecture, the ARPA Journal, and the Urban Landscape Lab. Her research work at the lab focuses on design and ecology in relationship to public representation, interest, and debate. Recent projects include a master plan for the Fall Kill Creek in Poughkeepsie; „Safari 7“,a public art project that circulates self-guided tours of animal life along public transit routes; and „Underdome“, an ongoing research project on the political ecology of energy. Janette is also principal of All of the Above, a design practiced based in Brooklyn, which recently completed designs for the Pinterest headquarters in San Francisco. She holds a Masters of Architecture from Princeton University and a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University.

Laura Kurgan, Columbia University GSAPP
Laura Kurgan is an Associate Professor of Architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation at Columbia University, where she directs the Visual Studies curriculum, the Spatial Information Design Lab and is Co-Director of the Advanced Data Visualization Project. She is the author of Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics (Zone Books, 2013). Her work explores things ranging from digital mapping technologies to the ethics and politics of mapping, building intelligence, and the art, science and visualization of big and small data. Her work has appeared at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, the Venice Architecture Biennale, the Whitney Altria, MACBa Barcelona, the ZKM in Karlsruhe, and the Museum of Modern Art. She was the winner of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship in 2009.

Kate Orff, Columbia University GSAPP
Kate Orff is founding principal of SCAPE, a landscape architecture and urban design office based in Manhattan. She is also an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where she teaches graduate design studios and interdisciplinary seminars focused on sustainable development, biodiversity, and community-based change. She earned a Master in Landscape Architecture from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. In 1996, she was a member of a research group focused on the urbanization of Pearl River Delta, led by Rem Koolhaas, which became the first case study in the internationally recognized Harvard Project on the City. She is the co-author of Petrochemical America (Aperture Foundation, 2012) and co-editor of Gateway: Visions for an Urban National Park (Princeton, 2011).

Emily Eliza Scott, ETH Zürich
Emily Eliza Scott is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture at ETH Zürich. She is centrally involved in two long-term, collaborative projects: World of Matter (2011-), an international art, media and research platform on natural resource ecologies; and the Los Angeles Urban Rangers (2004-), a group that develops interpretive tools to spark creative explorations of everyday habitats in its home megalopolis and beyond. She is currently completing a co-edited volume, with Kirsten Swenson, on contemporary art and land use politics (University of California Press) and teaching seminars on the concept of “post-nature” and on the emergent spatialities, temporalities, and representational crises triggered by climate change. In 2010, she earned a PhD in (contemporary) art history from UCLA. Before that, she spent nearly a decade as a U.S. National Park Service ranger in Utah and Alaska.

Philip Ursprung, ETH Zürich
Philip Ursprung is Professor of the History of Art and Architecture at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture at ETH Zürich. He received his PhD in Art History at Freie Universität Berlin in 1993. He taught at the Hochschule der Künste Berlin, the GSAPP of Columbia University, the Barcelona Institute of Architecture, the University of Basel and the University of Zürich. At the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montréal he curated Herzog & de Meuron: Archeology of the Mind and edited the catalogue Herzog & de Meuron: Natural History (2002). He is editor of Caruso St John: Almost Everything (Poligrafa, 2008). His most recent books are Die Kunst der Gegenwart: 1960 bis heute (C.H. Beck, 2010) and Allan Kaprow, Robert Smithson, and the Limits to Art (University of California Press, 2013).

Günther Vogt, ETH Zürich
Günther Vogt is Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Department of Architecture of ETH Zürich. He has taught at the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University. He is principal of VOGT Landschaftsarchitekten Zürich, an international office of landscape architecture with branch offices in London and Berlin. Vogt’s realized projects include the landscape architecture of Tate Modern, London, Allianz Arena, Munich, Novartis Campus Park, Basel, Masoala Halle, Zoo Zurich and the Athletes Village, London. He collaborated with Olafur Eliasson for the exhibition The Mediated Motion, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria, 2001. The most recent publication are Distance and Engagement, Vogt Landscape Architects (Lars Müller Publishers, 2010), and Miniature and Panorama: Vogt Landscape Architects, Projects 2000-2012 (Lars Müller Publishers, 2012).

Mark Wigley, Columbia University GSAPP
Mark Wigley is the Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University. He has written extensively on the theory and practice of architecture and is the author of Constant’s New Babylon: The Hyper-Architecture of Desire (01 Publishers, 1998); White Walls, Designer Dresses: The Fashioning of Modern Architecture (MIT Press, 1995); and The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt (MIT Press, 1993). Wigley has served as curator for exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Drawing Center, New York; Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal; and Witte de With Museum, Rotterdam. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Photo: Christian Vogt

This program is related to the AIANY Chapter’s 2014 presidential theme "Civic Spirit: Civic Vision."

This program is presented as a part of NYCxDESIGN 2014.

Watch the video of the morning session here.

Watch the video of the afternoon session here.


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