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After Habitat, Environment

New text by Hadas Steiner explores ecological influences on architecture in the postwar period

Hadas Steiner is at work on a manuscript that will provide an historical analysis of the evolving use of ecological terms in architectural discourse. Photo by Nancy Parisi, © University at Buffalo

Published May 18, 2015

Hadas Steiner, associate professor of architecture, argues in a recently published article that the postwar movement away from Modernist functionalism to systemic and adaptive formulations of the built environment has its roots in ecological models of biology.

“After Habitat, Environment” is an abstract of Steiner’s in-progress manuscript on the evolving use of ecological terms in architectural discourse from the 1940s through the 1970s. It was published in New Geographies 06: Grounding Metabolism, by Harvard University Press.

Her historical analysis begins in 1949 with Le Corbusier’s introduction of the “Chartre de l’Habitat” to the Congres International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM). The document, reflecting postwar disillusionment, argued that the functionalist approach to architecture was no longer sufficient. It also initiated a series of tumultuous debates that eventually led to the 1959 disbandment of CIAM, the very organization formed to promulgate the tenets of the Modernist movement. But these broader notions of habitat had already emerged in ecological circles, where there was new focus on the complex interactions among organisms, multi-layered ecologies and human environments.

Steiner, an architectural historian and expert on the postwar period, continues her exploration through the 1950s, as architectural theorists began to view urban form as an outcome of human adaptation to local context. By the 1960s, architecture came under the influence of information science and cybernetics and the notion of “data” as the basis of biology and culture. Architects became mediators of natural, social and technological systems and the built environment an open-ended system that adapts to the interactions of all participants, human and otherwise.

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