The Climate Change and Architectural History Affiliate Group was established by the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) in 2019 to promote research activities that explore the impact of the climate crisis on the methods and narratives used to write architectural history, as well as the role architecture has played in shaping the current crisis.
Architecture, as a professional practice, a cultural discourse, and an academic discipline, is deeply enmeshed in the production of carbon emissions and the mitigation of relevant effects. The persistence of technological positivism in the profession’s treatment of architecture’s entanglement opens a productive role for historians and critics. At the same time, both the concepts and technologies relevant to climate change have begun to inform frameworks for knowledge production in a range of adjacent fields, from anthropology to media studies. This affiliate group will aim to develop a strong and diverse cohort of junior and senior scholars within SAH, and also to reach out and participate in these emergent, vibrant, and vital discussions.
The climate crisis is intertwined with a broad range of social, political and cultural challenges relevant to the study of architectural history. The history of architecture has been an environmental history from its start, using resources and inhabiting locations that alter the environment around them. From depletion of the Cedars of Lebanon to cultures of development and preservation, resource use and attitudes to change through time are legible in architecture and architect’s strategies – a situation that has only become more stark as resource use has intensified since World War II. Since this time, historians of architecture have begun to tell the story of those changes and to consider forms of architecture that are on the margins of many narratives of technological progress.
In addition to the consideration of the buildings as climate-mediating systems (that is, histories of climatic architecture), this affiliate group will also focus on climate justice – the ways in which inequities and instabilities produced by climate change are distributed, often with the heaviest impacts on the most vulnerable. In other words, studying climate in architecture allows for novel scholarly and public engagement with political and economic structures, enriching knowledge across scales. The affiliate group aims to serve as a forum for considering how architectural history can take into account this wide span of relevant issues, and for how scholarly methods can become increasingly attuned to this and other challenges in the social realm.