Critics part 3

Ronald Rael, the author of Earth Architecture, and someone who is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary architects and theorists, wrote some very nice words about Subnature. Among his thoughts, he wrote that “[t]he book is not about fashionable topics surrounding sustainability and ecology. With chapters on smoke, dankness, debris, exhaust, weeds and other counter-architectural conditions, Gissen seeks to expand one’s perception of truly alternative materials in a positively original way.”

I’m appreciating all of the great reviews; but I wonder if the dazzling and weird contemporary projects in the book overwhelm some of the textual arguments (particularly those in the beginning and conclusion) that are key to an understanding of the subnatural.

For example, at a recent lecture someone asked how Subnature intersected with earlier ideas about abjection or modernity. This book is not a return to alterity via the ejected and gross; it’s a concept of nature that’s ultimately less binary, and more subversive and unwieldy: nor is the book simply about ironic inversions of nature. One of the things I appreciate about Subnature is how it appears in various social liberatory movements (from the debris piled into a revolutionary’s street barricades to forms of post-national expression, as in the Niemeyer and de Paor projects linked above); it is afunctional (it cannot be appropriated into buildings instrumentally, except with enormous distress) and it’s also a type of nature laced with social history. Unlike a tree, the subnatural mud (that, for example, a critic such as Rael describes so well), will always appear historically mediated in ways that more normative forms of nature cannot. These ideas of social agitation, anti-instrumentality, and history, make my idea of subnature laced with Marxist and various post-structural concepts; it not an easy way to see nature; but it’s key and makes the reader’s absorption into the ideas of this book rewarding. Consider bringing this book into your thought world.

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