From Bauhaus to Ecohouse: A History of Ecological Design

Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2010.

Interview in Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin (German).

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Abstract

Global warming and concerns about sustainability recently have pushed ecological design to the forefront of architectural study and debate. As Peder Anker explains in From Bauhaus to Ecohouse, despite claims of novelty, debates about environmentally sensitive architecture has been ongoing for nearly a century. By exploring key moments of inspiration between designers and ecologists from the Bauhaus projects of the interwar period to the eco-arks of the 1980s, Anker traces the historical intersection of architecture and ecological science and assesses how both remain intertwined philosophically and pragmatically within the still-evolving field of ecological design.

The idea that science could improve human life attracted architects and designers who looked to the science of ecology to better their methodologies. Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus school, thought that designed form should follow the laws of nature in order to function effectively. With the Bauhaus movement, ecology and design merged and laid the foundation of modernist architecture.

Anker discusses in detail how the former faculty members of the Bauhaus school-including Laszlo Maholy-Nagy and Herbert Bayer-left Nazi Germany in the mid 1930s and engaged with ecologists during their “London period” and in the U.S. A subsequent generation of students and admirers of Bauhaus, such as Richard Buckminster Fuller and Ian McHarg, picked up their program, and-under the general banner of merging art and science in the design process-Bauhaus-minded architects began to think ecologically while some ecologists lent their ideas to design.

Anker charts complicated currents of ecological design thought spanning pre- and post-World War II and through the cold war, including pivotal changes such as the emergence of space exploration and new theories on closed-system living in space capsules, space stations, and planetary colonies. Space ecology, Anker explains, inspired leading landscape designers of the 1970s, who used the imagined life of astronauts as a model for how humans should live in harmony with nature. Theories of how to design for extraterrestrial living impacted design and ecological thinking for earth-based living as well, as evidenced in the Disney’s Spaceship Earth attraction as well as in the Biosphere 2 experiments in Arizona in the early 1990s.

Illuminating important connections between theories about the relationship between humans and the built environment, Anker’s provocative study provides new insight into a critical period in the evolution of environmental awareness.

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