ARCSOC is the
University of Cambridge
Architecture Society

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Year 1


Rod Heyes & Prisca Thielmann 

Megan Morrison (Structure)
Lucy Shuker (Hydrology)
Natalie Simmons (Horticulture)
Céline Strolz

Special Thanks
Marie-Kristin Lutz
Angelika Pesavento
Marco Rickenbacher
Zeno Vogel

Delight in Degrowth

In his book, The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh argues that the climate crisis is a ‘crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination’. Culture generates desire for resource-hungry experiences and things while simultaneously disguising the ‘catastrophic but close at hand’. In architectural practice, the climate crisis is rarely framed in cultural terms. Too often, it is understood using the rhetoric of problem/solution and mechanisms of ‘tweaking’. This fails to challenge the fundamental assumptions which underpin an extreme concentration of resources. It is a measure of how much the role of architects has altered, that a discipline which was once directed at change has, at least in the minds of many practitioners, become an instrument of growth.

In contrast, projects of degrowth revolve around food and water, with a pre-modern focus on the basics of life. Reducing our carbon footprint is often understood in terms of ‘sacrifices’ – giving up the freedom of flying or driving, the comfort of central heating or air-conditioning, the pleasure of air-freighted mangoes or force-fed geese. Of course, these notions of freedom, comfort and pleasure are culturally constructed, and their true costs are obscured, exported or ignored. It is unusual to hear about the potential of the slow tempo, highly flexible, more just, low-carbon good life.

In the twentieth century, architects pioneered alternative ways of being in the world with mixed success both on paper and in practice. Such cultural work is now urgently required. We live on a damaged planet and somehow architects must get a grip on complex and fractured situations – relics from an age of fossil fuels – and suggest different ways of being.

This year Studio 2 worked in Bedford on the site of the old gas works in the valley of the Great Ouse. The students designed places for physical rehabilitation integrated in a post-industrial landscape. The fundamental interests of the studio were time, energy, remediation, contingency and the vernacular. We explored processes of recovery – for individuals, for landscapes, for whole ecosystems – and asked how architects can support and frame these processes. Most importantly, we imagined ways of living differently, with no regrets, no nostalgia and no sacrifice, searching hard for the delights of degrowth.