Emerging Ecologies at MoMA: Exploring 60 Years of Architecture in Support of Environmental Issues

MoMA’s upcoming exhibition, “Emerging Ecologies: Architecture and the Rise of Environmentalism,” curated by the Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and the Natural Environment, will showcase the transformative impact of architects in the United States over the past six decades. By highlighting the innovative and forward-thinking projects that emerged during the environmental crisis of the 1960s and 1970s, the exhibition presents an alternative history of architecture that places the natural world at its core. With a collection of over 150 works, the exhibition offers a comprehensive view of how architects have embraced ecological and environmental concerns in their practice. 

Exploring Architectural Responses to Environmental Challenges

“Emerging Ecologies” delves into the architectural responses to the environmental crisis that unfolded in the US during the 1960s and 1970s. As pollution levels rose and resources were depleted, architects began advocating for the preservation of the natural world. The exhibition traces the visionary projects proposed by architects during this period and presents a diverse array of models, photographs, diagrams, sketches, posters, flyers, articles, and other archival materials. 

Honoring Environmental Pioneers

The exhibition celebrates architects who championed environmentally conscious design. Figures such as R. Buckminster Fuller, Beverly Willis, and Emilio Ambasz spearheaded this approach and are recognized for their contributions. 

Looking Towards the Future

“Emerging Ecologies” does not merely dwell in the past; it also engages contemporary thinkers to explore how the exhibited works can inform our responses to the current climate crisis. By considering the historical context, the exhibition seeks to inspire architects and visitors to tackle the challenges of overpopulation, resource depletion, and pollution through innovative design solutions. 

Themes Explored in the Exhibition

The exhibition is organized into five thematic sections: Environment as Information, Environmental Enclosures, Multispecies Design, Counterculture Experiments, and Green Poetics. Each section presents a distinct perspective on how architecture has engaged with environmental concerns. 

  • Environment as Information showcases projects like Buckminster Fuller’s World Game and Beverly Willis’s CARLA software, highlighting the role of technology in addressing environmental challenges. 
  • Environmental Enclosures features NASA’s Space Settlements project, which explored resource consumption and availability through space testing programs. 
  • Multispecies Design explores projects such as Ant Farm’s Dolphin Embassy, which focused on human and aquatic mammal interactions. 
  • Counterculture Experiments examines alternative ways of living through works by The New Alchemy Institute, demonstrating off-grid structures built on Prince Edward Island. 
  • Green Poetics celebrates the beauty of environmental design through works by James Wines and Emilio Ambasz. 

Preserving Cultural Resistance

In addition to architectural projects, “Emerging Ecologies” recognizes the power of cultural resistance. The exhibition highlights archival materials from the 1981 Orme Dam protest, where the Yavapai Nation resisted the construction of a dam that would have flooded their land near present-day Phoenix. These materials underscore the significance of activism and preservation in the face of environmental challenges. 

Newly Commissioned Audio Pieces

To enrich the visitor experience, “Emerging Ecologies” includes seven newly commissioned audio pieces from prominent architects and researchers, including Mae-ling Lokko, Jeanne Gang, Meredith Gaglio, Charlotte Malterre-Barthes, Amy Chester, Carolyn Dry, and Emilio Ambasz. These recordings delve into architects’ role in addressing climate change, resource depletion, overpopulation, and pollution. 

“Emerging Ecologies at MoMA” presents a groundbreaking exhibition that reveals the rich history of architecture’s engagement with environmental concerns. By showcasing past projects and inviting contemporary reflections, the exhibition inspires architects and the public alike to seek innovative and sustainable design solutions. Through the lens of ecological and environmental issues, the exhibition offers valuable insights into the past, present, and future of architecture’s role in shaping a more sustainable world.

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