Ex-risk architecture: anticipating existential catastrophes through design
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date25/01/2024
Khan, Asad Ullah
The planet is heating up. Rapid-paced human change in the earth systems is increasing frequencies of catastrophic events, ranging from tropical cyclones to ecological collapse, oceanic increase to coastal floods, unprecedented wildfires to lethal droughts. In a ‘compound state’, as recent scientific reports suggest, climate change might render the planet uninhabitable. In regions exposed to the increased impacts of compound climate-related events, risks concerning human existence or the so-called ‘existential risks’ run high. ‘Existential risk’ is the possible chance of human extinction. Extinction means the irreversible termination of a species class and its genetic heritage. It is also known as an ‘existential catastrophe’. ‘Existential risk studies research’ is a ‘scientific discipline’. It estimates probabilities of human extinction using statistical and rational analysis of incoming evidence. In the climate context, the present literature analyses independent risks rather than geographic hotspots where multiple risks overlap and create novel catastrophic bifurcations across spatial and temporal scales. ‘Ex-risk Architecture’ integrates practices of computational architecture, remote-sensing earth science and design informatics into an expanded interface and an open-ended research process of information synthesis, form-making and design speculation––in order to anticipate global catastrophic risks of climate change in forensic-grade architectural images. I foreground architecture as an augmented form of risk perception in order to anticipate spaces of extinction rupturing from extreme climate change. Though oft-used to eliminate risks, I enact ‘anticipation’ through design to perceptualise risks in a spatiotemporal form and galvanise preparedness as catastrophic anthropogenic change accrues. I develop research through practice, using design to manufacture possible spatiotemporal experiences of catastrophic scenarios in order to shape global social imaginaries on climate change. I use architecture representation as a perceptual interface to compress geo-environmental information, indexing material legacies of human change in perceptual artefacts. I construct extreme spatiotemporal projections of the known impact of human change at smaller scales in computational models. I use site-specific empirical evidence from the planet’s most exposed regions to climate change in the design process, ranging from glacier melting (Warren Cave) and environmental pollution (New Orleans) to atmospheric depletion (Mauna Kea). I develop algorithms through advanced programming languages to synthesise remote sensed geospatial datasets––revealing spatial and temporal accounts of the existential catastrophe at multiple scales in a broad range of architectural diagrams and digital animations. The outcomes form a design portfolio, prised apart into three-site specific projects. 1. Warren Cave (2018-2019) 2. New Orleans (2018-2019) 3. Mauna Kea (2019-2021) The work appraises climate change through architecture as an existential risk par excellence. The dissertation contributes to an advanced computational design workflow––integrating planet- scale contingencies into architectural concerns. It appraises architecture as a methodological parallel to existential risk research through original design investigation.