Revolutionary Civic Ecology

Gallery Discussion with students, Dilip da Cunha, Anuradha Mathur, and Catherine Bonier, April 2011 (Photo by Barrett Doherty)

Bonier, C., “Revolutionary Civic Ecology”
In the Terrain of Water Symposium and Exhibition / University of Pennsylvania School of Design / Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 2011

In my research I have been asking the question “What are the latent ideas of health embedded in the historic city plans, engineering, landscapes, architectural projects, and devices that have shaped our urban relationship with water? Also, how have these plans, projects, and devices created specific conditions of civic life?”

Until very recently, decisions about settlement and about cities were based on ideas of health that were complex and multi-layered. In ancient Greece, but also in early modern Europe and in America until the 19th century, health was seen as a matter of equilibrium, a communication, synthesis, and balance between multiple factors. Purely physical health did not exist as an idea. There was a sense that water, ground, physical health, civic life, and democracy as  a whole were connected.  An “even temperament” was the highest state of health, whether in personal behavior, speech and decorum, or at the scale of the city. Water was then, as it is now, a connecting thread between private life and public space, and between settlement and nature.  It was accepted that water and nature, not always so even-tempered, had to be managed and cajoled, architecturally delimited, to be allowed into proximity with urban settlement.

The idea of synthesis and equilibrium as the underpinnings of civic and bodily health suddenly breaks apart in the 19th century, with the rise of a new faith in modern medicine, engineering, and technology. And it seems that our recent ecological motivations, though seeking to reestablish a fuller idea of health, still suffer from prioritizing quantitative, economic, and biological factors – while neglecting the importance of an architectural integration of water into urban, civic space and life.

Terrain of Water Team_
director _ ANURADHA MATHUR  co-director / organizer _ CATHERINE BONIER
exhibition coordinator / designer _ YADIEL RIVERA DIAZ  symposium coordinator _ DIANE PRINGLE
symposium assistant _ MICHELLE LIN  exhibition assistant _ JESSICA BALL
student exhibition assistants _ LAURA LO + NICOLA MCELROY