Sacrifice and Resilience: Designing for Loss

New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, September 8, 2005. ( Photo by Kathy Anderson, | The Times-Picayune)

Bonier, C., “Sacrifice and Resilience: Designing for Loss” (Theme Chair)
EDRA 45 Building with Change: 45th Annual Conference of the Environmental Design Research Association / New Orleans, Louisiana, May 2014

As we imagine the future we hope for stability and growth, but can we also design for loss? Foundation sacrifices are known in history and myth. Cain killed Abel and became the first city builder, just as Romulus killed his twin and founded Rome. The cornerstone of a building, now a spot to mark a donor and a date, was once a place of burial. Boundaries are set, a gift is given, and building begins. Sacrifice can be a ritual that binds members of a community together, and connects them to the circumscribed area that they define as their land. This is a fixed model of sacrifice.

But what if boundaries and foundations are mobile and uncertain? New Orleans is just one site of dynamic change, proof of the fact that blind faith in fixity results in involuntary and sudden sacrifice. Whether paid for in blood, money, or words, the idea of a single intervention or fixed starting point that will ensure long-term stability is increasingly challenged. Since cataclysmic loss most frequently visits the grounds, neighborhoods, and buildings that are already challenged, planned sacrifice cannot avoid engaging with issues of economy and equity.

If sacrifice has traditionally been used to fix a place and to make it stable in time, is there a way we can reimagine ground, building, and dwelling around adaptive and ongoing sacrifice? What amount of security, certainty, rigidity, and boundary can we give up? Is “sustainability” itself a problematic term? How does preservation operate in this environment? Does our understanding of time itself need to change? How do we define failure, and what can we learn from it? Can we design for an unstable future, allowing for contingency and change by embracing loss? What can we let go? This session calls for historical, contemporary, or visionary research relating to resilience through sacrifice, loss, and failure.

Keywords: resilience, sacrifice, loss, failure

Sentence: Can we design for an unstable future by embracing loss? What can we let go?