What might an architecture that participates in its environment (with reciprocity) be?
What might it look like? How will it behave?
Architecture situates itself at the intersection of countless energetic forces. The rich, living matter of soil, underground water networks, wind, roots, rainfall, human imagination – Architecture bundles all of this underfoot, around or within itself. Rather than operating as a “pebble within the stream,” or something inert witnessing living forces pass it by, what if architecture were to take part in its surroundings more directly, actively, or energetically?
Plants, one of many living organisms connected to soil, are among the most active entities in terms of the exchange of energy, information, and materials between the underground and atmosphere. Might architecture likewise participate in these energetic and chemical exchanges and transmissions? How and at what scales can architecture and assemblies best participate in biological and ecological forms of exchange? How might architecture become intimately tethered to, and within, its environment?
The ideas presented in the Reciprocal Systems projects embody a critique of western landscape practice’s prevailing biases towards environmental organization that prioritizes utility, durability, and distance. These practices have separated humans from engaging with natural systems for an ease of maintenance, transitioning from what were once forms of inter-species caretaking to minimally engaged kinds of upkeep. Reciprocal Systems aim to reintroduce human engagement within unique ecologies and environments and imagines positive forms of human intervention, involving the curation of rituals that form practices of constant engagement and observation of natural systems. Projects range from a methane-heat dissipation landscape controlled by the input of indigenous plants, to architecturally-scaled rainwater catchment structures offering an artificial hydrological lifeline to species at the edges of an evaporating lake. As a collection these projects begin to reimagine how we might think more flexibly across scales and mediums to situate architecture as an active, chemically and biologically-adapted participant within its surrounding environment.
The Reciprocal Systems thesis was tested in a design studio setting during the Spring of 2022 in the format of an option studio for third, fourth, and fifth year architecture students in the School of Architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.