Ronald Barnett, On the possibilities and responsibilities of the ecological university.

[excerpts from The Ecological University: A Feasible Utopia] The ecological university understands its interconnectedness with the world but also actively seeks to do what it can through these connections to advance the wellbeing of the world; it assists its advancement. (Barnett, 2018: 33-34). It identifies large themes and practical projects on which disciplines can work together and bring their contrasting perspectives to bear (ibid: 36). The ecological university is no simple assemblage. But ‘ecology’ may just play a part in imparting some direction to its paths of possibilities and so energizing the university, while hinting at an ethical stance of a certain kind towards the world (ibid: 40). Barnett introduces seven ecosystems as ‘spaces of flows’, zones with which the ecological uni can engage with its world:

The knowledge ecology | Habermas posited three: scientific, technical and hermeneutic the technical having colonized the other two. However, a. digital age has brought multimodality, widening a more social form of knowledge, b. besides academic knowledge there is the embodiment of understandings of particular worlds, c. knowledge is influenced by mega-corporations, d. cultural knowledge is getting revenue-generating dimensions. The ecological potential of universities is thus considerably expanded.

The ecology of social institutions | There is an isomorphism between unis and organizations but there exist extreme variations across them based on their financial and cognitive power and their value orientations. However, a. rival value systems can be there even if there is a dominant value set, b. unis are encouraged to trade with orgs, c. orgs have an interest in engaging with unis.

The ecology of persons | the relation of humans to the world: for some, human subjectivity is torn apart or manufactured, for others, there exist as possibility of the emancipation of human psyche within society. However, time is speeded up and space are compressed. Unis contain individuals who are bound to be subject to managing their own subjectivity. Second, unis have a responsibility for the formation of their students. Liberal and utilitarian education friction resurfaces: is education about the whole person or a contribution to economic growth? A wider ecosystem of persons is finding their way into education.

The ecology of the economy | Unis constitute a large portion of any economy and have become points of investment: they are a business and they are expected to contribute to the growth of business. Thus are required to demonstrate a measurable impact, preferably an economic one. The ecological uni widens the sense of economy. Its resources go beyond the financial realm and its investments have an ethical dimension.

The ecology of learning | Knowledge capitalism encourages an environment that is increasingly competitive, individualized and oriented towards capital gain. The social world, however, is unwilling to accept this economically loaded script and multiple learning ecologies are emerging as social and individual level. A new learning ecosphere is developing bringing new possibilities to uni.

The ecology of culture | The emergence of rationality was a story of a society freeing itself from culture. However, the ecological uni cannot be culture free: it turns on culture of concern.

The natural environment | Towards a sense of being imbued with nature, having a due concern for it. Not oriented towards restoration, but the strengthening of the natural world itself.


Barnett, R. (2018). The Ecological University: A Feasible Utopia. London, New York: Routledge.

Save the date: July 5-7, 2023 | Summer School on Circularity in the Built Environment | From ‘circuits of capital’ to ‘circuits of value’; addressing the barriers of circularity implementation

The Circular Built Environment Hub of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment will host the second Summer School on Circularity in the Built Environment from 5 to 7 July 2023. 

Our focus will be on developing (new) ways of performing circularity as a desirable future in the social realm further inquiring on the normative actions required to scale up and accelerate the transition. During the three days we will have the chance to visit specific locations, and meet with people who can facilitate the discussion. Based on their input, and the CBE Hub “Scales to aspects model,” we will work together to identify how “circuits of value” can help us develop and prioritize our criteria for enabling circularity informed decisions. 

Students from all levels of education (BSc, MSc) as well as PhD researchers and professionals are invited to participate. 

The guest list of our summer school on circularity in the built environment is building up! So is our program of activities. Check our website for updates.

The two faces of innovation

Following the Nature article discussed previously, this is a 2010 paper looking into innovation in the US based on patent data (1970-2005). It already depicts that invention (used here interchangeably with innovation) exhibits diminishing returns. An interesting distinction is made between two different approaches to innovation.

One understanding of innovation is that it is driven by incentives and the supply of knowledge capital producing either constant or increasing returns. This view is connected to economy and markets and therefore innovators are expected to provide solutions corresponding to price signals. In this paradigm, “private efforts at knowledge making increase the overall stock.”

Second (contrary and also what the authors ultimately believe) understanding is that innovation is “subject to the evolutionary dynamics of all living systems” and thus not constant. It is not only reliant on incentives and knowledge capital but also on constraints and it grows increasingly complex and costly and reaches diminishing returns; higher expenditures produce fewer innovations. Whereas early research plucks the lowest fruit and that specialized questions require more time and money to resolve, and more preparation.

The authors claim that “the stories that we tell about our future assume that innovation will allow us to continue our way of life in the face of climate change, resource depletion and other major problems.” However, solar power and wind energy investments are found to be producing fewer returns; innovation in these fields is shrinking. So do all research challenges where pioneering research has already depleted the broadly applicable questions and research is now required to more specialized fields. Were we to continue to produce innovation in one field, then we would have to allocate more resources to this field and fewer resources to others.


Strumsky, D., Lobo, J. & Tainter J.A. (2010). Complexity and the Productivity f Innovation. In Systems Research and Behavioral Science Syst. Res. 27, 496-509. DOI:10.1002/sres.1057

(photo taken at the recent Rotterdam biennale)

The decline of disruptiveness

Authors of “Papers and patents are becoming less disruptive over time,” recently published on Nature, argue that disruptiveness in papers and patents is declining as well as word diversity and combinatorial novelty. At the same time, declining disruptiveness does not preclude individual disruptive works. A substantive shift is undergoing in science and technology, they argue, that might appear as the slowing of innovative activity. Authors attribute their findings to a reliance on a narrower set of existing knowledge; this benefits individual careers but not scientific progress. Scholars, say the authors, may be encouraged to read widely and be given time to get familiar with the ever growing knowledge frontier.

Reading the paper I also thought disruptiveness is undermined by narrowing down slices of knowledge and yes I also think this is product of pursuing research for the sake of individual career paths. There are many more of course, like the radical increase of PhD research produced and published (and through that, the promotion of individuality in doing research), higher competition between institutions, lack of time for keeping up with all that is being simultaneously developed, you name it. I do think however that technological innovation in particular, often suffers from lack of relevance probably because it has been the case that people attributed more value on the power of technology itself rather than what drives it. The effects of Modernism and the siloing of knowledge production is now becoming increasingly more apparent causing, what the authors call, the discrepancy between the availability of knowledge and its use. Which is probably where we stand at the moment: too far ahead in the specific and too weak in making it relevant for others.

That said, it is no wonder that the wow effect of the very specific technology produced does little good to us in the midst of the overall crises we live in. The magnitude of our problems together with our incapacity to produce credible answers for them shows that maybe technology alone cannot be the answer for everything. And maybe that is why innovation is ceasing or slowing down: we are at crossroads; we are at that awkward moment in time that we’ve lost sight of the others. So, how do we move forward? The paper’s authors ask for broader research and more time. They also oddly claim that the philosophy of science believes in the potential of knowledge accumulated. Maybe so, but then again very Popper-proper. Maybe it is Kuhn’s change of paradigm what we are really, really, desperately in need of. Maybe then the new disruptive will be what makes sense for the many.


Resilience’ is defined as the ability of a system to absorb disturbances before unpredictably changing its structure from one equilibrium state to another, less desirable one.

Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience

Intimately connected with the notion of resilience is the idea of ‘adaptive management’, founded on the explicit belief that ‘organizations and institutions can ‘‘learn’’ as individuals do’. The first major international conference on resilience, was hosted in April 2008 by the Stockholm Resilience Centre (recipient of the largest single research grant ever awarded environmental research in Sweden). It chose to illustrate its commitment to dialogue between science and the humanities by encouraging the participants to view an art exhibit.

Image available here

The man who flooded us with ideas

What a beautiful farewell text for someone whose ideas will stay with us for long. Martin Guinard mentions;

  • the notion that nothing is, by itself, either reducible or irreducible to anything else
  • the distinct tonality of the scientific and political/ legal modes of existence; also between three different types of aesthetics: scientific, artistic, and political [Scientific aesthetics, thanks to its instruments, allows knowledge of problems such as climate change to emerge. The artistic aesthetic allows the metabolizing of affects. Finally, political aesthetics allow us to gather and mobilize various stakeholders]
  • thinking in networks
  • the pinning of the Moderns dissociation between the territory where they live (common living spaces) and the territories they depend upon in order to live (notably the places from which they extract resources)
  • the marking of the end of the Great Divide between nature and culture, society and the individual, subjects and objects, facts and values

Read full text by Martin Guinard here | Photo available here

The role of capitalism and the state in conceptualizing future life scenarios

Conceptualizing future scenarios largely depends on people’s perspective on capitalism and the role of the state: one section sees no relation to the state as is now and the corporate structures that influence politics and policies. [anarchist thinkers like Bookchin and eco-socialists]. The other looks into the economics of the commons or the planetary boundaries and therefore rely on the state to provide with structures to support green investments and regulations related to decreasing carbon emissions and welfare provision. Great read.

Futures | Architecture after Architecture: Spatial Practice in the Face of the Climate Emergency

Envisioning Free Space @De School

Had a lovely Saturday late afternoon talk envisioning Amsterdam 2050 as a city where cultural free spaces are recognized as microcosms of our wider community and vital laboratories for social-ecological innovation. Big thanks to fellow panelists and to Ricardo Silva for moderating this discussion on the importance of transforming cultural heritage into spaces of adaptation.

2022 Media Architecture Award

I have had the honor and the pleasure of chairing this years Media Architecture Awards together with Levente Szabó, Matteo Costanzo and Edwin Heathcote. Together we viewed 76 buildings, 59 plans and 29 smaller scale projects and selected the 5 nominees for all three categories. Prizes were awarded to winners last Saturday. The ceremony was held in (the packed) Urania National Film Theatre.
Congratulations and a big applause to all nominees and winners and to the organizers of this amazing event:
Janos Pasztor, Hulesh Mate & Levente Borenich

Check winners here:

Architectural Education in Times of Uncertainty’ Symposium, 2-4/11, BK, Berlage Rooms

Want to talk with us on the current challenges of architecture and how these are affecting architectural education? Join us from 2-4 November, live here in Delft for the ‘Architectural Education in Times of Uncertainty’ Symposium. The event unfolds over three days with discussions on the integration of circularity in current curricula, new types of collaboration, transitions in pedagogy and learning in extreme complexity with an amazing line up. For more information and registrations please visit our website.

New publication!

I couldn’t be prouder of my dear friend Markus Berger who -together with his colleague Kate Irvin – has compiled this amazing book I am holding in my hands right now. I am most grateful for having been entrusted to contribute with a chapter on repair and architecture. I had so much fun studying for it and writing it and I am delighted my piece found its place in this volume amongst so many interesting contributions.
Learn more about this book here

#circularity #circularbuiltenvironment #circulareconomy #repair #architecture #circulardesign

New platforms on circularity launched!

Here are the links to two new online platforms we launched recently. The first one is called ‘Circularity for Educators’ and contains a series of different types of resources that can support teaching based on the way we have currently framed this in our education. The second, is called ‘Educators for Circularity’ and is complementary to the first one. It provides with an opportunity to connect to colleagues, exchange views on topics related to circularity and/or share insights from teaching. It is also meant as tools for creating new opportunities for collaboration within a wider community of people (academics or not) who are in one way or another involved in circular ventures.

Click here for ‘Circularity for Educators’…/educ…/circularity-for-educators

Click here for ‘Educators for Circularity’