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Subnature
Architecture's Other Environments
David Gissen

ISBN 9781568987774
Publication date 11/2/2009
7 x 9 inches (17.8 x 22.9 cm), Paperback
224 pages, 80 color illustrations, 65 b/w illustrations
Rights: World; Carton qty: 20; (635.0)

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We are conditioned over time to regard environmental forces such as dust, mud, gas, smoke, debris, weeds, and insects as inimical to architecture. Much of today's discussion about sustainable and green design revolves around efforts to clean or filter out these primitive elements. While mostly the direct result of human habitation, these 'subnatural forces' are nothing new. In fact, our ability to manage these forces has long defined the limits of civilized life. From its origins, architecture has been engaged in both fighting and embracing these so-called destructive forces. In Subnature, David Gissen, author of our critically acclaimed Big and Green, examines experimental work by today's leading designers, scholars, philosophers, and biologists that rejects the idea that humans can somehow recreate a purely natural world, free of the untidy elements that actually constitute nature. Each chapter provides an examination of a particular form of subnature and its actualization in contemporary design practice.

The exhilarating and at times unsettling work featured in Subnature suggests an alternative view of natural processes and ecosystems and their relationships to human society and architecture. R&Sie(n)'s Mosquito Bottleneck house in Trinidad uses a skin that actually attracts mosquitoes and moves them through the building, while keeping them separate from the occupants. In his building designs the architect Philippe Rahm draws the dank air from the earth and the gasses and moisture from our breath to define new forms of spatial experience. In his Underground House, Mollier House, and Omnisport Hall, Rahm forces us to consider the odor of soil and the emissions from our body as the natural context of a future architecture. [Cero 9]'s design for the Magic Mountain captures excess heat emitted from a power generator in Ames, Iowa, to fuel a rose garden that embellishes the industrial site and creates a natural mountain rising above the city's skyline. Subnature looks beyond LEED ratings, green roofs, and solar panels toward a progressive architecture based on a radical new conception of nature.


David Gissen is the former curator of architecture at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. He is an assistant professor of architecture at the California College of the Arts and the author of Big and Green: Toward Sustainable Architecture in the 21st Century.

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Editorial Reviews


Yale Architecture Magazine:
"As the title suggests, however, Gissens contention is that these forms not only advance more novel relations but deserve their own distinction from nature. He claims that while these alternative forms are not separate from nature, they are perceived to fall beneath the strata of normative nature. To arrive at this new definition, he extends the metaphysical idea that if the supernatural world exists above humankind, the subnatural world must lurk below." — Petia Morozov

BLDG Blog:
"Gissen's book has already come up several times, to positive review, here on BLDGBLOG and presumably needs little introduction to long-term readers?but it's a memorably wide-ranging look at all those other presences in the city that urbanists tend to overlook: puddles, dust, dirt, rats, weeds, and car exhaust, to name but a few."

Newsletter, Dexigner:
"In Subnature, David Gissen, author of our critically acclaimed Big and Green, examines experimental work by today's leading designers, scholars, philosophers, and biologists that rejects the idea that humans can somehow recreate a purely natural world, free of the untidy elements that actually constitute nature."

Subnature: Archhitectures Other Environment, Archinect:
"Just the idea of exploring the design implications of Atmospheres include dankness, smoke, gas, and exhaust; Matter contains dust, puddles, mud, and debris; and Life includes weeds, insects, pigeons, and crowds gets me salivating. I've yet to read this, but Gissen seems to have tapped into the world of Dross, rust, derive and other relevant under -appreciated aspects of our material culture. Click HERE to read the entire review on archinet.com"

TripleCanopy:
"In his book Subnature, the architectural historian David Gissenprovides an etymological history of debris as it pertains to our perception of ruins." — Brian Finoki

a weekly dose of architecture, Archidose:
"Gissen defines subnatures as conditions within our cities that are often deemed filthy, fearsome, and uncontrollable. He defines 12 subnatures in three categories: Atmospheres include dankness, smoke, gas, and exhaust; Matter contains dust, puddles, mud, and debris; and Life includes weeds, insects, pigeons, and crowds. For each subnature Gissen traces the changing historical views, looks at the current attitudes towards it, and presents contemporary projects that question and consider alternatives for incorporating the subnature into architectural design. In some cases the views over time have done a complete 180, pointing to the way nature is defined socially, not objectively or scientifically. Not surprisingly the projects are today's avant-garde, mostly hypothetical, research-based, installations, or unrealized. They are examples of how Gissen's path of exploration is not unprecedented; it is tapping into more widespread reconsiderations of today's fairly uncritical acceptance of sustainability. To read the full review on archidose.com click HERE. "

Reading List: Subnature, Landscape and Urbanism:
"Another book that engaged me on my hiatus from blogging is one I picked up on somewhat of a whim as it looked like a fascinating read. I wasn't disappointed, as 'Subnature: Architecture's Other Environments by David Gissen, quickly became impossible to put down. The reason? It really tackles some interesting terrain that is definitely at the fringes of architecture and landscape, which typically addresses the realms purity and order, whether in terms of materials or the messy nature in cities." — Jason A. King

UrbanTick:
"There is little point in me repeating what David Gissen has put so beautifully and engaging in print. This is simply a must read, if you are prepared to take the plunge and be prepared to see the world, and definitely your work, with different eyes."

archinnovations:
"...a clear, well-structured analysis"



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