WAY BEYOND BIGNESS
AUTHOR: DEREK HOEFERLIN
Provides a uniquely contemporary design-research framework for multi-disciplinary strategies across multiple scales of river basins.
As architects, it is our responsibility to appreciate, to speculate, and to collaborate regarding the possibilities of how the engagement with water ultimately impacts, and potentially prioritizes, our design decisions. These global fundamentals must reinstate an understanding of the complicated built environments we and all other species share. These are ones we cannot continue to dominate with hardline and static interventions, but rather ones we should begin to design with adaptive and dynamic negotiations. To do so, architects must become better aware of architecture’s trans-scalar relationships—spatially, temporally, and geopolitically. This is not just for architecture’s sake, but also, and more importantly, for architecture’s multi-scaled integration with landscape architecture, engineering, infrastructure, urbanism, policy, economy, ecology, law, hydrology, public health, etc.; and ultimately, the larger distribution context of watersheds that all designs inhabit. In other words, the inevitable, and hopefully smarter, next step in the dynamic networking of human manipulated built environments.
“Way Beyond Bigness” prioritizes two approaches:
1. The understanding of the larger-scale effects of “watersheds” for design decisions. More specifically, how can designing with water and infrastructure integrate best with the built environment?
2. The inevitable, yet resilient, need to adapt to contemporary, tipping-point “watershed” events in time.
“Way Beyond Bigness” proposes a simple, adaptive framework that utilizes an integrative design-research methodology, structured in three parts:
Appreciate + Analyze [A+A] Speculate + Synthesize [S+S] Collaborate + Catalyze [C+C]
Woven throughout the three parts, “Way Beyond Bigness” attempts to realign watersheds and architecture across multiple:
Scales (sites to river basins) Disciplines (ecologists to economists) Narratives (hyperboles to pragmatics) Venues (academics to professionals)
This necessary realignment is what I define as “Watershed Architecture [WA].” Given our complex contemporary challenges—specifically in relation to water—current design-research cannot be accomplished by one author, or for that matter, by one architect, landscape architect, or urban designer. Rather, it requires collaborations that oscillate inside and outside typical design disciplines’ definitions, breaking down typical professional and academic dichotomies.
Further, “Watershed Architecture” recasts Oxford Dictionary’s two very different definitions for a “watershed”: 1) “An area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, or seas” and 2) “An event or period marking a turning point in a situation in a course of action or state of affairs” and its two very different definitions for “architecture”: 1) “The art or practice of designing and constructing buildings” and 2) “the complex or carefully designed structure of something.”
Specific to the themes presented in this book, the contemporary question to ask is: Why should the term architecture, or any design discipline for that matter, be part of river basin–scale decision-making? And ones, particularly in the United States, that are designed both in policy and physicality through engineered forms?
The intended goal of book advocates for design disciplines to possess new tools to engage a wider audience of river basin management projects, by gaining an objective and more technical perspective on issues with which they may not be familiar. Architects, landscape architects, urban designers, and practitioners of other design
disciplines can contribute important ideas, both in terms of graphic legibility, as well as important ideas that directly impact the built environment at territorial scales beyond their typical disciplinary definitions and scales. But to do so, designers need to embrace a more technical grounding from other fields working in river basin management. And conversely, these other fields have much to gain from various, more generalist-oriented skill sets that design disciplines bring to promoting a healthier and more adaptive built environment.
In order to address the complex challenges impacting multiple scales set within river basin contexts, I believe a new synthetic notion of architecture, as well as landscape architecture, urban design, and other design disciplines needs to emerge and work far beyond an envelope of a building, or a definition of a landscape, or a boundary of a city, or a predominantly engineered system. Architectsneed to be part of a new type of interdisciplinary, trans-boundary, decision-making design table. This table is a messy one for sure, and one rife with conflict. But architects and allied design disciplines posses a particularly unique toolset to negotiate possibilities within such a milieu.
Since the author’s primary home and workplace is in St. Louis, Missouri, along with prior and continuing work in New Orleans, Louisiana, the bulk of the design-research begins, prioritizes, and ends, in the Mississippi River Basin. But this work is critically understood comparatively with two other major river basins: the Mekong and the Rhine.
“All my daydreams are disasters She’s the one I think I love Rivers burn and then run backwards For her, that’s enough” —Uncle Tupelo, “New Madrid” 19931
“First comprehensive analysis of water-based infrastructural challenges across the Mekong, Mississippi and Rhine river basins.”
"'Way Beyond Bigness' is a guidebook to those things—territories, systems, networks, infrastructures—that are so vast that they sit at the edge of comprehension where they flicker in and out of understanding. Derek Hoeferlin and a cohort of contributors and collaborators cut through the abstraction of river watersheds with analytical precision, producing cross sections through text, drawing, and making that reveal difficult histories of ecology, engineering, colonization, and control. And yet the book is also a personal reflection on the muddy sediment of place and the agency of architecture at scale."—Mimi Zeiger, critic and curator
"The complex challenges that we face today and the way that they impact communities across the globe require a shift in the way we think and work. Collaborative, dynamic, and interdisciplinary approaches at multiple scales are key to envisioning alternative spatial possibilities and equitable futures. Derek Hoeferlin’s work uses the ecological system of the watershed as a way to explore the evolving relationship between the built environment and its myriad of communities. The remarkable research, analysis, and drawings of three global watersheds included in this book help us understand the scale and impact of the human manipulated environments we have created. It challenges us to think about adaptive
ways to better integrate water, infrastructure, and communities. Ultimately, this crucial body of work provides readers a tool to understand how water can be a transformative factor." —Iker Gil, Director of MAS Studio and founder of MAS Context
"Why aren’t there more books like this in architecture? In a field preoccupied with self-mythology and the pursuit of real political and economic power, books that actually question and consider how architecture might shift its gaze from one’s own navel to the broader world are few and far between. If the era of architects dedicating their lives to creating bespoke, beautiful objects for luxury clients under obscene working conditions is finally dying, then the new world imagined by the field’s radical fringes is still struggling to be born. 'Way Beyond Bigness' breaks from this tradition in the best possible ways. How and where designers fit amidst the flotsam of a dying planet is perhaps the single most important existential question facing the built environment professions this century. Derek Hoeferlin challenges us to think about the practice of architecture, the production of planetary urbanism, and the larger forces that shape each of us in new, productive ways."—Billy Fleming, Wilks Family Director of the Ian L. McHarg Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design
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