RENDERING THE JUST TRANSITION
What would a world based on green jobs and a green economy look like? How can the experiences of frontline communities, or those most impacted by the climate emergency, shape this world? What would happen in a “just transition” where resources and risks are equitably and democratically distributed, no longer falling in the familiar social and ecological grooves of environmental racism? At a time when “decarbonization” seems to most like a set of technological solutions, or impossibly difficult to imagine, we hoped to draw from the techniques of architectural representation to generate visions of and enthusiasm for a just transition to a post-carbon world. We felt that we could support and contribute to this effort not only by producing technical knowledge about building technologies and energy use, as many have done in our field and in our school, but by creating visions of everyday life based on research and policies proposed by frontline communities. Using the tools of architectural representation – rendering, diagramming, drawing and/or model-making – we hoped to make the idea of a just transition into something that people unfamiliar with these policies could see and understand, debate and support.
We began our course with a long research phase, in which we read about the climate crisis, and theories and practices of Just Transition. Students were excited by the definitions of the Just Transition from the Climate Justice Alliance, and the BlackSpace Manifesto, as well as all the writing and research from the McHarg Center, the Buell Center and the Architecture Lobby about the Green New Deal. The work of Shannon Mattern and Elke Krasny on care architectures, Candis Callison on climate representation and Indigenous justice, and Mimi Sheller on mobility kept resonating in our discussions. We also investigated the techniques and economics of decarbonization, looking at technical and practical solutions as well.
We discussed the new forms of labor that would emerge in such a world, as well as the amenities, infrastructures, and forms of care that we might be able to enjoy if many of the jobs associated with our consumption-based lifestyle became green jobs. Students did individual research on transformations that could happen in the realms of care labor; arts, education, and other kinds of carbon-free or low carbon labors; building; transportation, mobility and accessibility; detoxification and remediation; food, agriculture and nourishment; restorative justice; housing; and energy. We then collectively generated extensive lists of programs, processes, and spatial and social typologies that could exist in a decarbonized world, with the idea that students could choose clusters of these to represent.
We next asked students to choose or write a set of policies in a “Green New World” that they would spend the rest of the semester trying to understand, render and draw; they could also choose to work directly from the policies outlined in the Green New Deal legislation. However, because the GND legislation is very open-ended, even the students that tried to represent a post-GND world ended up having to invent their own policy scenarios. They formulated projects focusing on care labor, healthcare economies, new agricultural techniques, migration policies, decarceration and restorative justice, healthcare, building retrofitting, land remediation after pollution, free transit, infrastructure, and textile industry reform.
Next, we investigated visual strategies that students could use when creating a “Green New Worlds.” While many advocates of the Green New Deal have used the aesthetics of FDR’s New Deal in the US (see images above), we felt a broader set of aesthetic strategies might need to be engaged to communicate the value of a climate transition to different people. We discussed how various aesthetic strategies and representational styles might appeal to different groups, interrogating who we want to convince of the value of this new economy, and the visual language do we might need to use to reach them. We also briefly examined the history of propaganda and media for social change, as well as various futurisms for visual and representational strategies that we might mine.
We spent the last six weeks of our class in production/critique mode, in which students tried to develop and illustrate fully-realized decarbonization scenarios. We gave the students free reign over policy and funding, and didn’t require anything “realistic” or confined by present-day economic reason. We encouraged them to produce worlds that seemed utopian; some took up this charge. Others felt that it would be important to depict corporate pushback and policy failure, or forms of dystopia that still might occur amongst green transitions.
Our students are fourth year undergraduates, and this is the first time they have taken a studio in which they have the freedom/obligation to generate their own programs, so one of our goals was to help prepare them for their fifth year thesis projects, which are research-based.