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Scarcity Scares

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Abstract: This lecture is based on the hunch that the next decade will be defined by our reaction to conditions of scarcity, and that the present formulations of sustainability are insufficiently nuanced to cope with these conditions. The lecture is also based on the premise that one of architecture’s key dependencies is economics, which in turn has historically been defined through various readings of scarcity – thus if architecture is to understand economy it has to understand scarcity. The lecture will be structured around 3 key moments in the relationship between scarcity and economics – 1792 with Malthus, 1932 with Robbins and 1972 with the Club of Rome – in each of which scarcity was effectively used as a scare tactic to delimit the issues that economics can address, and that this economics of fear is can also be seen reflected in a parallel history of architecture. The final section will then speculate on the contemporary condition. What happens if scarcity is liberated from its hold within neo-classical and now neoliberal economics, and instead is understood as a constructed condition? The hesitant answer is that architects and other spatial agents will have to find new ways of working within these political ecologies, in which arguments of working with less and saving resources will be only part of the solution.

Biography: Jeremy Till is an architect and educator. He was appointed as Dean of Architecture and the Built Environment at the University of Westminster in 2008, moving from the University of Sheffield where he was Professor of Architecture and Head of the School of Architecture. His extensive written work includes Architecture and Participation and Flexible Housing, the latter of which was winner of the 2007 RIBA President’s Award for Research. His book Architecture Depends was also awarded the RIBA President’s Award for Research. He is currently leading a major EU research project on scarcity and creativity in the built environment. As an architect, he worked with Sarah Wigglesworth Architects best known for their pioneering building, 9 Stock Orchard Street (The Straw House and Quilted Office), which has received extensive international acclaim and multiple awards, including winning the RIBA Sustainability Award. In 2006 he curated the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

This talk is part of the Martin Centre Research Seminar Series - 42nd Annual Series of Lunchtime Lectures series.

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