'A directory of design without depletion'

Launching Non-Extractive Architecture(s)

John Hill
13. November 2023
Photo: Screenshot of directory.nonextractivearchitecture.org

The launch of the non-extractive architecture(s) directory took place at the end of last month, marked with an international summit meeting held in Venice on October 28, 2023. The launch happened two years after the publication of Non-Extractive Architecture Vol. 1: On Designing Without Depletion, the book edited by Space Cavier, the architecture and research studio that was founded by Joseph Grima and Tamar Shafrir in 2013 and operates “at the intersection of design, technology, politics and the public realm.” 

In their words, the studio's ongoing Non-Extractive Architecture project focuses on “rethinking the balance between the built and natural environments, the role of technology and politics in future material economies, and the responsibility of the architect as an agent of transformation.” For the directory, Space Caviar worked in close collaboration with the Practice Lab at re:arc institute: “a non-profit philanthropic association working at the intersection of climate action and architecture philanthropy, the platform curates a network of support and information exchange for individuals, practitioners, communities, and institutions worldwide interested in participating in the creation and amplification of more equitable paradigms in architecture.”

The reasons for such a directory are obvious and are shared by other practitioners operating in various realms of architecture, including Pedro Gadanho, who recently wrote Climax Change! How Architecture Must Transform in the Age of Ecological Emergency and curated Generation Proxima: Emerging Environmental Practices in Portuguese Architecture. Architects are strongly aware of the climate emergency and the role of the built environment in it, but insufficient responses on the part of lawmakers and other groups in power is pushing individuals like Gadanho and studios like Space Caviar toward these and other attempts at sparking positive change in architectural culture and practice.

With 729 practices in the non-extractive architecture(s) directory as of today, the ongoing online project is clearly ambitious and has a strong foundation that it will be able to build upon in the future (visitors are encouraged to contribute to the directory) — but that's a lot of entries for people to browse! Fortunately the practices are organized geographically and in six “ways of practices”:

Photo: Screenshot of the “Building as Last Resort” way of practice

The non-extractive architecture(s) directory includes architecture and design studios, but also research projects, manufacturers, architectural typologies, indigenous architectures, technologies, and loads of other types of people, places, and things. The wide-ranging directory that is geared to people with shared interests and a desire to improve the built environment around the world has echoes of earlier creations, most notably the Whole Earth Catalog, produced by Stewart Brand in the 1970s as a counterculture resource for anyone who wanted to shape their own environment without harming it — raise horses, plant a garden, install solar panels, build an earth-sheltered house, homeschool their kids… you name it, the catalog helped you do it.

More recently, the new directory recalls Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture, which was edited by Nishat Awan, Tatjana Schneider, and Jeremy Till as a book in 2011 and also had a companion website that launched about the same time. One goal of Spatial Agency, like non-extractive architecture(s), was ecological: “to work with the environment, to acknowledge human impact, and to focus on the interdependence of the environment, economics and the social.” Although the Spatial Agency website is still accessible, it doesn't appear to have been updated or expanded upon since it was first launched, unlike the numerous revisions and offshoots of the Whole Earth Catalog. Hopefully Space Cavier and the Practice Lab have a system and staff in place that will allow the non-extractive architecture(s) directory to grow and morph over time — it's a lot of work to create an ongoing online directory, and kudos to them for doing it, but it takes just as much effort to maintain it.

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