Air is the greatest insulator. The Eskimos have known this for centuries. They’ve built with ice and continue to do so. It would be silly if they began building concrete igloos. Perhaps it’d be silly – or not. Perhaps they do start constructing masonry homes to communicate a certain economic or political ideal that exists within their society to those outside of it. And for those community members who decide not to make a material transformation risk how others perceive them. Would the idea of home and place alter based on this material transformation? If ice cubes were to replace CMU’s, would it be legit to address the new construct as an igloo or would it take on a new form of identity? If ice cubes could replicate the appearance of CMU’s, would it even matter?
So, where does the Problem of Material Ethics end? Or rather, where does it begin? For me it doesn’t only begin with just ingredients, or a product. Although a bit ambiguous, the scope of my response goes beyond my personal work into a broader sense of me as architect in the professional practice of architecture and design. My perspective on the Problem from one angle is the science behind an object and the other, its social implications that adhere to a specific economic model to reach a particular art form. All of these points working together, I believe, will point us blurrily to some questionable answer in an environmental realm.
So why concrete blocks and igloo construction? The question frames how the meaning of materials and its methods of construction can inform our understanding of culture and society. How aesthetic is measured is somewhere between the science, manufacturing and building of blocks. It is a sketch on branding and the power it holds to influence perception and physically push a society to alter its particular culture.
This occurrence of alterations in typological forms as experienced in our built environment is what I find so fascinating about architecture. A material transformation per say, is a visual form of communication. It is a response to meet some particular ideal in this scenario. The alterations made are visual ques to express a coming together of people. In reflection to the readings, I side with Justice as Virtue. I believe we have to revert to the original intentions of virtue as stated by Plato and amend its modernization of morality by finding justice of goods and property in relation to the environment. Nowhere in any of the social justice texts, excluding the grassroots movement on Principles of Environmental Justice, does it question our human role in relation to the natural world.
I would be distraught if learned Eskimos were building with concrete if their climatic conditions were unaltered. Concrete would be an immense display of ignorance on their part, not to mention a waste of material with little regard to their immediate environment and its available resources. In addition to the way architecture has fashioned itself within a particular culture over a period time, is the importance of how we individually and collectively communicate our own identities and association with others in relation to a larger force, the environment.