Visiting Lecture | David Gissen: Of a Weaker Nature

Wednesday, March 11, 2020, 6:30 - 8:30pm

Add to Calendar


This lecture introduces ideas from several research projects on the architectural production of urban nature. These projects include a historical reconstruction of a heap of debris in late-19th century Paris (The Mound of Vendome, 2014), a history of “subnature” in mid-20th century New York (Manhattan Atmospheres, 2015), and a research studio on recovering urban darkness in contemporary Vienna, Austria (Yale School of Architecture, 2019). Collectively, these works counter modern histories of urban nature as “light, air, and greenery” with architectural histories of darkness, dust, and debris.  These latter and weaker forms of urban nature often elude architectural historians and designers with their formless architectural characters. These natures are weak in other ways too: Such provisional and contingent aspects of cities have complex associations with histories of social and physical dispossession. Ultimately, an exploration of such “weaker nature” juxtaposes the ongoing pursuit of naturalism and vitality within the urban landscape with the problems of politics and other physical ways of being.

David Gissen works at the intersection of architecture, environmental history and experimental design. He is Visiting Professor at the Yale School of Architecture and where he was Eero Saarinen Professor of Architectural Design in Fall, 2019. His has held professorships at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, Austria; Columbia University GSAPP; the Phd program in Art and Architecture History at MIT; and the California College of the Arts, where he was based for twelve years. His books include an architectural history of urban environments, Subnature (2009), and a history of New York City as told through the city’s air, Manhattan Atmospheres (2014). His historical reconstructions have been published and exhibited internationally; this includes exhibitions at the 2016 Venice Biennale and the Canadian Centre for Architecture, among other venues. He is the author of numerous texts and studies of architectural and environmental history, architecture theory, and recent work that connects his research to the experience of human impairment. 

This event is open to current Cooper Union students, faculty, and staff.  Room 315F.  

View the full Spring 2020 Lectures and Events List.

Located at 7 East 7th Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.