Technology and Place

[ Architecture ]

Technology and Place

Sustainable Architecture and the Blueprint Farm

By Steven A. Moore

Foreword by Kenneth Frampton

In this book, Steven Moore demonstrates how the various stakeholders' competing definitions of "sustainability," "technology," and "place" ultimately doomed an experimental agricultural project designed to benefit farm workers displaced by the industrialization of agriculture in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.



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6 x 9 | 286 pp. | 43 b&w photos, 14 line drawings, 1 maps, 6 tables, 50 illustrations

ISBN: 978-0-292-75245-0

Developing "sustainable" architectural and agricultural technologies was the intent behind Blueprint Farm, an experimental agricultural project designed to benefit farm workers displaced by the industrialization of agriculture in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Yet, despite its promise, the very institutions that created Blueprint Farm terminated the project after just four years (1987-1991).

In this book, Steven Moore demonstrates how the various stakeholders' competing definitions of "sustainability," "technology," and "place" ultimately doomed Blueprint Farm. He reconstructs the conflicting interests and goals of the founders, including Jim Hightower and the Texas Department of Agriculture, Laredo Junior College, and the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, and shows how, ironically, they unwittingly suppressed the self-determination of the very farm workers the project sought to benefit. From the instructive failure of Blueprint Farm, Moore extracts eight principles for a regenerative architecture, which he calls his "nonmodern manifesto."

  • Foreword by Kenneth Frampton
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. A Question of Categories
    • Modernity, Technology, and Place
    • Critical Regionalism
    • Toward a Nonmodern Alternative
  • Chapter 2. A Reconstruction from the File
  • Chapter 3. The Local History of Space
    • Place, Technology, and Technological Networks
    • La Frontera Chica
    • Narrowing Horizons of Spatial Discourse
  • Chapter 4. Conflicting Intentions
    • The Concept of Intentionality
    • Networks of Intention
    • Uninhabited Intentions
  • Chapter 5. Technological Interventions
    • Traditions in Science and Technology Studies
    • Making Problems Go Away
    • Democracy and Participation
  • Chapter 6. Reception
    • Reception Theory
    • Mixed Receptions
    • Received Paradigms
  • Chapter 7. Reproduction
    • The Production of Facts
    • Spreading Claims
    • Sublime Reproductions
  • Chapter 8. Eight Propositions
    • Summary Propositions
    • The Nonmodern Thesis
    • Eight Points for Regenerative Architecture: A Nonmodern Manifesto
  • Appendix. The Things Themselves
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

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For the past thirty years or so, architectural discourse has been dominated by aesthetic concerns. In what follows I do not argue that we should abandon our love of the aesthetic object, the beautiful, the poetic, or even the visual. I argue only that we should balance our fascination with the world of appearances by remembering that architecture is an ecological, technological, and political practice. This is a work, then, that will attempt to influence theory by empirically examining the conditions of contemporary practice.

My interest in the tension between theory and practice is, of course, personal as well as scholarly. Having practiced architecture for twenty years before entering academic life, I found that much of the academic literature I encountered, while of intellectual interest, simply ignored the conditions of architectural production. Having practiced for so long, I had become only too familiar with the everyday political and material demands of building in the public arena. It didn't take me long to figure out that my formal study of architecture would necessarily bridge the ever-widening gulf between those who interpret construction and those who construct.

I also came to the academy with a growing interest in the emerging concept of "sustainability." Ten years ago I was at a loss to explain why the concept of ecology had been so marginalized within the discipline of architecture and within society as a whole. Being thus perplexed by two related topics—practice and sustainability—I thought it only natural to select a case for study that involved an ecologically based public controversy. It seemed to me then, as now, that such a study might enable us to better understand how and why our society chooses to build and live as it does.

This study was, then, first conceived and written as a doctoral dissertation. That format requires at least two things. First, it requires a certain density of content that demonstrates a broad understanding of the literature in the field(s) of investigation. In this iteration of the project I have purged a lengthy section on methodology and have attempted generally to translate the remainder into language that will be accessible to most readers. Some, however, will complain that sections of the remaining text are still impenetrably dense. To those readers I apologize for my inability to communicate ideas more simply.

The second requirement of academic study is to rigorously protect the identity of those private individuals who contributed so generously to my understanding of the case. The names of public figures such as Jim Hightower, Pliny Fisk III, and Gail Vittori are not concealed because they are a matter of public record. The names of many other individuals used in this text are, however, pseudonyms because I am guarding the privacy of sources. Such citations are drawn from twelve in-depth interviews gathered between May of 1995 and February of 1996, and several follow-up interviews that took place in the months and years following. Should any reader wish to verify the accuracy of the citations, I will make notes and tapes of interviews available for examination at the University of Texas at Austin. The names of respondents will, however, remain anonymous.

I am reluctant to describe this investigation as an ethnography because the period of my field study was, I imagine, something less than an anthropologist would require. I will say, however, that my study has been ethnograph-ic, in that I have attempted to tell the story of Blueprint Farm in a way that will be familiar to those who built it and those who received it. It has, however, been impossible to make happy every party who has something at stake in this story. The very nature of this, or any, public event is that there are multiple, conflicting versions of reality at work. My hope is that this narrative, if not always flattering, will help to realize the noble intentions of Blueprint Farm's builders—if not at Laredo, then elsewhere.

By Steven A. Moore

Steven A. Moore is Assistant Professor and Director of the Design with Climate Program in the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin.

"I consider this book the most insightful discussion of place and technology I have encountered over the past twenty years of thinking about place and its role in modern society.... I think that it will create an intellectual stir and give a significant boost to scholarship bringing together social science and the design professions."
—John Agnew, Professor and Chair of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles