This thesis is concerned with the difficulties that the discipline of architecture has encountered in thinking about and articulating ecological questions in recent years. I argue that it is precisely because the problems posed by the environmental question have so many personal, political and social dimensions, and are so radically trans-disciplinary, that architectural discourse and its metropolitan mediations is well positioned to reflect upon, articulate and stage as a new modern project, this multi-disciplinary and socio-ecological complexity.
The content of this thesis therefore crosses a number of different fields within the arts and sciences. I scrutinise a series of contemporary and historical moments in the development of systems thinking – or what Alfred North Whitehead described as “the philosophy of organism” – with particular reference to a socio-political re-conception of architecture, urbanism and the wider environment today. I describe a network of relationships which traces the surprisingly dynamic histories of a series of concepts – including nature, matter, organism, ecology, network, mind, emergence, system and dialectics – as they unfold across a wide range of disciplines, including architecture, cybernetics, Marxist theory, ecology and the cognitive sciences.
Ultimately, this thesis suggests that critical urban ecology – the architectural investigation of ecological aesthetics and urban political ecology – will be a key field of both theoretical investigation and practical design activism in the coming years, as the deep contradictions of capitalism unfold at an ever more intensified global scale.