Climate by Design

The climate crisis is here now and for the foreseeable future. For designers who shape the built environment, there is an urgent need to address the changing climate with greater understanding, sophistication, and imagination. To do so requires a deeper analysis of the climate crisis. What is it? How can designers approach it? What are the design strategies? How effective are they? And on what terms?

In order to develop our tools, we need to understand not only the science, but also the political, social, economic and cultural contexts on the ground, where design projects and movements are rooted. The effects and burdens of climatic change are unequal, contributing to forced climate migration and loss in the most vulnerable communities. A universal, one size fits all approach is impossible.

Through a series of case studies, this course will explore the range of paradigmatic design responses to the climate crisis including adaptation (for communities to either remain or retreat), mitigation (through increased carbon draw-down and reduced emissions) and resiliency. These exemplary cases will be a means to understand and articulate the evolving role of landscape architecture and related disciplines in designing for an increasingly vulnerable planet. As such, the course will explore not only how landscape architects respond to the climate crisis, but what these actions say about the nature of design itself. The cases will be situated in different geographical and climatic contexts and the responses will be understood in relation to advances in science as well as the variations in political, environmental, economic, social, and historical context.

The course will include a series of talks by GSD faculty and external experts across the variety of fields. Students will develop and analyze a case study, advancing methodologies for critical assessment and visual representation. The studies will consider social, cultural, and aesthetic dimensions as well as environmental function, economic deployment, and political engagement.

Climate by Design is a required course for MLA degree candidates and open to other GSD and Harvard students with an interest in the climate crisis and design.