“Subnature also offers an alternative to the merging vitalist discourse on ‘flow’ as the dominant effect of nature in architecture. The recent green movement has advanced a laudable critique of contemporary building practices. In numerous books, we have learned to engage sunlight, climatic systems, and the wind currents that stretch across the Earth’s surfaces. While these strategies address energy conservation and foster an appreciation of nature, as employed, they advance a seemingly neo-Victorian and neo-Haussmannite vision of urbanism in many global cities. I call this approach neo-Victorian because, like the reformers of the nineteenth century, green architecture often entails the utilization of nature as an instrument that cleans the world, increases productivity and efficiency, and transforms our existing natural relationship, while advancing the social sphere as it exists. I consider these approaches neo-Haussmannite because, like the remaking of Parisian space under Georges-Eugene Hausmann, the intreoduction of green building often enhances the power of urban wealth in the name of mending a natural relationship. I do not think most ‘green’ architects wish this to be so, but one only has to consider the recent green building booms in New York’s Times Square and Battery Park City, and the corresponding production of a homogenous and elite social sphere, to understand how the restoration of nature is used to re-establish a specific class-based idea of the city. The above criticism of green architecture may also be slightly redirected to related parameters of fields and emergence. Antoine Picon has already noted that what is often termed field theory, self-organization, or emergence often relies on a ‘strange, vitalistic conception of the world.’ But we might also add that more explicit theories of dynamic flow view nature as little more than a circulatory construct whose role is to erase all of the stagnancies that stand in its way. Nothing could provide a more apt metaphor for the recent rebuilding of cities for a global society on the move.
Subnatures are the very natures that stand in contrast to the above processes. In comparison to the demographic distribution of green architecture, what I identify as subnatures are primarily experienced as aspects of the seemingly subhuman conditions of contemporary urbanization and its subcultural peripheries. They are also those natures that stand against the remaking of the world into a pulsing circulatory apparatus.”
David Gissen, Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments, 2009
“If the supernatural is a world of miracles, a religious world above nature, and the natural is the world in which human society is located, then the subnatural is the realm in which we can barely exist in the state that we currently conceive ourselves, both socially or biologically. It is that zone that is most fearsome, because it describes the limits in which contemporary life might be staged. it is thus no coincidence that subnatures are generally marginalized in architecture. When they appear in architectural thought in a non-marginal way, they are often used to describe the passage of societies… But the subnatural is not the apocalyptic edge of society. Rather, it reveals another possible form of nature in which we can be something more or less than is currently possible within our conceptions of nature.”