The Discipline of Architecture and the Rights of Nature
ABSTRACT: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris in 1948, stands unmatched as a common standard for global human rights. As the impacts of industrialization reinforce the dependence of humans on functioning ecosystems, it is fitting for the United Nations to take the lead in advancing dialogue on shared principles for the rights of nature. In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly initiated a dialogue on “harmony with nature,” a phrase chosen to describe ecological holism and described sometimes by “earth jurisprudence,” to describe legal frameworks for the rights of nature. The Expert’s Summary Report on that dialogue was presented to the General Assembly at its seventy-first session in September 2016 (United Nations, 2016). The Expert’s Summary Report includes perspectives from earth-centered law, ecological economics, education, holistic science, humanities, philosophy/ethics, theology, and the arts, media, design and architecture. Representatives from each of these disciplines were asked: What would the practice of the selected discipline look like from an earth jurisprudence perspective? What are approaches, obstacles, recommendations, and priorities for achieving earth jurisprudence?
While harmony with nature is an ancient principle and while earth jurisprudence as a legal philosophy is gaining global traction, the inclusion of the discipline of architecture in such discussions is both new and significant. In this paper, I report on existing dialogues in the discipline of architecture that have bearing on this topic and then ask: What are ways that frameworks for the rights of nature or earth jurisprudence have the potential to shape the practice of architecture? In responding to this initial question, this paper offers a brief view on considering design processes that integrate fundamental rights of nature and offers speculation on the shape of a built environment that is rooted in these principles.
KEYWORDS: Architecture, Sustainability, Nature, Rights