Project

Aesthetic Sustainability in Urban Transformations

Goal: The goal of my postdoctoral research project is to find new ways to understand urban environment from the perspective of Environmental and Urban Aesthetics. The project has been funded by Emil Aaltonen Foundation (2016–17) and Finnish Cultural Foundation (in collaboration with Davidsson Tarkela Architects, 2017–18). I am continuing the project as 2-year postdoctoral fellow at Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science HELSUS at University of Helsinki in 2018–20.

Date: 1 June 2016 - 31 May 2020

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Project log

Sanna Lehtinen
added a research item
The scope and range of human aesthetic preferences have been discussed recently from the perspective of their role in advancing sustainability in contemporary societies. Philosophical and applied studies in environmental and everyday aesthetics seem to support the idea that knowledge and awareness cause changes in aesthetic values. Aesthetic sustainability as a concept has recently been developed to show why certain objects, artefacts, and landscapes become valued more highly over time. Instead of discussing the temporality of aesthetic values only in terms of historical styles, trends, or tastes, as has traditionally been the case, the concept focuses attention on the deeper layers of aesthetic appreciation , bringing together aesthetic, ethical, and cognitive values. Aesthetic sustainability is introduced here as a conceptual tool that provides insight into how human aesthetic preferences and choices function. It is also pointed out how the sphere of aesthetics is an important part of the human capability to imagine more sustainable futures.
Sanna Lehtinen
added a research item
In recent discussions on contemporary architecture, two strands of thinking have become increasingly central. On one hand, the urgency of demands for sustainability and, on the other hand, the fast pace of technological development which is affecting the sphere of architecture with growing intensity. Neither of the ideologies behind these phenomena is exactly new but they have become increasingly relevant for how architecture is defined and understood in the contemporary philosophical and theoretical discussions. This will inevitably have an effect also on how architectural aesthetics is understood, through questions such as what is the role of beauty in architecture, and how is aesthetic value in architecture related to other values such as ethical, ecological or more instrumental values linked to efficiency and economics, for example. The discussion regarding values in architecture is not new, of course, on the contrary. From very early on, architecture has been defined in the Western tradition through combining the different interpretations of what is beautiful and useful. Architecture has also been understood as one of the artforms with varying degree of emphasis on its aesthetic and creative dimension. But to what extent do the new demands for architecture affect its role in the wider aesthetic context of the city? And what are the further repercussions for aesthetics of architecture and city that stem from the philosophical interest in the specific aesthetic features of human environments in general? The emphasis in this article is on recent discussions from all represented fields, as the aim is to bridge these discussions in new, meaningful ways. This article presents some of the contemporary ideas developed within the aesthetics of architecture and the aesthetics of the city. The aim is to show a continuation from the aesthetic interest in the architectural form to the aesthetic interest which has the urban form in its focus. This is done through the notion of the human environment, which has been notably present in the philosophical study of environmental aesthetics since the 1990s. The article is by no means a conclusive representation of the complex relationship between the aesthetics of architecture and the aesthetics of the city but instead, it is an attempt to further the discussion by bringing up some interesting and vital developments in both areas. The underlying intention is to bring forth the study of urban aesthetics by making clearer how it is positioned in relation to an aesthetic interest in architecture and human environments at large.
Sanna Lehtinen
added a research item
This Special Volume is dedicated to an increasingly central direction in contemporary philosophical aesthetics that has also been gaining interest in the dynamically developing multidisciplinary field of the philosophy of the city. In addition to these theoretical approaches, more applied and practical fields that deal directly with how our cities look and feel are engaged in the multidisciplinary discussion around urban aesthetics. The built environment, urban nature, and art in the urban environment are examples of topics within the reach of traditional aesthetic inquiry. Besides continued attention on these central topics, it is also clear that new, increasingly multidisciplinary terminology is needed and being developed to better address the whole range of urban aesthetic phenomena. In this editorial introduction to the Special Volume, some but by no means all interesting lines of thinking in philosophical and applied urban aesthetics are identified and future directions are considered based on them, before introducing the eight articles in the volume.
Sanna Lehtinen
added a research item
The experienced quality of urban environments has not traditionally been at the forefront of understanding how cities evolve through time. Within the humanistic tradition, the temporal dimension of cities has been dealt with through tracing urban or architectural histories or interpreting science-fiction scenarios, for example. However, attempts at understanding the relation between currently existing components of cities and planning based on them, towards the future, has not captured the experience of the temporal layers of cities to a satisfying degree. Contemporary urban environments comprise both lasting and fairly stable elements as well as those that change continuously: change is an inevitable part of urban life. Different aspects of city life evolve with a different tempo: urban nature has its cycles, inhabitants their rhythms, and building materials and styles different lifespans, for example. Recognizing them becomes an especially important issue when future imaginaries are projected onto existing urban structures and when decisions about the details of urban futures are made. This paper aims at bringing environmental and urban aesthetics into the discussion about the possible directions of urban futures. The focus is on introducing the notion of aesthetic sustainability as a tool to better understand how urban futures unfold experientially and how aesthetic values of urban environments develop with time. This concept has some background in the field of design theory, more specifically in sustainable usage and product design (Harper 2017), but it has not so far been used in order to study large scale living environments. The concept can prove to be a valuable supporting tool in urban sustainability transformations based on how it captures the experiential side of the physical and temporal dimensions of cities.
Sanna Lehtinen
added a research item
The pervasiveness of technology has undeniably changed the way the urban everyday is structured and experienced. The experiential sphere consists increasingly of objects and activities that combine advances in technology and design in complex ways. Understanding the deep impact of this development on the everyday experience and its aesthetic elements is needed in order to determine how the skills and capacities to cope with the change, as well as to steer it, can be improved. We start with the inevitable recognition that technology has already profoundly changed the way urban environments are perceived and experienced. The overall aim is to describe how this shift within the experiential sphere is affecting people and their relationship with everyday urban environments.
Sanna Lehtinen
added a research item
Amerikkalainen ympäristöfilosofi ja ilmastoasiantuntija professori Andrew Light vieraili Suomessa heinäkuussa. Light oli yksi neljästä pääpuhujasta estetiikan alan kansainvälisen kattojärjestön IAA:n välikonferenssissa Aalto-yliopistossa Espoon Otaniemessä. Light tunnetaan akateemisen tutkimuksen ja ilmastonmuutospolitiikan yhdistäjänä sekä osallistuvan filosofian kehittäjänä: filosofiaa tarvitaan ratkomaan muuttuvan maapallon ongelmia.
Sanna Lehtinen
added a research item
Invited talk at Vitenskapsteoretisk Forum (Vitforum), NTNU Trondheim, 17th April 6pm
Sanna Lehtinen
added 7 project references
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
Welcome to join Vesa Vihanninjoki & me in our panel to discuss "Sustainable Technologies and Creativity: The Alternative(less) Imaginaries of Smartness?" 
CFP: Smartness? between discourse and practice – 15th Architectural Humanities Research Association (AHRA) International Conference 15.–17.11.2018 Department of the Built Environment, TU Eindhoven
 
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
Honoured to become a full-time HELSUS postdoctoral fellow for the next 2 years focusing on aesthetic sustainability and urban transformation!
This is a good start and I will do my utmost best to fulfill the expectations: "Impressed by the high quality of fellow applications within the Humanities, the Faculty of Arts decided to increase their initial funding, and thus enable the financing of two outstanding projects."
 
Sanna Lehtinen
added a research item
Aesthetic sustainability can be considered in the context of natural, urban, as well as different types of hybrid environments. It is linked to ecological and cultural sustainability but having its origin in philosophical aesthetics, its focus is on the experiential factors that necessarily mold our relations to phenomena within our surroundings. When thinking about aesthetic sustainability in environments, different aesthetic values manifest themselves. In this presentation, our focus is in urban settings. Aesthetically sustainable urban environments ideally age with grace: they do not need to change purely for the sake of their appearance. Developing and choosing suitable building materials is one way of creating this kind of longevity. Aesthetic sustainability can be supported also by taking functionality into focus, so that urban environments can with little effort be altered to serve the changing needs and tastes of different user groups, also those of future generations. Besides larger human environments such as towns and cities, aesthetic sustainability is a useful concept in smaller scale human settings, e.g. clothing and utensils of our immediate surroundings. Ecological considerations encourage us to aim at long-lasting quality, instead of short-lived trends. But material sustainability needs to be complemented by aesthetic quality in order for the shift to take place. One of the aims of environmental aesthetics is to provide a theoretical framework to understand the possibilities to link current aesthetic values with those of future generations not an easy task, but certainly something worth pursuing.
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
I will be presenting my paper "Creating Aesthetic Sustainability in Urban Environments" in a panel session on Urban Aesthetics in Porto on 11th October http://philosophyofthecity.org
 
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
Visited Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (KADK) School of Architecture yesterday, planning a research collaboration on urban sustainability with some colleagues working there.
 
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
Will be giving a paper here, welcome to join if near Tallinn after Easter!
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The architectural politics of nature and data will be explored at a conference in Tallinn
At a conference, taking place in Tallinn on April 21-22, architecture’s turn to nature and data will be explored from political and historical perspectives. Keynote speakers are Matthew Gandy and Douglas Spencer from the UK. The conference is organised by the Faculty of Architecture, Estonian Academy of Arts, Estonia in cooperation with the Department of Geography, Cambridge University, UK. The event is open to the public.
Two themes stand out in contemporary architecture and urbanism: ecology, revolving around sustainability, resilience, metabolic optimisation and energy efficiency, and cybernetics, staking the future upon pervasive interactivity, ubiquitous computing, and "big data". They are really two facets of a single environmental question: while real-time adjustments, behaviour optimisation and "smart" solutions are central to urban environmentalism, the omnipresent network of perpetually interacting digital objects becomes itself the environment of everyday life.
There is a growing pressure on architects, urbanists and planners to deliver ecological and techno-informational solutions. Yet (self-)monitoring citizens' "behaviour", optimising building "performance" and smoothing urban "flows" run the risk of replacing democratic politics by algorithmic governance. It is urgent to interrogate the historical, epistemological and methodological assumptions of such environmental governmentality, as Michel Foucault termed it.
The conference Architectures, Natures & Data: The Politics of Environments is organised around three thematic strands: the promises and perils of optimised urban ecosystems, the question of architectural turn to nature, and the relation between "big data" and urban subjectification.
Keynote speakers of the conference are Prof Matthew Gandy and Dr Douglas Spencer.
Prof Matthew Gandy is Professor of Cultural and Historical Geography at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK and the Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, UK. He is a cultural, urban, and environmental geographer with particular interests in landscape, infrastructure, and urban biodiversity. He is the author of The Fabric of Space (MIT Press, 2014) and Moth (Reaktion Books, 2016).
In the presentation “Negative Luminescence” Matthew Gandy explores the politics of light pollution, focusing on such phenomena as the loss of the night sky, energy wastage, and the effects of artificial light on circadian rhythms and nocturnal ecology.
Dr Douglas Spencer teaches in the Graduate School of Design at the Architectural Association, London, and at University of Westminster, London. He is the author of The Architecture of Neoliberalism (Bloomsbury, 2016). Douglas is a critical theorist of contemporary architecture and its relationship to the production of subjectivity under processes of neoliberalisation. He teaches and writes on the history and theory of architecture, urbanism and landscape.
In the presentation “Environments of Indifference: Architecture and Algorithmic Governmentality” Spencer focuses on the swarm-modelled design of contemporary transit systems, asking how its perceptual regime, and its conceptualization of urban subjects as indifferent, preconscious and behaviouristic, forecloses critique.
Altogether 25 papers will be presented by architects, urban geographers, historians, ecologists, and artists from 15 countries. The conference is organised by the Faculty of Architecture, Estonian Academy of Arts, Estonia in cooperation with the Department of Geography, Cambridge University, UK (the research project Rethinking Urban Nature). The principal organiser is Dr Maros Krivy.
The conference takes place in Tallinn at Writers' House, Harju 1 on April 21-22, 2017. The conference is open to public and free of charge, but prior registration is needed, deadline April 15. The registration form is here http://architecturesnaturesdata.com/Registration
The conference is supported by Faculty of Architecture, Estonian Academy of Arts; Cultural Endowment of Estonia; European Research Council Advanced Grant "Rethinking Urban Nature"; Estonian Ministry of Education and Research (Hasartmängumaksu Nõukogu).
 
Sanna Lehtinen
added a research item
The ongoing and accelerating process of rapid urbanisation defines how everyday environments are formed and understood in the future. As the density of the urban tissue on the planet is on the increase, also the experiential qualities of urban environments are evolving and diversifying at the same time. Understanding the profound effects of these processes is essential in order to understand how the aesthetic continues to manifest itself in the sphere of the everyday. Concentrating merely on built space in the traditional sense is not enough to assess the experiential quality of urban environments. Human space, instead, takes as a concept into consideration the totality of planned and unplanned spaces in urban environments from the human point of view. In an attempt to bring whole entities such as cities of different scale under aesthetic scrutiny, a more inclusive perspective is needed to assess how diverse parts of these entities – objects and activities, structures and infrastructures, people and other more or less complex living organisms and relations between them – function in direct contact with each other on a daily basis. By succeeding in this, environmental aesthetics can have a better access to the complex phenomena related to the urban everyday.
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
Attending "Art, Aesthetics and the Future of City Life East/West" this week at Marquette University. I will be presenting Dr. Williamson an Prof. Feng on Wednesday. Looking forward to inspiring presentations and discussions! https://muconnect.marquette.edu/art-conference-2017
 
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
My research group "Aesthetic Experience and Sense-making in Urban Planning" is organizing a conference "Considerations in Urban Aesthetics: Planning, Mobilities, and Everyday Life" next summer in Finland. More info here: http://blogs.helsinki.fi/urban-aesthetics/events-and-activities/
N.B.! The deadline for paper proposals is Jan 31st.
 
Sanna Lehtinen
added an update
Last week I presented some main ideas behind one of the article drafts I am currently working on within this project. The paper titled "Urban Aesthetics: Building upon Visual Cues in the Everyday Environment" was presented at The Blind Spot seminar, organized by the interdisciplinary Diaphanes network. The event was hosted by the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in its Exhibition Laboratory, on 21 October. The keynote was by Sarah Kember, professor of of New Technologies of Communication from Goldsmiths. Many thanks for the organizers and fellow researchers!
 
Sanna Lehtinen
added a project goal
The goal of my postdoctoral research project is to find new ways to understand urban environment from the perspective of Environmental and Urban Aesthetics. The project has been funded by Emil Aaltonen Foundation (2016–17) and Finnish Cultural Foundation (in collaboration with Davidsson Tarkela Architects, 2017–18). I am continuing the project as 2-year postdoctoral fellow at Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science HELSUS at University of Helsinki in 2018–20.