"SEA MACHINES" is a one-day symposium that interrogates marine technology for the history and theory of architecture. From canoes and cargo ships to submarines and offshore drilling rigs, maritime vessels show how design has been employed to imagine, manoeuver, conquer, and exploit the environments and ecosystems of the sea.
“Sea Machines” brings together members of the Daniels Faculty and a diverse roster of internationally recognized scholars and practitioners with an interest in environmental history, technology, and design. By examining ships and other naval machines, the talks interrogate specific historical and regional forms and landscapes. The study of maritime spaces is timely and of wide interest for scholars and practitioners across the design disciplines, especially given the sea’s increasing precarity in the face of climate change. Ultimately, the symposium highlights the central role played by architecture in charting a future environmental and technological reality.
Ships are architectural machines with unique requirements of mobility and buoyancy.
The sea has long been cast as the inverse of the habitable terracentric world. Depictions of storms, shipwrecks, and underwater monsters haunt the art and literature of coastal societies, serving as warnings to those who might venture into the blue expanse. Yet, across cultures and throughout history, humans have constructed elaborate structures to facilitate the crossing and even occupation of the ocean.
Recent scholarship in the blue humanities has shed light on the profound ways that oceans influence politics, economics, science, and culture. Aquatic environments have conditioned everything from human diets, artistic traditions, trade networks, and settlement patterns. Whereas architects and historians have studied harbours and ports, far fewer have looked at the vessels that traversed and inhabited the open water. These “sea machines” signal the outer limits of a period and place’s techno-environmental imagination. What architectonic skills did designers, shipwrights, and navigators employ in the construction and operation of ocean structures? How did the forms and materials of water-based vessels speak to larger ideological and environmental forces, including those tied to colonization and slavery, capitalism, and the climate? And how might infrastructure linked to offshore extraction (e.g., fishing, pearl farming, coral and deep-sea mining, oil drilling, etc.) provide a specifically architectural way to evaluate the relationship between human and non-human entities across the land and sea divide?
Organizers: Christy Anderson and Jason Nguyen