Brian McGrath

Urban Design, Parsons School of Design, The New School

The Embodied Resilience of Architecture and Built Form

Resilience is embodied in the physical world that surrounds us, both in the evidence of the remarkable and complex distribution of and relationship between organisms and the environment, and in the vast cultural richness of architecture and built form.

This lecture introduces the concept of “operative panarchy” which combines Saverio Muratori’s project to activate a working history of architecture, cities and territory, and panarchy, based on Gunderson and Hollings’ description of adaptive transformations in human and natural systems. Operative panarchy, therefore, offers a framework for embodying resilience, through the empirical evidence and historical analysis of human adaptation and ecosystem transformation in architecture and built form. Archeological and anthropological records, together with our common lived experience of the built environment, demonstrate how humans creatively reorganize and change in response to crisis, both minor everyday sensorimotor breakdowns and catastrophic events. The distant view of ecosystem transformation through the analytical lens of science is paired with an embedded architectural method that repositions the researcher within the nested complex adaptive cycles within which we live. An operative panarchy diverges from previous discussions on applying various technical understandings of resilience to the professional fields of architecture, urban design and planning, and proposes a more universal understanding and living, embodied understanding the multisystemic resilience of architecture and built form. Various examples will be presented, including a discussion on developing the concept of operative panarchy in response to the unprecedented speed and scale of urban development in contemporary China.

Brian McGrath is the founder and principal of Urban-Interface, LLC, an urban design consultancy fusing expertise in architecture, ecology and media. McGrath is a Principle Investigator in the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, where he leads the Urban Design Working Group. His books and publications include: Urban Design Ecologies Reader, (2012), Digital Modeling for Urban Design (2008), Transparent Cities (1994), Resilience in Ecology and Urban Design (2012), Growing Cities in a Shrinking World: The Challenges in India and China (2010),, Sensing the 21st Century City (2007), and Cinemetrics: Architectural Drawing Today (2007). McGrath served as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Thailand in 1998-99 and an India China Institute Fellow in 2006-2008 and was Research Director in the joint US-EU exchange program Urbanisms of Inclusion.