Panel 1A | Architecture for a Better Future

Solarpunk and Environmental Sustainability: A (not-so) Tragic Technophilic Marriage
Alejandro Rivero-Vadillo (Universidad de Alcalá)

Science fiction in the last decade has been characterized by the rise of ecocritical narratives, climate fictions that are meant to either warn readers of the environmental effects of capitalist techno-industrialism or provide potential solutions to the climate crisis. From film narratives such as Interstellar (2014), or Blade Runner 2049 (2017), to literary best-sellers such as Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 (2017), climate fictions imagine possible future worlds in an advanced Anthropocene. In this sense, solarpunk, a new subgenre of cyberpunk fiction born during the 2010s, offers a distinct perspective on this future. If mainstream narratives are characterized by humanity’s inability to maintain technological progress in the face of the incoming environmental catastrophe, solarpunk stories present science and technology (particularly bio- and geoengineering) as an instrument to palliate and even maintain Humanity’s accelerationist historical process. Although solarpunk has usually been analyzed as an hyper-optimistic genre, lacking, in most cases, a specific and viable scientific background when depicting solutions to human habitability on Earth, in this paper I intend to expand on the scientific philosophies embedded in solarpunk discursivity. Thus, I will focus on how the works of contemporary architects Benjamin Bratton and Vincent Callebaut function as theoretical and aesthetical visions of the sustainable and technological spaces generated in thus subgenre’s narratives. In this sense, I will analyze stories from the compilation Multispecies Cities: Solarpunk Urban Futures (2021) paying attention to, first, the operability of Bratton’s neorrationalist ideas, from his essay “The Terraforming” (2019), in the genre, and secondly, the aesthetic depiction of solarpunk urbanism, which will be critically compared to contemporary architectonical projects carried out by Callebaut.

Technological Solutions to Narrativized Problems: The Ideological Construction of the Golden Gate Suicide Barrier
Caitlyn Stewart (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

As publicized and sensationalized by the controversial 2006 documentary The Bridge, which captured on film 24 people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge to commit suicide within the span of a year, cities like San Francisco have long faced challenges surrounding popularly designated “suicide bridges.” A variety of measures have been employed in such places to reduce the number of jumps, but no innovation has been more popular or widely debated than the “suicide barrier”—a steel net built underneath a bridge and extended outward on both sides, designed to deter jumpers by blocking any potential fall. The suicide barrier, like other preventative measures, is a technology. That is, it has been manufactured to address specific societal need(s) or desire(s); it has undergone a kind of scientific process in which it was imagined, designed, and then constructed in order to serve a particular societal or humanistic purpose. This paper seeks to illuminate the ways in which this turn to technological solution-making belies an inherently flawed process in which the scientific community and the public alike evaluate the success of such implementations based upon their ability to “solve” an entirely misattributed “problem.” I argue, moreover, that what is missed in the general acceptance of statistical analyses determining the “effectiveness” of technologies like the Golden Gate suicide barrier is the influence of human actors on the direction and result of the research—the idea that the problem itself is constructed by the very researchers purporting to solve it. Taking a deeper look into popular media representations of the Golden Gate as a suicide destination, including Tad Friend’s New Yorker piece “Jumpers,” Eric Steel’s documentary “The Bridge,” and Jenni Olson’s film The Joy of Life, I identify the influence of narrative on the construction of the scientific problem that suicide barriers purport to solve, and further suggest that technologies owe their conception and production to a plethora of human interests that often remain unacknowledged and elided from public understanding. In the case of suicide barriers, this false perception can have potentially harmful impacts on quality of life for many people and society writ large.