Book Review: Bracket [At Extremes]

Edited by Maya Przybylski and Lola Sheppard. Actar, 2016.

The third issue of bookazine Bracket explores design’s agency within the new norm of accelerating environmental change. How does architecture relate to our ecological definition of “environment”? And how do both architecture and environment intersect with the shifting social and political dimensions of cities and their hinterlands, as well as with remote landscapes? Following in the steps of its predecessors, Bracket [At Extremes] consolidates a wide range of topics under its thematic umbrella, incorporating written reflection alongside speculative design work.

The editors encouraged contributors to embrace disequilibrium, or imbalance, as a potentially productive tool. They note in the issue’s introduction that maximum risk often creates the opportunity for maximum reward. The resulting work crosses disciplinary and geographic boundaries. Contributions range from addressing more traditional issues of global climate change, like atmospheric degradation and temperature rises; to proposals for restructuring former energy-rich landscapes that are subject to lasting socio-political and ecological impacts post-depletion; to examinations of post-industrial urban spaces where land-use and connective tissue must be rethought; to conjectures on how destructive technological advancements could be appropriated for new and subversive ends.

Though these speculations range widely in scale, many ultimately find their footing in architecture as a mediating strategy. The contributors identify places of productive tension—sites of action where designers might claim agency within chaotic environments. This is proof of the unique position architects and related professionals find themselves in. Architects are, admittedly, often victim to the speculative “fantasy” that sees little life beyond the academy walls or competition stack, observes Keller Easterling in this issue. But the “most interesting thinkers in the social, political and economic sciences are looking for hidden relationships in more complex test beds,” she continues. It is in locating these hidden relationships, or new sites of action, that the contributions of [At Extremes] are most exciting.

Taylor Davey is beginning a PhD at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2017.