CoEvolution Quarterly (1974–1984) and Environmental Participation
Ecology, Exchange, and Expertise

This research examines the salient link between the science-focused journal CoEvolution Quarterly (1974–84) and the role of architecture in a new era of ecological systems. Founded under the editorial hand of Stewart Brand, CoEvolution Quarterly began by foregrounding a network of architects and designers as primary participants in the wider ecological conversation amongst scientists, businessmen, politicians, artists, and intellectuals alike. While the editors talked to the readers, the contributors communicated amongst each other, and the journal spoke to the environmental issues at hand; in short, the journal’s form took on its theoretical premise presented by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis (Gaia hypothesis), Paul Ehrlich (coevolution), and Gregory Bateson (responsive systems)—the conversational, connected environment.

This moment marked a conceptual shift in perceptions of environmental hierarchy; no longer were nature and culture in conflict, nor was nature a pure, pious thing and culture a messy other. New environmental theories brought everything in conversation together. Every particle, human and nonhuman, now had a voice. Thus, the role of architecture and the architect transformed within the environmental conversation; architectural practice and product were no longer isolated or autonomous within the field but instead a necessary part of the larger biosphere and an even larger dialogue.

This transformation led to both a crisis of and opportunity for the expert. As scientists turned to architecture, architects to politics, and designers to science, the position of expert was up for grabs. In turn, language and representation shifted within CoEvolution Quarterly. Architects took the opportunity to define environmental design as a dimension of political, social, scientific, and aesthetic means. Messy and emboldened, the artifacts, personalities, and the conversation presented reveal the shifting expertise in design and science, from the work of the New Alchemy Institute and Dr. John Todd, Day Chahroudi and his role with product development of Low-E coating, engineer-turned-architect Malcolm Wells and models of subterranean architecture, and the political work of Sim Van Der Ryn (the State Architect of California).

As the contemporary conversation shifts back to issues of the environment and the connection to ecology reemerges, the questions remain. How can we establish a value system in such a dynamic, non-hierarchical system? How can the architect within this system define his role in ecology-based design in a world of experts?