Performing Sustainability: Life Support Inside Biosphere 2's Glass Box Theater, 1991-1993

Mar 27, 2013

Recently, the term Performative Architecture has been increasingly used as a pseudonym for sustainable design. In the case of Biosphere 2 (B2), performative architecture became not only a service oriented container for long-duration life support, it became the stage on which multiple sustainability narratives were played out. Perhaps unconsciously achieved by the project’s architects, Phil Haws and Margaret Augustine, the functional form of B2 provided the front-of-house and back-of-house venues that propelled the operation, and the perception of sustainable life-support during Mission 1. This paper defines the troupe of performers: ecology, ecotechnics, Biospherians, scientists, tourists, and popular media, and utilizes their performances upon the B2 stage to unpack the ensuing drama of Mission 1 through the lens of this glass box theater architecture, while speculating on the value of the lessons learned for today’s performative architectures. Here, conventionally understood quantitative aspects of performative architecture link the eco-technological design and operation of B2 to qualitative humanities based frameworks of Performativity such as theater, service oriented design, and object studies. Through the case study of B2, it becomes apparent how and why these coupled quantitative/qualitative understandings are critical to the future success of performative architecture in the Anthropocene, at a time when adaptive architectural strategies for sustaining and enhancing global life support, which supplements diminishing ecosystem services during rapid climate change, are becoming more ubiquitous. Ultimately, we can utilize the performative architectural apparatus of B2 to develop a more sophisticated understanding of trans-disciplinary architectural design and its operational implications, which will ultimately facilitate the design and performance of more productive constructed eco-techno-socio environments.

Meredith Sattler (Louisiana State University)
Proceedings of the 2013 ARCC Spring Research Conference
Presented at: 
The Visibility of Research
Published & professionally reviewed by: 
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Architectural Research Centers Consortium

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