Lecture Series: Alexandra Arènes, Societe d'Objets Cartographiques | Learning from Critical Zones

Wednesday Sept. 30, 2020 , All Day

Downstream, a sophisticated outdoor laboratory automatically analyzes the chemistry of the river every 30 minutes. Upstream, micro-architectures suspended under trees collect rain containing Sulphur. These are just a few of the devices that constitute a Critical Zone Observatory, a landscape fully equipped with scientific instruments that record nature's variations to understand environmental disturbances caused by human activities.

I have followed these scientists at work during their expeditions or routine campaigns and have seen how their practices are helping to shape a new understanding of nature. The landscape is no longer what we can take for granted in the face of today's unpredictable changes. How we, as designers, deal with these changes is a difficult question. Not knowing the answers, moving through the instability of the Critical Zone, at SOC, we are experimenting with scientists a way to become sensitive to the earth through the arts, and conversely, a way to use science to influence design practices that are too well established. I will share these collaborative research experiences with critical zone scientists, artists and designers, especially my experience in designing biogeochemically based alternative visualizations (gaia-graphy). I will also present the recent large-scale recreation of an observatory in the space of the ZKM museum, a former industrial building in Germany (‘CZO space’, a SOC installation for the exhibition Critical Zones. Observatories for Earthly politics).


Alexandra Arènes is a French landscape architect and now a PhD researcher at the University of Manchester. She co-founded SOC (Société d’Objets Cartographiques) in 2016, a think tank on earth political design, drawing on scientific and public enquiries, and producing workshops and exhibitions. The studio designed the installation CZO space at the ZKM (Museum for Art and Media, Karlsruhe) for the exhibition Critical Zones. Observatories for Earthly Politics (curated by Bruno Latour, 2020), the result of close collaboration between science and art. She has also contributed to theater research (INSIDE, Back to Earth, Où atterrir?), and co-authored the book Terra Forma, Manuel de Cartographies Potentielles (B42, 2019).

Website: s-o-c.fr


Terra Forma, Manuel de Cartographies Potentielles, with Frédérique Ait-Touati and Axelle Grégoire. Edition B42, 2019.

“Giving Depth to the Surface – an Exercise in the Gaia-graphy of Critical Zones”, in The Antropocene Review, 29 June, 2018, with Bruno Latour and Jérôme Gaillardet.

“Traveling through the Critical Zone”, ZKM catalogue Critical Zones. The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth. Publisher: MIT Press, 2020. Editors: Bruno Latour & Peter Weibel.

“If the Earth is not the globe, how to sketch it?” with Bruno Latour in NESS 2: Mad World Pictures, September 2019.


The UTSOA Fall 2020 Lecture Series will be presented digitally through Zoom and will be live-streamed on the Texas Architecture YouTube channel. All lectures will take place at 1 PM unless noted otherwise.