Designing an Interdisciplinary research and education concept in Ecological Habitats (2018-2019).

By Elena Cogato Lanza and David Goeury

ENAC (School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering), EPFL ( Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), ENAC Exploratory Grants 2018 

Designing an interdisciplinary research and education concept in Ecological Habitats. Pilot case: Site management and Conservation planning of collective granaries in Souss Massa (Morocco). Food, architecture and society beyond North-South paradigm.

Main research question(s) and objectives of the project
1) How can we conceptualize, design and undertake an Ecological Habitat (EH)? In relation to agriculture and food issues, how can we formulate a multi-scale strategy associating preservation of traditional architecture and vernacular practices, social sustainability and regional sustainable agro-environmental systems?
2) How can we formulate an epistemological and practical approach to EH that will be adequate both for South and North? How to create conditions for scientific, technical and social exchange that are deeply symmetrical and that set the foundations for an horizontal comparative approach?
We will try to answer this bundle of research questions both contextually, in a 1 year time, thanks to a case study and a thematic focus (food-architecture-society), and on a more theoretical and fundamental level in 4 years time.
At the end of the year 1, we will sketch up the theoretical and analytical coordinates to:
– compare different case studies which the team members are dealing on (sharing the same issues as food security, traditional labor practices and architecture, water and soil regulation, etc.);
– define an original ENAC approach in the field of EH, with strong impact in its education programs.
– to submit a FNS Sinergia project (1st June 2020).

Description of the research project and of its interdisciplinary character

Site Management and conservation planning for Collective Granaries and community driven development projects in Souss Massa, Marocco (CGM), initiated by the architect Salima Naji with the collaboration of David Goeury, and funded by the Global Heritage Fund (GHF) over a period of 4 years (2018-2021), is a unique opportunity to observe an EH working site. The ambition of this project is to rethink the resilience of the oasis and Atlas societies of Morocco: the rehabilitation of the vernacular heritage activates a virtuous crossing of (local) subsistence and (global) tourism economies; combines the challenges of cultural practices and biodiversity; promotes traditional building trades and know-how, encourages eco-construction in a global vision linking buildings, agricultural practices and landscapes; combines oasis issues and urban issues (city of Tiznit, 75,000 inhabitants), and has an impact on architecture school programmes. With the help of the Exploratory Grant, we will initiate a partnership between ENAC and the CGM project that we plan to deploy on two time scales (1 year and 4 years), with multiple implications.  Furthermore, the University of Agadir Ibn Zhor would be ready to collaborate if the partnership were to be established, as the HETS-S0 will be with a view to a SNF Sinergia Submission.
In 2019, the partnership will focus on the area outlined by the subtitle Food, architecture and society, and will lay the foundations for a joint ENAC/CGM-GHF reflection on EH as a macro object of research and action. Daling the case study of CGM, main research topics will be :
a) commons, collective granaries being a common land linked to irrigated perimeters and collective lands ;
b) sociotechnical modalities combining construction and vernacular practices, with scientific knowledge and experimental techniques, in order to adapt to bioclimatic constraints.
c) a holistic, non-sectoral approach to resilience, linking architecture, agriculture, landscape and biodiversity. The CGM-GHF project captures the production context of architecture as a holistic binder: collective granaries, terraces, irrigation canals, domestic housing, animal shelters are all part of the same socio-technical context linking geological resources (stone, earth) and plant resources (arboriculture for frames). Conservation choices are also linked to agricultural practices and crop variety choices as well as cultural practices.
d) modes of production and society: CGM-GHF’s interest is to link preservation with contemporary eco-construction dynamics and the strengthening of localized agricultural production systems as part of the development of the cooperative movement around local products in particular. It is not without reasoning with the stakes around the many Swiss commons and the importance of vernacular techniques in sustainable development, particularly since the inclusion of food security in the federal constitution (2017).
The expected results are:
– ENAC’s contribution to defining possible scenarios for a local sustainable agricultural projects around permaculture and agroecology, as well as its territorial-environmental structures and systems;
– Preliminary comparative operations between the Moroccan field and the EH case studies on which the members of the ENAC team will work in parallel in the perspective of ecological transition – mainly : Easter Island/Isla de Pascua (P. Tombesi, Head of the Superstudio SAR), the Greater Geneva (E. Cogato Lanza, Steering Committee, representing the Braillard Architects Foundation) ; the hybrid socio-technical regimes of water use in Valais (L. Pattaroni).
– A draft of the Sinergia research submission.
The Exploratory Grant will make it possible to achieve the objectives of the 1st year, in particular by means of the organisation of an interdisciplinary Phd Seminar-workshop.
Over the 4 years, 2019-2022, the partnership will develop more fundamental issues, expressed in the title Designing an interdisciplinary research and education concept in Ecological Habitats, including the concepts of oasis (a) and of ecology of research (b).
a) If the Moroccan case will constitute the heart of our partnership with CGM, from 2020 a simmetry will be established with the Moroccan partners, who will interact with us on our own research terrains. This reciprocity will be permitted by a very extensive understanding of the notion of oasis: literally, the oasis is defined simultaneously by the recognition of very strong local constraints, and its global integration, as for the oasis dealt with by CGM-GHF.
Figuratively speaking, the oasis becomes a “figure of sustainability”: both a testimony and an inspiring concept of possible socio-technical choices to overcome the constraint in the long run. It makes it possible to establish resonances between relatively disparate sites and civilizations ; to inspire an original approach to EH (its conceptualization of interdisciplinary methods, parameters and techniques of its apprehension of relevant sustainability models) that is free of any North-South dichotomy ; to activate comparison as a scientific and projectual heuristic device, aiming to stimulate a context of emulation and bilateral exchange. This does not go without formulating a hypothesis on how to define the Global Horizon to which the oasises relate themselves.
b) Our approach to research on EH ought be embodied in an Ecological Research and Education Concept, which places the relationship to knowledge and experimentation within the framework of an ecology of research based on the association between scientific research and vernacular knowledge, and thus between academia, civil society, associative circles and creation. Our research team is already combining the registers of experimental knowledge (ENAC), practical knowledge and the arts of doing (HETS), and creation (Architecture in ENAC), which ought be articulated, in an ecological sinergy, with contextual and traditional knowledge. Even more than in research, contextual and traditional knowledge is slower to be incorporated into the education programmes of the high school, and mobilised into a training geared to transition priorities.
The project CGM-GHF, in beginning a process of work over more than 4 years, allows ENAC to be part of a dynamic, and to develop a research-action protocol particularly rich in monitoring of sites in process of social transformation. The prospects for collaboration over time are assured, due to the scope of the program and its dynamics.

Description of related advising and/or teaching activities.
Since the objective of this EG is to initiate an interdisciplinary ENAC research-teaching programme on Ecological Habitat, the organisation of a Phd Seminar is more appropriate than that of an undergraduate teaching course. The Phd Seminar will allow us to go deeper into our research questions, in order to build a new transdisciplinary approach linking sociotechnical issues, biodiversity, resilience ; to question comparative logics ; and propose new avenues of analysis. The challenge is also to develop traceability from the ENAC Ensemble Project to the PhD schools in the Faculty.
We have experience in organising Phd Seminars (recently, in the framework of the Habitat EPFL Centre) as « intensive » research schemes – the Comparing Habitats seminar (2017) and, in progress, Habitats in Time (2018). The Phd Seminar-workshop of 1 week proposed here, will make it possible to break down the processes at work to better understand the complex localized interactions. The Phd Seminar will be managed as a collective analysis device, aiming to produce a document in the form of a digital atlas. The doctoral students will begin their analyses on the basis of the digital documentation, then in situ in a workshop format.


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