Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

It’s good to remember how fast things change, culturally & biologically

Posted 11 Apr 2016 / 0
2016-04-11a.jpgThe Pratt Institute Chemistry, Machinery, and Engineering buildings in 1950 (image courtesy of Pratt@125)

A colleague of mine (Daniel Wright) sent around this image from Pratt Institute’s 125th Anniversary photo time line collection. It’s a pretty amazing testament to how quickly things can change in a culturally-evolving environment. These buildings still stand at Pratt: in fact, I regularly teach in the Engineering building on the far right. The names of the buildings — all related to basic or applied physical sciences — are a tribute to a time when Pratt used to offer science degrees. And the idea of an elevated train track running through the campus now seems utterly absurd. Things change really quickly in our society, especially if you measure change on the generational scale of biology (for example, my mother was six or seven years old when this picture was taken, so we are talking about at most three generations of time from now back to when this photo was taken).

What I actually find most remarkable about this picture is the biological story it tells. I couldn’t find a contemporary image taken at the same angle, but the two images below tell the real story of change in this area of campus:

2016-04-11b.jpgImage of the Chemistry building (same as far left in first image above) courtesy of Jim Henderson via Wikimedia Commons
2016-04-11c.jpgImage of the Engineering building (same as far right in first image above) courtesy of Jim Henderson via Wikimedia Commons

As you can see, the most dramatic change to this area really isn’t the removal of the elevated train line: it’s the growth of those stumpy little trees pictured as mere juveniles in 1950. Sure, removing the train dramatically changed the sonic and visual environment of the campus, but the trees also had big environmental impacts. It’s hard to imagine the campus at a time when it was not graced with these massive, majestic trees. And there is a lot of embodied carbon in those trees! I only wish it was enough to offset the lifestyle that we — including those of use who make and teach at Pratt — have created in the last 65+ years.

Culture evolves rapidly. And already-evolved biological organisms can — if given the right environment — make big changes to their environent. We just need to harness this change towards a more sustainable future!

A Minor Post, Adaptation, Architecture, Climate Change, Cultural Evolution, Pratt Institute, Science in Art & Design, Sustainability, Sustainable Pratt, Sustainable Urban Design

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