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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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2. Built Environment versus Environment?

The story of the built environment is part of man’s domination of nature. A city as any building is a place that had to be wrested out of nature: forests must be rooted out, land cleared, and much that was hitherto part of a vital ecological system becomes covered by asphalt, concrete and brick. Le Corbusier called architecture an “assault on nature” – and thought that he was complementing the city by doing so.21 Yet the often described dichotomous separation of humans (and in particular their technological artifacts) from nature in Western culture has seldom been radical in the built environment. New York’s Central Park, urban sprawl, and every flowerpot on the windowsill show our “biophilia,” that is, our deeply rooted fascination with nature and things that are alive.22 Even Etienne-Louis Boullée, whose abstract geometric style is far from showing any link to organic forms, did not reject nature entirely, his (never built) cenotaph for Isaac Newton being designed as a gigantic sphere embedded in a circular two-levelled base but topped with cypress trees.

Why, then, has the built environment turned inimical toward the un-built environment? A primary reason is surely ignorance and the difficulty in predicting future consequences of technical innovations and of the built environment; quantitative as much as qualitative consequences. In 1896, when New York City introduced asphalt paving in place of brick, granite and woodblock, no one could ...

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