Inaugural lecture: 'Physis in a Changing World' - Nature’s Enigma

About this event

Inaugural professorial lecture:

Nick Temple – ‘Physis in a Changing World Nature’s Enigma – from Particular Situations to ‘Global’ Homogeneity

In this lecture, Nick Temple explored the cultural and socio-political forces that have variously shaped our understanding of ‘nature’ in the European context, and how changing historical perceptions have given rise to debates about the very existence and meaning of nature today. An underlying premise of the investigation is that familiar claims about humanity’s disconnection from nature in our modern technological age find important parallels in our increasing estrangement from each-other as social and political beings; that our relatedness to the world in general and to other beings – fundamental to what it means to be human – is being eroded by isolation, ‘atomisation’ and the relentless quest for alternative realities or horizons.

Consequently, when we talk about the exploitation of natural resources, through the destruction of biodiversity and the resulting impact of climate change, alongside the decline in social cohesion, evidenced in the ‘pandemic’ of loneliness gripping many societies around the world, we are actually confronting the same crisis. The depth of this relationship is made clear in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s understanding of health as a “natural mode” of human existence; “a condition of being involved, of being in the world, of being together with one’s fellow human beings…”

Among the contexts where we witness most concretely the intertwining of natural conditions and human interactions (and their subsequent unravelling) is in the civic dimensions of urban life in early modern Europe and their ‘afterlife’ in the modern age through rapid urbanisation and technological development. A contributing factor in this interconnected environmental/social crisis, as this lecture will argue, is our increasing amnesia about humanity’s temporal (historical) situatedness, and its replacement by generalised atemporal and placeless notions of ‘ecological’ inter-connectedness, or what Ursula Heise advocates as “the environmental imagination of the global.” This leads us to the paradoxical claim by Robert Pogue Harrison that “…we make ourselves at home only in our estrangement, or the logos of the finite.”

The lecture drew on the writings and ideas of numerous philosophers, environmentalists, anthropologists, geographers, sociologists and architectural historians/theorists, such as Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Bruno Latour, Michel Serres, Raymond Williams, Timothy Morton, Jeff Malpas, Peter Sloterdijk, David Abram, Carolyn Merchant, Clarence Glacken, Philippe Descola, Bryan Bannon, Tim Ingold, Charles Taylor, Gayatri Spivak, Peter Carl and Dalibor Vesely.

Nick Temple traced these transformations in our understanding of the natural world through four inter-related areas of enquiry that concern notions of the agonic, language, perspective and ‘world-making’. Each reveals, in its thematic content and historical development, particular shifts in our collective perception of human receptiveness – or attunement – to ‘nature’; from a state of war/conflict (Bellum omnium contra omnes), followed by the settings and rhythms of human/natural exchange, then the encroaching ‘perspectivisation’ of the world and finally the omnipresence of the enveloping – totalising – sphericity of ‘Spaceship Earth’ (a condition of modern globalisation).

Nicholas Temple was born in Australia and is an architect and senior professor in architectural history at London Metropolitan University, having held previous academic posts as Professor of Architecture and Director of CUDAS at Huddersfield University, Professor and Head of School at the University of Lincoln and as an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. A graduate of Cambridge University, he was recipient of the Rome Scholarship in Architecture at the British School at Rome, the Paul Mellon Rome Fellowship and the Architecture Fellowship at the Bogliasco Foundation in Italy.

Nicholas Temple has published widely on aspects of the history, philosophy and theory of architecture, including Disclosing Horizons: Architecture, Perspective and Redemptive Space (Routledge, 2007) and as co-editor of Architecture and Justice: Judicial Meanings in the Public Realm (Ashgate, 2013) and Bishop Robert Grosseteste and Lincoln Cathedral: Tracing Relationships between Medieval Concepts of Order and Built Form (Ashgate, 2014). His book renovatio urbis: Architecture, Urbanism and Redemptive Space (Routledge, 2011) was shortlisted for the International Committee of Architecture Critics Bruno Zevi Book Award 2014 and more recently his Architecture and the Language Debate: Artistic and Linguistic Exchanges in Early Modern Italy (Routledge, 2020) was nominated for the Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion (2020) and co-edited volume The Routledge Handbook on the Reception of Classical Architecture (Routledge, 2019) nominated for the Colvin Prize (2020). As both Chief editor of the Routledge Architectural History series and co-editor of the Journal of architecture, Temple has undertaken a number of funded research projects including a British Academy/Leverhulme project on a translation and commentary of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Third Commentary. His recent research involves a forthcoming co-authored book on building temporality in China and Europe, and a planned sole-authored book on the enigmatic meanings of nature in the modern world that forms the subject matter of this inaugural lecture.

View of the mountains from the old stone-built town.


Date/time Thursday, 23 November 2023, 6.00pm - 9:00pm
Book ticket Event ended
Location  The Wash Houses, Room CCG-02, Calcutta House, London Metropolitan University, Aldgate Campus

Inaugural lecture: Prof. Nick Temple

In this lecture, Prof. Nick Temple explored the cultural and socio-political forces that had variously shaped our understanding of ‘nature’ in the European context, and how changing historical perceptions have given rise to debates about the very existence and meaning of nature today.