From left] Harlan Cleveland, Paul Ehrlich, and George Mitchell at the Third Woodlands Conference, 1979. Schmandt, v.
Earthmoving trucks rearrange tons of the desert substrate, preparing the ground for the new cities. The Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, Madinat Al-Jubail Al-Sinaiyah: Mokhtat Al- Mantikah Al-Sakaniyah (Riyadh: the Royal Commission, 1978).
Managing the Well/Managing the Town: Petro-capital, Late Modernism, and the Environmental Professional
This thesis examines the architecture and urbanism of the oil and gas industry in and around the period of the 1973 OPEC embargo. Avoiding an analysis of either the avant-guarde responses this event or merely its infrastructural variables, the thesis instead looks towards the research laboratories, corporate headquarters, new town developments, and educational institutions built to manage ecological and economic change. It narrates the transnational exchanges of expertise, capital, and knowledge between Houston and Saudi Arabia, coordinated by and through architecture and oil. Seeking to parse the influence of ecological systems thinking on both architectural practice and extractive activity, the thesis looks at buildings, cities, and landscapes as instruments of stabilization and control. It finds that the “environmental professional” lent this project of resource territorialization a holistic valence, utilizing signature design methods of interdisciplinarity, researchbased practice, and information management. Responding to shifts in both architectural and corporate management culture, the environmental professional took on a greater scope of project life-cycles for clients with large, complex undertakings. The environment in the eyes of these clients and professionals became an operative medium to secure the future. These two industries, architecture and oil, furthermore took on isomorphic properties: where oil companies began moving into land development and real estate, architecture firms began acting more like energy conglomerates. For the oil industry, landscape was viewed as a complementary bough to diversification efforts and a cognate resource to geophysical reserves; each were to be managed in accordance with the limits set by natural or social law. In architecture, buildings were seen as vessels for the distribution of energy and information, with firms mimicking changes in the larger political economy through “technostructural” organization. The thesis uncovers a middle-ground history of corporate architecture and environmental expertise, identifying the contingent pathways towards our present condition in what could no doubt justifiably be called the neoliberal Anthropocene.