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Last week I had the pleasure of attending the American Society for Environmental History’s 2017 conference in Chicago. Under the thematic banner of Winds of Change: Global Connections across Space, Time, and Nature, environmental historians met in the windy city to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their society and discuss future directions for the field. For a design historian making forays into environmental history, this was an excellent venue to test the broader relevance of the research we are doing in the framework of the Back to the Sustainable Future project. I had been invited to take part in the session Histories of Design and the Environment, organised by Carl A. Zimring (Pratt Institute) with contributions also by Rachel S. Gross (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Eun-Joo Ahn (University of California, Santa Barbara). My paper, “Appetite for Construction: Design History as Environmental History”, attempted to offer a broader historiographical and theoretical rationale for the joint venture of these two fields of inquiry, thus acting as something of an introduction to the case studies presented by my fellow panelists. Taken from his most recent book, Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective, just published by Johns Hopkins University Press, Zimring discussed an example well known to design historians - the aluminium furniture series designed by Ray and Charles Eames for the Herman Miller company - but with a refreshing emphasis on the ecological performance of these objects and of alumininium products in general. Gross’ paper examined the elaborate climate studies undertaken in US Army laboratories that informed the design of the M-1943 cotton field jacket, on of the most well-known military garment designs of all times with significant influence also on civilian fashion. Finally, Ahn talked about the ecological restoration project integrated into the planning and construction of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), probing the relations between this and the high energy physics research conducted at the facility. The ensuing discussion, moderated by Steven Corey (Columbia College), showed that there is considerable interest in research at the intersection of design history and environmental history, something that bodes well both for the forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Design History on Environmental Histories of Design as well as for our own conference Making and Unmaking the Environment in September.

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