Inorganic Ethics

April 6, 2018

Chemical Life: John Ruskin’s Inorganic Ethics

Research Seminar by Marrikka Trotter (SCI-Arc)

Lawrence Hall 197, 11:00-13:00

This talk examines John Ruskin’s attempt to connect the essential workings of geology to architectural production by revealing a preexisting ethics common to both. Ruskin’s scientific theories were based on a conviction that all inorganic form was largely predetermined by internal chemical configurations. In his understanding, the entire mineral landscape – whether organized into crystals or decomposed into dust – perpetually strove to fulfill the formational blueprint contained in its atomic structure. Ruskin held that every fundamental “truth” of nature contained an emulable moral lesson for society, and his perspective on the formational processes of the natural world profoundly shaped his approach to the built environment. Ultimately, Ruskin believed that worthwhile architectural “crystallizations” could only be achieved by an ethical community that – like the inorganic world – obeyed inborn laws and committed to a continual process of self-improvement. Convinced that creativity could be modeled on geological principles, Ruskin attempted to align the human subject with nature’s own laws. Here I will focus on Ruskin’s “post-architectural” pedagogical and social experiments, and in particular, on a collection of siliceous minerals he catalogued and gave to the St. David’s School for Boys at Reigate in the 1870s. Ruskin’s interpretation of how silica-rich minerals formed, and his interpolation of this process to the formation of individual subjects and the island of Britain as a whole, contained a profound challenge to architectural production.

Space is limited. To attend, please RSVP to

About the speaker:

Marrikka Trotter is an architectural historian and theorist whose research examines the historical intersections between geology, architecture, agriculture, and landscape in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She is co-editor of the contemporary architectural theory collections Architecture at the Edge of Everything Else  (The MIT Press: 2010) and Architecture is All Over(Columbia Books on Architecture and the City: 2017), and her writing has appeared in publications such as Harvard Design MagazineLog, and AA Files.