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The Sustainability Space: Virtual Professional Development Lecture Series

The Sustainability Space is a series of virtual, discussion-based events for students studying sustainability at The Earth Institute, Columbia University. Hosted by faculty and student group leaders, these discussions will explore a variety of critical topics, ranging from energy to equity and more.

Please join us on the following days/times:

  • Tuesday 12/1 (8-9am)
  • Thursday 12/10 (1-2pm)

The 12/1 session is titled Climate Fiction, Future Cities. Like its associated genre of science fiction, climate fiction offers an opportunity to speculate on best and worst-case scenarios for human occupation of the planet after a disaster. Referencing excerpts from Kim Stanely Robinson's New York 2140 (Hachette, 2017), the panel comprised of a scientist, an engineer, a historian of architecture and science/technology, and a journalist and writer will talk about what fiction can help us to imagine about our technology, environment, daily life, and aspirations. Please read the excerpt of the novel available on the publisher's website prior to attendance to get the most out of the conversation.

This conversation will be moderated by Lynnette Widder. The four panelists are:

  • Erik Olsen
  • Darby Minow Smith
  • Anthony Acciavatti
  • Jenna Mara Lawrence

Bios below:

Lynnette Widder is an Associate Professor of Practice in the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University. She teaches four courses in the SUMA program: Responsiveness and Resilience in the Built Environment; Hungry City Workshop; Energy and Equity in the Built Environment (co-taught with Prof. Diana Hernandez, Mailman School of Public Health); and one section of the Capstone Workshop..Prof. Widder has worked as an architect in Germany, Switzerland, and the US, and was the co-founder of Aardvarchitecture, a boutique architectural design office in New York City. She was the Chair of the Department of Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she was Associate Professor of Architecture until 2012. Previous research projects include innovations in compressed earth block construction, 20th-century construction history, and a variety of topics in international development. She is presently the primary investigator, working with Earth Institute colleagues on the application of community-based mobile application technology to monitor the environmental impact of the bauxite mining industry in Guinea, a project partnered with the UN Development Programme. Prof. Widder received her Master of Architecture from Columbia University and her Doctor of Science from the Federal Technical institute of Switzerland (ETHZ). /Her publications in the field of architectural history and sustainable development are ‘Sustainably Growing Guinea’s Bauxite-Aluminium Industry’ with T. Pacioni (2019); ‘Using Technological Innovation and Corporate Social Responsibility to Connect Africa’s Smallholder Farmers to the Global Sustainable Agriculture Economy’ with A. Igharo and S. Merriweather (2018); Ira Rakatansky: As Modern as Tomorrow (William Stout Architectural Books, 2010); and Architectural Live Projects: Pedagogy into Practice (Taylor and Francis, 2014) with Harriet Harriss, in addition to numerous journal articles and book reviews.

Erik Olsen is a managing partner at Transsolar KlimaEngineering, an international climate engineering firm determined to create exceptional, highly comfortable indoor and outdoor spaces with a positive environmental impact. He leads the New York office in working collaboratively with architects worldwide to develop and validate low-energy, architecturally integrated climate and energy concepts. He has been a lecturer and guest critic at universities including Harvard University, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University.

Darby Minow Smith is a freelance journalist and editor from Montana. She spent a decade at the environmental magazine Grist, where she led news coverage and managed special projects, including a National Magazine Award-nominated guide to ditching political apathy. She's witnessed how the power of good storytelling can transform the climate conversation. Her former team's work went viral, despite being long-form climate journalism, and ended up quoted by members of Congress, despite being quite irreverent. Now, as an MFA candidate in nonfiction at Columbia, she's curious how climate storytelling can capture even more imaginations.

Anthony Acciavatti works at the intersection of architecture and the history of science and technology. He is interested in experimental forms of scholarship, pedagogy, and design afforded by humanistic inquiry. His most recent book, Ganges Water Machine: Designing New India’s Ancient River (Applied Research & Design, 2015), is the first comprehensive mapping and environmental history of the Ganges River Basin in over half a century. In 2016, the book was awarded the John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize. He is currently finishing a book about the history of science and design in South Asia since the late-nineteenth century. Acciavatti teaches at Yale University.

Jenna Lawrence is a behavioral ecologist and conservation biologist. Her research has primarily involved chasing monkeys around a Peruvian rainforest, and as a member of the Columbia University faculty she has taught in New York, Jordan, and the Dominican Republic. Her appointments include the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, the Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability and the M.S. Program in Sustainability Management.


For questions, please contact Natalie Unwin-Kuruneri, natalie [[at]] ei [[dot]] columbia [[dot]] edu.

For additional information about program offerings at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, please contact an Admissions Counselor at 212-854-9666 or inquire [[at]] sps [[dot]] columbia [[dot]] edu