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Fall 2022 Mellon Forum on the Urban Environment / Palm Politics

Will Davis, Princeton-Mellon Fellow; Sigrid Adriaenssens, Civil and Environmental Engineering

October 4, 2022 · 12:00 pm1:15 pm · Betts Auditorium and Zoom

Princeton Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism & the Humanities

Nipa palm is one of the most commonly found species in tropical habitats that meet the ocean, and it has a wide spectrum of uses in estuarine places. It is woven into panels for walls, folded into shingles for roofs, it is threaded, thatched, fermented, bunched and tied into baskets, hats, mats and brooms. Its fruit is eaten as a dessert ingredient in Malaysia and Singapore, while it is fermented to become a kind of liquor in the Philippines, known as tuba. Palm is a machine for living of and living in. However, this perennial, ubiquitous, living material, has had a brittle relationship to the realm of architectural study, where it is often sidelined as so-called “vernacular” architecture. The epistemic trajectory of houses built from nipa or coconut palm and bamboo is at odds with a construction process that is often gendered and tied to traditional, lived knowledge. This talk explores how palms (arecaceae) have come to be interpreted in their various architectural guises.

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