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10:00 am - 4:30 pm EST

February 04 2022

No upcoming events at the moment
No upcoming events at the moment
No upcoming events at the moment

"SEA MACHINES" is a one-day symposium that interrogates marine technology for the history and theory of architecture. From canoes and cargo ships to submarines and offshore drilling rigs, maritime vessels show how design has been employed to imagine, manoeuver, conquer, and exploit the environments and ecosystems of the sea.

“Sea Machines” brings together members of the Daniels Faculty and a diverse roster of internationally recognized scholars and practitioners with an interest in environmental history, technology, and design. By examining ships and other naval machines, the talks interrogate specific historical and regional forms and landscapes. The study of maritime spaces is timely and of wide interest for scholars and practitioners across the design disciplines, especially given the sea’s increasing precarity in the face of climate change. Ultimately, the symposium highlights the central role played by architecture in charting a future environmental and technological reality.

Ships are architectural machines with unique requirements of mobility and buoyancy. 


The sea has long been cast as the inverse of the habitable terracentric world. Depictions of storms, shipwrecks, and underwater monsters haunt the art and literature of coastal societies, serving as warnings to those who might venture into the blue expanse. Yet, across cultures and throughout history, humans have constructed elaborate structures to facilitate the crossing and even occupation of the ocean. 


Recent scholarship in the blue humanities has shed light on the profound ways that oceans influence politics, economics, science, and culture. Aquatic environments have conditioned everything from human diets, artistic traditions, trade networks, and settlement patterns. Whereas architects and historians have studied harbours and ports, far fewer have looked at the vessels that traversed and inhabited the open water. These “sea machines” signal the outer limits of a period and place’s techno-environmental imagination. What architectonic skills did designers, shipwrights, and navigators employ in the construction and operation of ocean structures? How did the forms and materials of water-based vessels speak to larger ideological and environmental forces, including those tied to colonization and slavery, capitalism, and the climate? And how might infrastructure linked to offshore extraction (e.g., fishing, pearl farming, coral and deep-sea mining, oil drilling, etc.) provide a specifically architectural way to evaluate the relationship between human and non-human entities across the land and sea divide? 




10:00 AM - 10:30 AM


10:30 AM - 11:50 AM


1:00 PM - 2:20 PM


2:30 PM - 3:50 PM


4:00 PM - 4:30 PM




ISO 1161

Some of the most crucial maritime technologies are distributed details that are multiplied by the millions. One of these is the corner locking mechanism on shipping containers that allowed them to be stacked on trains and ocean going vessels. A cascading set of additional technologies evolved from this joint or fitting which was invented in 1950s and eventually given ISO number 1161. The double stacked train car created economies of scale that made contemporary logistics more viable. The ocean going container ships have ballooned in size since the mid 20th century. And the multiplied container has formatted a vast onshore logistical field for automated stacking, sorting, warehousing, and transshipment. GPS is the distributed navigational technology at sea and in port that is attached to materials handling softwares, quotas for just-in-time production, and even the piracy that can collapse 500 years of technological development back to barefoot, barehanded combat.



Since industrialization, the spaces of oceans and seas have been filled with multiple industrial functions to serve land-side activities and the growth of modern cities. In line with the concept of planetary urbanization (Brenner/Schmidt), Nancy Couling has proposed the concept of urbanization of the sea, captured also in our book by the same name (Couling/Hein 2020). With the discovery of petroleum and its growing use for industrial practices, the sea became a highway for oil transport. Adapting ships for petroleum transportation over time, increasing sizes and forms, started a process of transformation of seas, coasts and other bodies of seas. The discovery of deep-sea oil and the construction of drilling platforms, the laying of pipelines, further changed the sea spaces. The Ekofisk complex of platforms and structures was created in 1969 some 300 kilometers southeast of Stavanger as a transportation hub for a number of surrounding oil fields and just one example of the extensive installations in the sea. This oil platform is just one example of the diverse activities that have filled the sea over the last five decades. Energy infrastructures in the sea are no longer limited to petroleum; large wind farms are another, more recent, form of occupying the sea. The physical infrastructures for oil or wind, are just one part of the transformation of the sea. They depend on national, EU, and global policies, legal systems, maritime plans, and other “hidden designers” that provide the foundation for spatial interventions. Understanding both the impact of spatial structures and hidden ones is key to rethinking the sea as a space for more than industrial interventions, creative practices, architectural and urban design interventions, social practices, and cultures that capture the richness and complexity of the sea.



The Swahili coast of Eastern Africa has long been celebrated for its ancient cultures of seafaring and oceanic mobility. Dhows, the iconic ships of the western Indian Ocean, are part of the mobile architectures of the region, creating shared ways of being across great distances. Many nation-states and cultural institutions in the region now claim the dhow as their material heritage. But the dhow is also a space and place of violence because it is intimately connected to histories of slavery and resource extraction. Dhows extent human suffering into the sea. In fact, much that has been left unsaid or that has been erased from public memory is what has been hidden from view in the hull of the dhow. This paper explores this space below the waterline, ultimately arguing that we must temper celebratory narratives of marine technologies and transoceanic exchange

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Cruiseship architecture owes much to the french utopian thinker Charles Fourier (1772 - 1837). Fourier was a visionary in many respects: Credited with coining the word “feminism”, Fourier was among the first to insist on women’s right to work, wages for reproductive occupations, and demanded that all sexual preferences, including homosexuality, shall be lived out. Besides influencing Karl Marx‘ thinking, and a more than daring plan to spread a "boreal citric acid“ in the oceans to “give the sea the flavor of Lemonade”, Fourier is famous for inventing the phalanstery, a new typology of collective, autonomous mass housing complexes that were supposed to replace cities and villages, floating like archipelagoes in the landscape. In Fourier’s vision, the whole country would be reorganized by a network of interconnected Phalansteries, designed to accomodate around thousands of people. With a central part and two lateral wings, the design of the phalanstery evokes a Versailles for the people where everyone would have access to the formerly exclusive joys of a privileged aristocratic elite: to education and healthcare, but also to collective dinners, feasts, and the “liberation of human passions”. The phalanstery was a fundamental source of inspiration for Le Corbusier’s and other modernist architect’s idea of social housing; while today, the inventors of dystopian mass housing design, like Santa Barbara’s Munger Hall, a dormitory for 4500 students with 94 percent of windowless rooms, refer to the efficiency of cruiseship indoor cabin architecture. This talk investigates the relation between Fourier’s idea of the festive architecture for the masses, the ship as a metaphor for heterotopias in modern architecture, and the paradoxical character of contemporary cruiseship design between a fullfillment of early socialist dreams, and a late capitalist wellness dystopias.


Our book, The Sun King at Sea, aims to unsettle a standard picture of art and power during Louis XIV’s reign. Focusing on France’s Mediterranean coast rather than the capital, we examine royal efforts to build a robust galley fleet inspired by ancient conquerors and medieval crusaders and partly powered by esclaves turcs. These rowers, captured or purchased from Islamic lands, occupied the most technically demanding positions at the oar. From a royal perspective, their subjection made galleys into effective sea machines for fighting infidels while countering criticisms about France’s longstanding alliance with the Ottoman Empire. Galleys, however, were not only a top-down production orchestrated by the Crown. In this talk, we look closely at a late seventeenth-century shipbuilding manual produced by naval officers in Marseille, which makes a case for the ongoing importance of galleys and enslaved rowers as important manifestations of Mediterranean dominance, chivalric honor, and Catholic devotion. 


Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the United Fruit Company (UFC) convinced tens of thousands of passengers a year to tour the Caribbean aboard their “Great White Fleet.” Many were awed by the ships’ pristine white hulls, lush interiors, surprisingly cool cabins, and on-deck swimming pools—each means of both enjoying and mitigating the effects of the tropics. The fleet, along with the company’s two hotels in Jamaica, augured a new era of leisurely travel in the Americas, but few grasped the extent to which their stays and the environments they experienced were shaped and conditioned by the preceding infrastructures of imperialist enterprise. Using literature published by UFC and its subsidiary, Fruit Dispatch, along with travelogues, photographs, and technical reports, this paper looks at the distribution networks used by UFC to ferry tourists to the Caribbean and “exotic” produce back. It traces at the movements of people and goods on- and offshore and reveals the technologies that connected the comfort of passengers above deck to the health of freight below and the company’s architectures of leisure to the infrastructures and violence of extractive industry



Designed to move across water, ships sink when they are unable to perform their anthropogenic function; in other words, when they fail as watertight works of nautical architecture. Yet the topside cycles of repair and refitting do not end even as the wrecked ship is absorbed into the underwater environment. Marine colonizers repurpose the structure according to their own designs, in a process of ‘naufragic architecture’, that produces an animate, corporeal machine (in Levi Bryant’s terms). This extrahuman, machinic architecture confuses UNESCO's domains of ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ heritage. Further, while viewing underwater heritage as a mere ‘resource’ commodifies the site for potential human extraction, learning how the site itself works for or against the generation of biodiverse ecosystems would lead to more productive archaeological interactions. Naufragic architecture depends on the toxicity of construction materials, cargo, and surrounding seafloor, so as works-in-progress, shipwrecks should be considered sources—of contamination, biodiversity, nutrients, knowledge—rather than merely resources.



When the Dutch devised a clever desalination technology in the 1690s, they set out to test its efficacy before equipping all their vessels with the costly copper boilers. After outfitting several dozen ships bound for the East Indies, the inventor, Christiaan Nentwigh, trained a group of operators to run the machines and keep careful records of their productivity. In this talk, I will analyze the challenges that arose during the operation of this “waterwerk” machine. Among the various difficulties, the operators struggled to collect and store sufficient wood to keep the kettle boiling. The mariners’ frustration with these machines – including the material hurdles and unpleasant taste of the treated seawater –  ultimately prevented the widespread adoption of this innovative shipboard machine



1600 - 2000

Why is a “naval architect” not called a “naval engineer”?   The profession of naval architecture is unique among engineers – civil, electrical, and mechanicals all call themselves “engineers”, but naval and maritime professionals persist in using the word “architect”.  This lecture explores where the term comes from, how has it changed, in relation to other engineer professions, and what it means today.




University of Toronto

Christy Anderson studies and teaches the history of architecture. While most of her work focuses on the buildings of early modern Europe, her projects extend broadly across oceans and into contemporary design. A full-time member of the Department of Art History at the University of Toronto, and a member of the faculty at Daniels, she enjoys teaching both non-specialist undergraduates and students in the professional programs.

Her most recent project is a study of the ship as an architectural type, which explores the spaces and environments that connect the sea to the shore. Ships facilitated global exchange and moved goods, people, and the natural world from port to port. The environment of the sea, the technology of design, the movement of commodities, and the shaping of cities all centre on the ship as mobile architecture.

"The Age of Rope," Part 1 and Part 2

Rennaissance Architecture, 2013

The Matter of Art, ed. with Anne Dunlop and Pamela H. Smith, 2015

Inigo Jones and the Classical Tradition, 2006

Twitter: @cander59

Instagram: @cander59

 University of Toronto 

Jason Nguyen is an architectural historian working at the junction of architecture, science and technology, and political economy in the early modern world. He is completing the manuscript for his first book, Theory & Expertise: The Art of Building in Old Regime France. The project charts how architects in 17th- and early 18th-century France theorized technical practice according to the methods of mechanical philosophy in an effort to claim expertise in the art and labour of construction. More recently, his interests have centred on architecture’s relationship to global capitalism and the environment. He is working on a book-length study of European-supported entrepôts in Asia, Africa, and the Americas as they relate to early modern shipping networks and the formalization of the stock exchange (notably in Amsterdam and London). The project ties these complexes to contemporaneous technologies in cartography and navigation, corporate institutions of trade, marine ecologies, and the deterritorialization of indigenous seascapes in the development of global capitalism and empire.

Jason Nguyen, “Sites of Exchange: Architecture, Trade, and Racial Capitalism in the Early Modern Atlantic World,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 80, no. 4 (December 2021): 399-402. 

Jason Nguyen, “Maritime Cartography and Commerce in Early Modern Europe,” Port City Futures (blog). Port City Futures. June 11, 2021:

Jason Nguyen, “Handheld Cartography: Herman Moll’s Pocket Globes and Speculative Capitalism in the 1710s,” Journal 18 10 (1720) (Fall 2020):

Jason Nguyen, "Building on Credit: Architecture and the Mississippi Bubble (1716 - 1720)," Grey Room 71 (Spring 2018): 40 - 67

Jason Nguyen, "Fire, Décor, and Heating Machines," Oxford Art Journal 40:3 (December 2017): 371 - 396

Jason Nguyen, “La représentation de la technique en France sous l’Ancien régime,” Livraisons d’histoire de l’architecture 32 (December 2016): 21-35.

Instagram: @jasonenguyen

Twitter: @jasonenguyen




Whether focusing on the displacement of coastal dwellers as a result of project sea level rises, refugee crises produced by political unrest, or cities in need as water becomes an increasingly scarce resource, it is apparent that the engagements of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design with the world are increasingly complex and warrant critical thinking and ethical action guided by innovative advanced research.


The Daniels Faculty’s Doctor of Philosophy in Architecture, Landscape, and Design prepares students to address the challenges facing architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design in the 21st century by going beyond individual disciplinary lines to exploit synergies between these fields through the lenses of history and theory, computation and fabrication, health and society, and technology and environment.


It is a unique, highly rigorous and interdisciplinary program that trains students in multiple specialties and related disciplines to advance the field of conventional academic scholarship while also creating new models of research-based practice that can be implemented in real world settings. 


Peter Sealy.jpg

 University of Toronto 

Peter Sealy is an Assistant Professor and Interim Director of the Daniels Faculty’s PhD program in Architecture, Landscape, and Design. As an architectural historian, he studies the ways in which architects constructively engage with reality through indexical media such as photography. One current book project charts the remediation of nineteenth-century architectural photography through analogous practices such as perspectival drawing, plaster, and iron construction. Another presents Berlin and its architecture as artefacts revealed by the films produced in the city. 

Peter’s research on Émile Zola and the immateriality of 19th century iron buildings was published in "Function and Fantasy" (2016), a volume he co-edited with Paul Dobraszczyk. His articles have appeared in Abitare, Azure, Border Crossings, Canadian Architect, Domus, Harvard Design Magazine, The Journal of Architecture, Oris, and Word & Image, and in several edited volumes, including "Blackwell’s Companion to the History of Architecture" (2017), "Iteration" (2020), and "Archetypes" (2021). He holds degrees from the McGill and Harvard universities.

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February 4, 2022 10:00 AM - 4:30 PM EST

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