Architecture + Philosophy research seminar, ResArc, Sweden: Dr Hélène Frichot, Critical Studies in Architecture, KTH Stockholm

Month: March, 2013

Theory Toolbox Semantics

by thierry berlemont


Is theory a tool? Is a collection of different theories a toolbox of theories or is a theory in itself a toolbox containing tools? If a theory is a toolbox, what kind of tools does it contain? Is a tool a part of a theory? How do we recognize or identify the tools in the toolbox? Are the properties of the toolbox representative for the tools in it? Are the tools mingled with other things that don’t fall under the same denominator? What can we do with the tools in the box? Do we have to figure that out or do the tools speak for themselves and their possible usage? Does the manipulation of the tools demand a certain degree of skill and do we have to learn to use them? How do we go about in this process of learning to use theoretical tools (or is it theory tools)? These questions keep puzzling me and I have some difficulty to make sense out of it. It appears to me that the connection of ‘Theory‘ to ‘Toolbox‘ is less straightforward than it appears to be at first sight.

My confusion may have something to do with a personal preconception and the related interpretations about what a tool is, or what I believe(d) it is.
I speculate(d) that a tool is ‘instrumental par nature’, that it is a facilitator, that it allows us to do something that would be more difficult or maybe even impossible to do without. I also reckon(ed) that it is something that lies outside of our body and is an addition, extension, strengthening, magnification or even replacement of it. I don’t believe that it has to be an object, because people and more immaterial things like software can be tools too of course. I understand that in this case ‘Theory Toolbox’ is a metaphor and not a real toolbox, like those we can see in the hands and vans of constructors, plumbers and carpenters. But the metaphor created by juxtaposition constructs a relationship between ‘Theory’ and ‘Toolbox’ that expresses a new significance of both terms together. The meanings of both get mixed and as far as I am concerned they also get muddled, especially for what the term ‘theory’ is concerned.
‘Toolbox’ makes a reference to two things: a ‘container(1)’ – a box, or maybe a bag, a basket or whatever – in which to put things, not just anything, but specific things labeled with the term ‘tools(2)’. A toolbox is a practical device used to store, protect, organize and carry tools and the use of that image as a metaphor will be bound to that meaning, i.e. the practical and instrumental nature, the *usability*. For the term ‘tool’ a similar mechanism applies, as the definition in Wikipedia (accessed 28/03/13) suggests: ‘A tool is any physical item that can be *used to achieve a goal*, especially if the item is not consumed in the process. Informally the word is also used to describe a procedure or process with a specific *purpose*’ . When we combine (1) and (2) the image of *usefulness* and *purposefulness* are added up.
I always thought of ‘Theory’ as being a ‘particular’ way of explaining the world or a part of it. The New Oxford American Dictionary (Version 2.1.3 on Mac) gives the following definition of theory: ‘a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained / a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based / an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action’. These descriptions seem to me to be more about a context or frame of ideas and concepts, their structure and arguments, the discourse. But is this system of ideas per se *useful* and/or *purposeful*? I don’t know the answer to this question, but by connecting theory to toolbox, theory automatically gets connected to those two goal-oriented meanings. Stated in positive terms, we could say that in the metaphor ‘Theory Toolbox’, useful and purposeful action is associated to thinking, the practical to the intellectual and the contemplative, theory to practice.

So far so good, but nevertheless my doubt remains, because in the associative metaphor the connotation of theory being instrumental in achieving goals is made quite explicit and easy. Too easy I believe.

In Eyal Weizman’s Lethal Theory (LT), the story is narrated in such a way that a certain theory of architecture and urbanism is used as a catalyst that generates new strategic concepts and subsequent practice, and it is suggested that the theory was an effective means to an unfortunately ‘lethal’ end.
It seems to be a confirmation of the metaphor and I have no reason, nor information that allows me to question the truth or fact about this version of the story.
However, the story could be told in another way as well. For I am sure that creative (architectural) minds don’t need to know any of the theories the military refer to in order to be able to develop that specific (lethal) spatial strategy. We could as easily state that it is the result of acute spatial imagination and re-interpretation, containing a high degree of creativity and speculation, regardless of theory: ‘This space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. Now, you can stretch the boundaries of your interpretation, … the question is, how do you interpret the alley? Do you interpret the alley as a place to walk through or as a place forbidden to walk through? This depends only on interpretation…’ (quotation from LT). A blogpost on the subject bearing the title ‘Alice’s Wonderland Battle Space’ (, viewed on 10/03/2013) even makes an overly explicit reference to those aspects of creativity and interpretation by making a far-fetched connection with Lewis Caroll’s beautiful story, simply by seizure of it’s name.
In this context it seems fair to ask whether theory is a part of a referential context that serves as a justification for completely crazy and amoral, though extremely fascinating spatial ideas? In this B-version of the story, the IDF’s practices can certainly be regarded as an audacious appropriation of architecture’s spatial mechanisms but not necessarily as the use of architectural theories as purposeful and useful tools that enable to construct a strategy. Does the metaphor allow for this B-version to be considered? The relational space that is created in the juxtaposition/combination – or should I use agency? – of words is not neutral, not merely a code or tool for identification, but also a conveyor of meanings and a catalyst for interpretations. I understand the problem as being not merely one of representation, but also one of orientation and maybe even guidance. Metaphors contain assumptions – with varying degrees of visibility – and implicitly privilege certain perspectives over others. In so doing they subtly invite us to orient our view in particular directions. It reminds me of the relevance to take good care of words and their precious relations.

by kajsakorner

revised  content page_brady_anna_kajsa-1

  By Brady Burroughs, Anna Wahlöö and Kajsa L. Körner The idea of the content page departures from a common experience of being exposed to a theoretical canon, in seminaries, lectures etc, which is taken for granted and seldom questioned. Therefore, we wanted to construct a critical reading list, which not only suggested what this […]

Cluster 5: Conceptual Crisis: Architectural alienation in the South

by ivettearroyo

Skyscrapers-slums-caracas 1

Wallenstein (2010) text highlights that “modern capatalism works by creating a consent through images, sound bites, brands, and various visual technologies that impact directly on our brain, bypassing the censorships and reflective mechanisms of consciousness”; and this alienation includes architecture in developing countries. The skyscraper is associated with ideas of modernity or development even in contexts with high levels of poverty, segregation and inequality. Conversely, Wallenstein argues the capacity of architecture to open a space of freedom to question formal contradictions of society. In developing countries, the duality of the city –coexistence of skyscrapers and slums – are part of these contradictions of contemporary society. This duality is the physical expression of modern capitalist inequality. Architecture has surrendered to the forces of the market instead of activating our reflective mechanisms of consciousness. How can architecture move away from the current mode of production of the built environment as material good and address the housing needs of around 1 bilion people worldwide? What can be the role of architectural critique in developing countries today?

Latour (2004) argues the need of “the cultivation of a stubbornly realist attitude dealing with matters of concern, not matters of fact”. Slums should be considered a matter of concern – a thing, an issue, a ‘gathering’ – that has humans and nonhumans ‘participants’ which make this ‘thing’ robust, urgent to address in the South. As Latour pointed out, “it is entirely wrong to divide the collective…into the study matters of fact, on the one hand, and the dispensable crowds, on the other”. This means that we should avoid to break slums in different matters of fact such as infrastructure or public space, on one hand, and the community living in it, on the other. Thus, the importance of understanding the ‘thingness of slums’ to search for ways of doing architecture –slum upgrading – that go beyond contemporary capitalist alieniation. If we look deeper into the ‘thingness of slums’ we will understand rich and sturdy social relationships among slum dwellers and how peple relate to their spaces. Organized self-help housing (OSHH) is among other ways of doing architecture that moves away from the object-building paradigm promoted by the market. OSHH is concerned with the shared process of production of ‘the spatial’[1] by the people themselves with technical assistance of local institutions. The OSHH does not divide ‘the collective’ or ‘the gathering’, but builds up from the capabilies of the community to improve its physical components. In the OSHH process, ‘agency’ is multiple; first, we can refer to the agency of architects that is transferred to the community; but we also can refer to the relevance of ‘dweller-control’– understood  as agency, which means the ability of the individual family to act independently of the market alieniation to address their shelter needs. For the organized self-help housing process ‘collective agency’[2] and ‘collective efficacy’[3] of the community are key issues among the ‘thingness of the thing’.


Awan, N. & Schneider, T. a. T. J., 2011. Introduction. In: N. Awan & T. a. T. J. Schneider, eds. Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture. London: Routledge, pp. 26-34.

Bandura, A., 1998. Personal and collective efficacy in human adaptation and change. Advances in phsychological science, Volume 1, pp. 51-71.

Latour, B., 2004. Why has critique run out of steam?. Critical Inquiry, Issue 30, pp. 225-248.

Turner, J. a. F. R., 1972. Freedom to build. First Edition ed. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Turner, J. F., 1976. Housing by People. Towards autonomy in building environments. First ed. London: Marion Byers.

Wallenstein, S.-O., 2010. Noopolitics, Life and Architecture. In: D. Hauptman, ed. Cognitive Architecture. From Biopolitics to Noopolitics. Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, pp. 47-60.

[1] Here I refer to ‘the spatial’ following Awan & Schneider (2011) explanation regarding why the moved from the limits of the term ‘architectural’ to the more open possibilities of the ‘spatial’: “Clues as to these other ways…[ ]…prioritise values outside the normal terms of reference of the economic market, namely those of the social, environmental and ethical justice….[ ] … these issues that are best addressed within the dynamic context of social space, rather than within the static context of architecture as building.

[2] Bandura (1998) argues that “social cognitive theory extends the analysis of mechanisms of human agency to collective agency.

[3] Collective efficacy refers to people’s belief in their collective power to produce a desired outcome (Bandura, 1998).

Deleuze Studies 2013 Lisbon The Territory In-Between July 8-10

by helenefrichot

Cited from the following website: (accessed 15.03.2013)

The emergence of the concept of territory is usually assigned to the areas of the animal aggression ethology and the geopolitics of nations. In contrast to this view, Deleuze and Guattari tried to think, among others, the ideas of a transcendental earth, of an expression that is previous to aggression, an expressive conception of nature, the correlative concept deterritorialization, the deterritorialized people that is more fundamental than any nation.

Moving from the sole biological and geopolitical contexts to epistemological, aesthetic or anthropological ones, territory becomes a major and operative concept in several domains of thought.

While obviously committed to Deleuze theoretical legacy, this conference aims to think all these problems in a transversal way. Bringing together a wide range of researchers, it will take into account the current possibilities, intricacies, configurations and connections of the concept of territory in science, metaphysics, politics, aesthetics, art and so on.

We have already some options in what regards the publication of papers presented at the 6th Deleuze Studies International Conference ‘The territory in-between’. Some of the papers presented at the conference will be selected for publication by a peer review process, either in the internationally recognised Deleuze Studies Journal, or in a major international publishing house, either in a special issue of the journal Kairos.


Preceding the conference, students can participate in the Deleuze Camp 7, which will take place from 1-5 July 2013, Fábrica Braço de Prata, Lisbon, Portugal.



Commoning the City, Stockholm, April 11 2013

by helenefrichot

The Stockholm 2013 Conference

Royal Institute of Art – Kungl. Konsthögskolan (KKH)

April 11, 2013 at The Architecture Museum Stockholm

Kungl. Konsthögskolan | Royal Institute of Art
Visiting address: Flaggmansvägen 1, Skeppsholmen, Stockholm
Postal address: Box 163 15, SE-103 26 Stockholm, Sweden

T +46-(0)8-614 40 00
F +46-(0)8-679 86 26

How to Pass from the Public to the Common?

by helenefrichot

“How to pass from the Public to the Common?”

Organised at the Romanian Cultural Institute, Stockholm, March 21, 18.00


List of participants, which we hereby share with you: Annika Enqvist, Hélène Frichot, Catharina Gabrielsson, Rochus Hinkel,  Tor Lindstrad, Ramia Maze, Helen Runting and Erik Stenberg.Constantin Petcou & Doina Petrescu (atelier d’architecture autogeree, Paris) and Alex Axinte (studioBASAR, Bucharest) will moderate the evening and the panel discussion.


Conceptual Cluster 4: The Theory Tool Box

by asahelenastjerna

Stjerna02 Deleuze, as well as Foucault, departs from a relation between theory and practice, of both as productive creative powers. Concepts, creating theories should operate on a creative level and not as representations of  a reality. ”In this sense theory doesn’t  express, translate, or serve to apply practise: it is practise.” (p. 208) The non-representative approach, the capability to produce, makes theory to one productive force alongside other forces. Different material and non-material forces, ”practise” and ”theory”, ”, intermingle and intertwine into complex systems of ramifications that change direction, always in a flux, always in transformation. ”Practice is a set of relays from one theoretical point to another, and theory is a relay from one practise to another (p. 206)  and ”A system of relays within a larger sphere, within a multiplicity of parts that are both theoretical and practical.” (p. 206) The interaction of theory and practise should thus create difference and divergence rather than agreement: ”A theory does not totalize: it is an instrument for multiplication and it also multiplies itself”.

Jane Rendell,  emphasizes the transformative force between ”practise” and ”theory” set up by Deleuze.  She seeks, through an interdisciplinary approach, to transform the classical binary power relations between theory and practise, influenced  by critical theory’s reflective rather then objectifying character: ”I refuse to think of either term in the pair as dominant. ”Inspired by Deleuze’s creative linking between practise and theory however Rendell emphasizes the relation between the two as non symmetrical, ”…for the suggestion that theory needs practise to develop is not accompanied by its reversal.” Rendell thus doesn’t really apply (accept?) the radical potential of Deleuze proposal, in my reading of Deleuze and Rendell. I’m wondering if this is the point where, if Rendell’s approach could be described as interdisciplinary  ”in interdisciplinarity individuals move between and across disciplines and in so doing questioning the ways in which they work” –while Deleuze’s approach, might rather be described as transdisciplinary?

Conceptual Cluster 1: Relations and Agency

by fgowino

Harvey, 2008 recognizes the role played by urbanization and high population growth rate in the absorption of capital surpluses. In restructuring the urban system, it is the poor and those marginalized from political power who suffer most. Literature has it that in 1900, 10 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities, which 100 years later had risen to 50 per cent of the world’s 6 billion inhabitants living in cities. By 2050 it is projected that nearly 70 per cent, of a global 10 billion population will live in cities.

Urbanization and economic growth has increased pressures on the natural resources thus resulting to pollution of the natural systems, reduced quality of the environment and deteriorated environmental health. This supports the fact that we live in an era when ideals of human rights have moved centre stage as observed by Harvey (2008). Green Social Theory espouses a philosophy and an ethical underpinning that should influence the formulation of environmental planning and management of fragile ecosystems. As a philosophy, it is embedded in the emerging sustainable development paradigm.

Howard who was a utopian thinker, studied the on-going debate on urban growth and environment and developed the idea of a ‘garden city’. He wished to combine the best features of town life and country life in a new form of urban settlement, “the garden city”. He conceptualized the garden city as comprising a compact settlement of about 1,000 acres of about 1.5 miles diameter with a large agricultural land surround of about 5,000 acres. This was to be a green belt to control the growth of the town. Zoning would then be carried out within the town to give industrial, commercial and residential activities. Public buildings and places of entertainment were to be in the centre. He and his supporters founded two English cities, Letchworth (1903) and Welwyn (1920), which still serve as models for his ideas. He envisaged his Garden City as a tightly organized urban centre for 30,000 inhabitants, surrounded by a perpetual “green belt” of farms and parks. Howard had three points to contribute to modern urban planning: that towns have to be controlled in real growth: that towns have to be controlled in population: and that towns should integrate urban living and agricultural activities. From the Howard model, it can be seen that a strong environmental control interest in urban development was evolving. Most of our cities do not take this into account. As a result, urbanization and economic growth has increased pressures on the natural resources thus resulting to pollution of the natural systems, reduced quality of the environment and deteriorated environmental health.


Awan, Nishat, Schneider, Tatjana & Till, Jeremy (2011) “Introduction” Awan, Schneider & Till (Eds.) Spatial Agency. Other Ways of Doing Architecture, Routledge, London

Harvey, David (2008) “The Right to the City” New Left Review 53, September October 2008, 23

Petrescu, Doina (2012) “Relationscapes: Mapping agencies of relational practice in architecture” City, Culture and Society, 3 (2012) 135-140

Bio-aesthetics (Conceptual cluster 5: Conceptual Crisis)

by fridarosenberg

conceptual cluster 5

Some years ago I took a course called Bio-aesthetics led by art historian David Joselit. It was a great course, simply because David is such an inspirational figure. Beyond reading Deleuze/Guattari Anti-oedipus, Foucault Discipline & Punish, Agamben Homo Sacer, we also watched several Andy Warhol movies, read The Ticket that Exploded (William S. Burroughs) and A Novel by Warhol. After all, it was a course in the art history department. But, how then did Warhol and Burroughs contribute to the discussion in class on bio-politics and bio-aesthetics? It’s hard to remember…yet, Wallenstein’s so informative article (I wish I had read it, when taking the course!) makes me go back to what I do remember…

Well, I think, Warhol’s movies and texts reveal much of the atmosphere and microcosm that existed among the people and within the working environment of the factory. The movie Chelsea Girls, definitely reveals a particular social interaction—a power structure, and exertion of relationships that were constructed through the people that seem to have been drawn to the factory; a great array of insecurity, the necessity to be seen, primadonnas and lost bodies. I think that Warhol’s interest in filming and documenting the interactions was specifically in expressing these relationships, where the body was central. The close-up discussions and action illustrate how the people—the actors—are making use of each other, exerting power, establishing rules, faking laughter’s, playing games. To me, the movie illustrates insecurity—or as by way of how Wallenstein describes Foucault’s concept of ‘security’ “…security can be said to work with a set of fluid conditions, constantly fluctuating quantities, and future probabilities.” P.52.

With the camera Warhol documented a kind of control society within the factory environment where the bodies were expropriated and used. The film Chelsea Girls is an artwork where Warhol captures this specific environment. Warhol’s movies and A Novel provided a setting, but hardly ever the actors were given instructions (as I have understood it) and therefore the action that takes place—the interplay between the people and their environment—fascinates me in relation to understanding how Wallenstein takes apart the concepts biopolitics and biopower.

Conceptual Cluster 4: The Theory Tool Box

by sepidehkarami

Border Region by Teddy Cruz, Tijana-San Diego

The red line is where Architects should act- Border Region by Teddy Cruz, Tijana-San Diego

New wars need new strategies!

Frantz Kafka writes “A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us”, and I would say this is what theory should do with the reality outside, in everyday life, in politics and in history, in time and space. Theory should be the ax to break down the frozen and solidified routines to let the sea overflow, spills and becomes “practice” in each of its stroke. And this is how it becomes revolutionary in its emergence and its action.

When Deleuze defines the operation of theory as to encounter a wall that practice is to pierce it, theory becomes the action of piercing the wall and they can’t be separated anymore. They create the network of ‘relays’, of dependent chain of actions. In this sense by defining theory as action the role of the new intellectual is also becoming significant. As Deleuze puts it intellectual should become the actor not the one being in the margin of the struggle against power. The role of intellectual is not anymore representation but presentation. When it comes to the practices of art and architecture, artist or architect as the “new intellectual” does not any more reside and operate in the safe side of the struggle but she locates her knowledge and action in the middle, in the most conflictual condition where people and power collide; she becomes “the people” to struggle. Hence the process of her action, her role falls into this network of relays.

Teddy Cruz, the architect who builds up his practice in the conflictual borders of urban dynamics like the one between San Diego / Tijuana, deliberates and exemplifies this necessity shift of locating the role of architects within the power struggle. He uses this territory of conflict as a backdrop to critically observe the clash between current top-down discriminating forms of urban economic re-development and planning legislature, on one hand, and the emerging American neighborhoods nationwide made of immigrants, on the other, whose bottom-up spatial tactics of encroachment thrive on informality and alternative social organizational practices. He basically by designing political and economic process act and try to change the legislations through political involvement with decision makers and with those affected by the very legislations. His practice is a sort of activism; a network of actions-theory that makes his machine of activism work. He puts the theory and knowledge in the middle of the interaction. Struggle here goes through the knowledge and theory toolbox to confront power and where he acts is the conflictual borders.

But when one faces the application of theory in warfare systems such as the one by IDF, it becomes curious what is missed that a progressive and utopian theory can be applied by an oppressive and brutal system? What is missed that theory can be hijacked by the most brutal power systems of the world to fuel in the machine of war and genocide? It is absolutely a smart point by Naveh when he interprets theory as “a methodology that wants to disrupt and subvert the existing political, social, cultural, or military order”, which is in a way the task of critical theory. Not only IDF but also many other oppressive systems, totalitarian regimes apply these methodologies and reverse their effects. It is in fact detaching the theory from the ethics that is once built on and adopting it for different and opposite objectives. It becomes a bare methodology naked from its ideals; a utopian toolbox against power that has become a toolbox in hand of power.

The question here is that what we can learn from this reality? Aren’t we thinking and acting at the same time? Are we delayed in taking action? Are we like “French generals”, in Bruno Latour’s term “always one war behind”? Well, perhaps if we add the issue of “time” and “context” to our operation, or in other word, taking theory as practice and make our ideals realized immediately, acting in a more micro forms of action, we’ll be more on time and perhaps taken our step before leaving our theory (or its methodology) left for the oppressing systems to hijack it! New wars need new strategies!