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

Conceptual Cluster 1: Relations and Agency

by sepidehkarami

photo-171 copy

“Flowerbox Architecture”? “Picnic Architecture”? No, thanks!

Why have we -architects- withdrawn to the other extreme end? All these transformations of the role of architects from “designing the objects” to “designing the agencies” is initiated with good intentions indeed. It has started from the exhaustion of being the slave of huge capitals and the good intentions of producing sociability, involving different actors and encouraging inhabitants to participate in producing the space and its politics. But isn’t it withdrawing too much from our role towards a sort of “social worker” and loose our ability and attention to the aesthetics paradigm of space? Is the working as a social worker or diminishing the space production to what I would like to call “flowerbox architecture” or “picnic architecture” the destiny of our profession? Isn’t it only being involved in activities that hardly even touch the powerful narratives of our cities?

There is nothing problematic of playing the role of social worker but it should go one step further and be involved in the aesthetic value of space. As David Harvey writes in his The Right to the City: “the question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyle, technologies and aesthetic values we desire.” And “the right to the city is the right to change ourselves by changing the city”. Hence I believe the right to city is also the right to make the image of the city. At the end we should have the right to imagine the aesthetics of our cities beyond what we are urged to accept and to consume as the dominant image.

Many practices of architecture that defines their role as “spatial agencies” such as the ones of “aaa” that starts with new dreams and the beautiful ideas of defining architecture as “shared activity and a relational practice” operate mainly in the margin of the mainstream reality. Clinging into vacant spaces, acting in spaces where power is absent (De Certeau’s term) and “to encourage inhabitants to re-appropriate vacant land in the city and transform it into self-managed space” through everyday activity has the potential of bringing people together and the possibility to take action. But at the same time it is to take refuge in the safe islands of the city and urban spaces without entering into the conflict with power. Then I am afraid all these efforts become “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”. I believe “urban tactics” should be where the power is present, and then the real art is how to find opportunities and take micro-actions to question the power. It is about de-territorialization of the already occupied lands rather than re-appropriation of vacant lands. This is where the political falls into the place. There is no “surprise” in action and in space when power is absent. It is about the courage of taking risk, operating and taking action in where it is risky, the risk of being destroyed, of being blocked, of being confronted and of being failed.

Together with ‘where to act’, ‘how to act’ is also coming into importance. The activity of everyday life such as gardening and cooking, although bring people together, but to a considerable extent, lacks the characteristics of surprise, chance encounter and probable conflict. I believe the activities used as “tactical tools” should be of unfamiliar characteristics and lead to a kind of creativity, curiosity and new imagination. The question is that how architecture as agency or “agancement” can create situations that provoke new activities, through new encounters?

The whole discussion is about this image: When “new architects” are chanting their songs, gardening cute flowerboxes, drunk in the celebration of differences and biodiversity, capitalism, yes that familiar giant, is standing in her elegant silk frock, enjoying the spectacle of cranes and scaffolds building up the amazing city of commerce, joy and light; she turns her magic wand in the air and within a blink many spectacular buildings mushroom from the ground and here is how our city is built up. To act is just to confront “her” in a smart way. It is to create new imagination different from what we are fed with on everyday basis. Architecture is able to create this counter-image! How? There is a long way to go!

Conceptual Cluster 02: Ecologies of Practice

by janekozmin

Bastøy Stills A

Escape Through Bastøy  

Arne Kvernvik Nilsen, Bastoy’s governor and a practicing psychotherapist, describes it as the world’s first human-ecological prison — a place where inmates learn to take responsibility for their actions by caring for the environment. 

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of Bastøy prison is the process of self election to the community of inmates. It forms access to the three central pillars of the ideology of its operational mandate; Humanity, Responsibility and Respect. Here in the moment of application, it is proposed, that a transformation happens that one takes responsibility for ones subjectivity, moving from a condition of either/or; that either you are a prisoner or you are free, to a condition that you become a free prisoner, actively engaged in the process of dwelling as a prisoner, practicing the art of prisonership; where the production of the subject is encouraged, albeit in the reduced noise of a utopian island. It is suggested by its Governor that the island which is acknowledged to be a potent physical experience, it’s free beaches, trees, sea air, its breathing physical/invisible ecology, it’s village like architecture, complete with church, houses, barn, workshops, greenhouses and treel lined access routes is only part of the binding structure of the society of inmates and officers. There is also a social contract taken out by those who are free to return home to their families after a days work; to practice humanity towards those who have murdered, raped, stolen: practitioners of criminality. That all parts of the relational practiced between the population is about cultivating an ecology.

Here a middle is formed, while all institutions in Norway operate through law and regulation it is proposed that this place has an added definition that it operates under the principles of a Human Ecological Philosophy. Inmates participate in growing food, tending to the landscape, fixing its physical technologies, roads, bikes, houses, green houses, boats and developing, through participation, its social technologies. Success in tending to the gardens that provide food to the canteen and feed the population becomes an intricate part of becoming. It is proposed that Social, Mental and Environmental ecologies collapse onto and within each other, the production of the subject becomes a tangible and survey-able experience by those who witness an internal change. It is here that the Governor discusses the emergence of Respect, first for oneself and from this point outwards to the society and its unfolding habitat. The compression of the island as a world is key; its social technology is tangible and by turning back the clock of the peripheral nature of the society of the And, infrastructures associated to the production of space are partially revealed or at least brought into view.

Bastøy, is, however, made buoyant through the existence of a state whose economy, and culture is dependent on finite energy sources, and the marketisation of matter which leads to the profiting of extraction. Human Ecological Philosophy is sponsored through this unsustainable and ever accelerating revolution of capitalism. While the islands ability to be a prison is framed by the difficulty of swimming off it, we should not forget that the earth is also a difficult place to escape. The importance of such experiments and the very nature of heterotopia is that there is space created to imagine an alternative, or at least discuss possibilities and ideas of an alternative. The beauty of this Utopian movement is that it found a place to start, by merging psychoanalytical practices with the productive capacity of capsular civilization, but it is still a Utopia and as such cannot regenerate itself?

Is this one of the most violent acts that a state can place onto a society?  That its culture is held back from representing itself through the production of a unique material culture? Instead production of a material culture on the island is frozen or at least folded between the image of a traditional Norwegian Village and the habitat secured by advanced social technologies. Is this what is meant by the Norwegian governments principle that punishment is to be practiced only by taking a persons freedom? Or can we project that through the process of rehabilitation and adoption of Human Ecological practices it is the former inmates that will be in a position to free society from its ecological practices? This might only be achievable if we take the first step and nominate to be free prisoners of the earth?

1 Time Magazine Sentenced to Serving the Good Life in Norway, William Lee Adams / Bastoy, Halden and Oslo Monday, July 12, 2010


Fredrick Omondi Owino

by fgowino

My name is Fredrick Omondi Owino. I am a Designer/Planner who has worked in the Kenyan Public Service as a civil servant. I hold a first degree in Design and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Nairobi. Currently I am a lecturer at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology. I am also an exchange student at Chalmers University of Technology.

My research topic is “Green City Planning as a Strategy to Transform Ecotourism. It will majourly try to find out how we can improve our urban parks and open spaces. Urban greening becomes ever more important at both macro and micro level as issues of climate change and urban livability become pressing in the world cities. Green cities are meant to reach new ecological standards that are more challenging and stretching than would normally be required for new development. These cities like eco-cities are designed to act as exemplars of good practice.

Ecotourism is emerging as a development path that can enhance environmental conservation, promote preservation of cultural heritage as well as provide an alternative source of sustainable livelihood. Urban agriculture plays a role here as it can contribute towards improving the poor livelihood status and enhancement of urban environmental management by ensuring that urban waste resources are recycled and the environment is kept green. This idea needs to be promoted by mobilizing the urban community to take initiatives to innovate and create sustainable livelihood in ecotourism. In ecotourism, the processes involved include all aspects of planning, developing, marketing and managing resources and facilities for this form of tourism.

Eco-tourism becomes a key concept and its integration in the urban conservation strategy that includes planning and development of urban parks and urban open spaces. Consequently, it will assist in mitigation and adaptation of climate change.