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

On the Concept of Aura; examples of usage

by annawahloo

stolar - aura - Anna Wahlöö

In the previous blog post I addressed (travelling) concepts (Bal 2002), in general, here I will focus on a specific concept – aura – and how it can be used. The concept of aura features from the work of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) in his theory of modernity and interpretive readings of modern culture. It first appeared in his essay “Little History of Photography from 1929 and was later developed in his artwork essay; “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” from 1936 (there are four different versions of the essay). Benjamin used the concept of aura to articulate the shift when the subject of capitalism turns into the subject of modernity in the middle of the 19th century. It appeared in the crossroads of literature, painting, photography, philosophy and modern subjectivity. According to Benjamin is aura the luster or attraction that has been associated with the uniqueness of the work of art that subsists in our perception. He writes in “Little History of Photography”: – “What is aura, actually? A strange web of space and time: the unique appearance of a distance, no matter how close it may be” (1927: 285). Benjamin claims that it is the aura of the work of art that withers in the age of mechanical reproduction. Even the most perfect reproduction of a piece of art is lacking in one particular way – its presence here and now. The process is symptomatic and its significance outreach beyond the field of art. (1936: 222-223).

I first came across the concept of aura in economist Ivar Björkman’s doctoral dissertation; Sven Duchamp: Expert on production of Aura: A study on Entrepreneurs, Visions, Business and Art (1997) where conditions that influence the aura of a product are investigated. Björkman use the Swedish furniture company Källemo AB and its founder Sven Lundh as a case study. (Källemo specialize on exclusive “arty” furniture produced in limited editions where the most important quality aspect is the visual quality. Lundh stated the well-known quote “It [a piece of furniture] shall stand the wear of the eye”). Björkman claims that aura is a social and cultural construction, created by people and is not something that is just “out there” He argues that the majority of aura experiences are interweaved with a variety of cultural factors that influence the experience. For example tend museums to reinforce the perception of aura and media tends to influence the observer’s consciousness of aura. Björkman has in his study tried to deepen the understanding of what is regarded as cultural context for a design company and how value is created in the company. He claims that aura is created in the “art world” which consists of a number of actors, from institutions to professional reviewers, who due to their high cultural credibility has the power to decide what is art and not art (1997: 36-39).

I find the concept of aura useful in my research on modern Swedish furniture where I study how particular pieces of furniture become something called modern classics. I am interested in how different factors and aspects (eg. context, framing, quality and aesthetics) influence us in our perception and definition of modern classics that I also think contributes to their survival, visually and commercially. It is these qualities and values that add to the aura of the furniture or their uniqueness.

Aura is an enigmatic term. Its nuanced understanding does not make it less inscrutable. I will conclude with a quote by philosopher Mieke Bal: “Concepts are never simply descriptive; they are also programmatic and normative. Hence, their use has specific effects. Nor are they stable; they are related to a tradition” (Bal 2002: 28).


Benjamin, Walter. (1936). “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. Illuminations.

Björkman, Ivar. (1997). Sven Duchamp: Expert on production of Aura: A study on Entrepreneurs, Visions, Business and Art. [Sven Duchamp: expert på auraproduktion. Om entreprenörskap, visioner, konst och företag]. Diss. (selected parts)

relations and agency – verbs and doors

by thierry berlemont

agency > agencement (fr.) > agencer (fr.)

put in place

verbs describing actions to induce/provoke/make/shape/modify/intensify/attenuate/transform/extend/… ‘relations’ between people, places, spaces and things, in order for them to hold together
and in order to articulate affinities (or aversion) between/from/towards/into/through/… them. A bit like the 6 doors giving the verbs good company.

1. The Pleasures of a Door (Francis Ponge)

Kings never touch a door
It is a joy unknown to them: pushing open whether rudely or kindly one of those great familiar panels, turning to put it back in place – holding a door in one’s embrace.

… The joy of grasping one of those tall barriers to a room by the porcelain knob in its middle: the quick contact which, with forward motion briefly arrested, the eye opens wide, and the whole body adjusts to its new surroundings.

With a friendly hand it is stayed a moment longer before giving it a decided shove and closing oneself in, a condition pleasantly confirmed by the click of the strong but well-oiled lock spring.

(from The Nature of Things, Red Dust New York 2011)


2. Doors (Georges Perec)

We protect ourselves, we barricade ourselves in. Doors stop and separate.
The door breaks space in two, splits it, prevents osmosis, imposes a partition. On one side, me and my place, the private, the domestic (a space overfilled with my possessions: my bed, my carpet, my table, my typewriter, my books, my odd copies of the Nouvelle Revue Française); on the other side, other people, the world, the public, politics. You can’t simply let yourself slide from one into the other, can’t pass from one to the other. You have to have the password, have to cross the threshold, have to show your credentials, have to communicate, just as the prisoner communicates with the world outside.

How to be specific? It’s not a matter of opening or not opening the door, not a matter of ‘leaving the key in the door’. The problem isn’t whether or not there are keys: if there wasn’t a door, there wouldn’t be a key.

(from Species of Spaces – The Apartment, p.37 – Penguin Twentieth Century Classics)

3. The act of making an opening raises the question of how to close it – an opening enables connections, but does not prevent them, so protective or filtering components such as doors, gates, windows, shutters and sun control elements are created to do this. These allow the opening’s function, form and the impact it has on a space to be altered.
Doors and gates are components used to close or open a passage through a wall. They allow rooms to be closed off from other rooms or from the outside area, while allowing people to pass through. The difference between doors and gates is a matter of dimension: while a a door approximates to the size of a human being, gates are used to close off larger openings.Doors and gates can be constructed to permit entry to certain users and to exclude others.

(from Open/Close, Birkhäuser 2010, Introduction – theoretical foundations p.8)

4. When the building was finished he seemed particularly happy with what to some might seem a small detail: a raised door sill between the spaces of the house. While at first sight this is clearly an unconventional detail that might cause a distracted visitor to stumble, these raised sills also form a spatial threshold that, to a certain degree, makes a door unnecessary and makes you conscious of the action of entering a space. An ambiguous threshold that negotiates between accessible and yet secluded.
A parallel can be drawn with the Japanese Noren, the short split cotton or linen entryway curtain that is traditionally hung in a doorway and makes us bow a little and pay tribute to the space we enter. ‘It wasn’t long before Katsuyuki arrived, making a poetic entrance as she gently lifted one side of the noren curtain, bowing her head slightly as she floated through it’.

(from Substantiating Displacement, Arnaud Hendrickx, 2012, p.188)

5. De Drie Hoven, Amsterdam (Herman Hertzberger)


6. hide and see

peek a boo

play peek-a-boo
look out
look in
wipe ones feet
take off ones shoes
put them on again
go out
lift ones feet
turn around
sit (in the doorway)
bring in
turn the key
give a hug

verbs describing some actions induced/provoked/made/shaped/modified/intensified/attenuated/transformed/extended/… by ‘relationships’ between people, places, spaces and one of many (material) agents of architecture.

Thierry Berlemont

by thierry berlemont

TB_fotobooth_27 05 2010

In a previous life I used to be an architect and partner in a Brussels based architectural firm named RAUW. We started in 1998 as a collaborative practice. The name ‘RAUW is both a word and an acronym. RAUW is the Dutch word for ‘raw’, while RAUW also stands for ‘Realisatie van Al Uw Wensen’ (Realisation of All Your Wishes). The name was chosen to be a constant reminder of the task that lay ahead of us when we started. To respond to a duality, a short-term and a long-term view, a problem solving and an explorative approach, a smooth, rational, politically correct side and a rough, ‘uncooked’ spontaneous side…’. Besides our architectural activities we also focused on architectural graphics and drawing. This was an activity that we developed with a certain degree of autonomy from our architectural practice. Some digital traces remain and can be found on the outdated websites and

In 2008 I took a break from architectural practice to be able to focus my attention on aspects of architecture that I could not develop in the context of the office. As a consequence my activities shifted towards architectural education and research. In 2011 I started a PhD at Chalmers. The project I am working on bears the (provisional) title ‘Invisible Things, a journey through organizations of matter in architecture’.

The project focuses on architecture’s built and tangible reality and how to bring that about, i.e. the construction subjects of architecture. It is concerned with the processes and acts of fabricating, assembling and shaping architecture, with understanding matter and the inexhaustible possibilities to transform it into architecture, as well as with getting your hands dirty and going into the action of making architectural things.
In order to be able to construct architecture we need to understand the theories of making as well as the practices of it. Unfortunately, when it comes to learning about making and constructing architecture, we almost automatically and exclusively end up in the realm of technology (and science). However, both fields of knowledge are not well equipped to deal with all facets of making, since they are primarily oriented towards producing certainty, control and prediction and acutely lack sensibility for aspects that are not quantifiable, calculable and certain. Aspects of making that are characterized by doubt, mess, imprecision and ambiguity are absent, avoided or solved.
It is necessary to complement the traditional instrumental and quantitative approaches of architecture’s physical making with qualitative and interpretative one’s. The existing paradigms must be put under critical scrutiny and questioned with regard to their explicit and underlying thoughts, methods, systems, organizations and theories.
An attempt to do this is what the Invisible Thing’s journey is about, at least for an important part. Valuing and dealing with apparently simple though often neglected underlying questions – how to make/construct/materialize architecture? How to understand the richness, complexity and organization of making? How to learn about it and how to teach it? – is another part of the challenge. I will try to create keys to interpret and understand ‘making’ architecture in a more comprehensive and exhaustive manner – one that is complex, interpretative, approximate, sensitive, particular and ambiguous besides being exact and abstract. Hopefully this can lead to a certain degree of (re)-identification, (re)-framing and (re)-formulation of principles, (re)-consideration of theories, (re)-telling of stories, (re)-construction of pedagogy, de-familiarization of familiar approaches and consequently their (re)-discovery.

Disagreement and Agonism

by Erik S

Mårran och Mumin

What interests me in this conceptual cluster is the historical implication of the political order of consensus. Jacques Rancière suggests that the collapse of the Soviet system was “an internal weakening of the very democracy that was assumed to have triumphed” and that it, opposed to what we would think, “reduced democratic life to the management of local consequences of global economic necessity.”[1] Instead of a reappraisal of the political dimensions of Western democracy the logics of the liberal market order became the dominant model of democracy. This political-economic structure or what Rancière calls “the consensual order” was favored on both left and right and turned “political forms into instruments of economic interests and necessities.”[2]

Chantal Mouffe also recognizes a weakening of democracy in recent years and similarly argues that this is due to the dominance of liberalism, in which political questions are depoliticized to mere “technical issues” to be settled by experts. She defines the dominant tendency of liberal thought as rationalist and individualist that is “unable to grasp adequately the pluralistic nature of the social world.”[3] Mouffe argues that in the political world of liberalism antagonism is negated, as the conflicts posed by social pluralism cannot be dealt with through the universal consensus of reason.

The observations of what the consensus of economic necessity is doing to marginalized alternative ideologies or social movements in opposition to this leading identification of democracy is not new. In the world before the fall of the iron curtain, both left and right – i.e. the Soviet five-year plan and the Western capitalist economies – practiced the ideology of equilibrium although in very different localized (nationalized) versions. Neither could we assert that the depolitization of politics through rationalist decision-making came with the neo-liberal politics of the 1990s but was observed already by Max Weber in the beginning of the 20th century. However, what is clear with the reasoning of both Mouffe and Rancière, although they never say this explicitly, is that the mainstreaming of ideology in parliamentary politics is disarming any opposition to the consensual order – especially that on economic policy – through the apolitical system of public administration.

In the light of such concern with the future of parliamentary politics, rather than the Mouffe’s concern with artistic practice, I think that both Rancière’s and Mouffe’s dismissal of, for instance, Hannah Arendt’s agonistic public space is rather problematic. The rejection rests, I believe, foremost in their total refusal of any a political structure based on coming to an agreement, and secondly, in the scope of concern. We could see Arendt’s critique of the bureaucratic systems of political governing revealing “the banality of evil” in another historical context than Rancière and Mouffe, but nevertheless criticizing a consensual order in which plurality of thought, opinion, and action is undermined.

The possibility to reach into the center of politics with marginalized issues is, according to Rancière, impossible in a consensus democracy as consensus means “erasing the contestatory, conflictual nature of the very givens of common life.”[4] Yet he believes that that it is “possible and necessary to oppose a thought of political precariousness” (and consensual stability) as “[p]olitics is a local, precarious, contingent activity – an activity which is always on the point of disappearing, and thus perhaps also on the point of reappearing.”[5] I do agree.

[1] Jacques Rancière, “Introducing Disagreement”, in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2004, p. 4.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Chantal Mouffe “Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces”, in Art and Research, vol. 1, no. 2, Summer 2007, p. 2.

[4] Rancière 2004, p. 7.

[5] Ibid. p. 8.

Conceptual Cluster 4: The Theory Tool Box

by bradyburroughs



A watermark is 1) a mark indicating the height to which water has risen, 2) a marking in paper resulting from differences in thickness usually produced by pressure of a projecting design in the mold or on a processing roll and visible when the paper is held up to the light (Merriam Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary). Both definitions speak of matter imprinting itself on or into another matter. The first indicates perhaps a cyclical or repetitive process of water rising and falling, leaving a trace. I associate these with structural or institutional norms on a larger scale. The latter hints at a calculated or designed process, where the trace is much more intentional, and could perhaps represent a more individual scale of intention and effect.

I’ve used the word Watermark as the working title for my proposed project, which I situate within the world of critical theories that Jane Rendell describes as “…forms of knowledge which are ‘reflective’ rather than ‘objectifying’ and take into account their own procedures and methods; they aim neither to prove a hypothesis nor prescribe a particular methodology or solution to a problem but to offer self-reflective modes of thought that seek to change the world.” (Rendell, 2011) Watermark has functioned as a metaphor for the inscription of norms in the things, spaces and places we inhabit, and in turn how these inscriptions settle into our bodies and affect the way we think about ourselves. Just as a watermark is only visible when a sheet of paper is held up to the light, so do these inscribed norms become apparent only when we look closely and critically at the built environment that surrounds us. So, part of the project is making these processes and traces visible, while the other part is to instigate new intentional processes. Although, I think watermark may have served its purpose, and a much more fluid model will soon need to replace it.

I am interested in suggesting other ways of approaching architecture that can perhaps change the way we think about space and the way we think about ourselves. Although I appreciate the “setting out” of the modes and matters of feminist architecture and even recognize my position within the feminist/interdisciplinary/performative/critical writing practices, Jane Rendell discusses, I question her use of the term “spatial” rather than “architectural” in critical spatial practice to expand her field of discussion. I choose strategically to remain focused on “architecture” in order to expand the field itself, as I see power located in this term that is perhaps lost in the shift toward the term “space”. Just as Rendell points out in the conclusion of her text, that references to feminism must be made clear, in order not to lose its political and oppositional potential, I don’t think we can afford to give up “architecture”, if the intention is to change it. Otherwise, we risk being relegated to the realm of ‘space’ while the bastion of architecture remains unchanged. The traces in the watermark are ingrained into the very material, so if I want to change the watermark (in the first or the second sense), I must re-make the material itself.

by Erik S

My name is Erik Sigge and I am an architectural historian and preservationist, currently halfway through my PhD studies in history and theory of architecture at the School of Architecture, KTH. Previously, I lived in New York and was Director of Educational and Cultural Programs at Scandinavia House in New York City, where I led the public programs of The American-Scandinavian Foundation. I have a master degree in Historic preservation from Columbia University, New York (2003) and a bachelor degree in Integrated conservation of the built environment from University of Gothenburg (2000).

My research project Architecture’s Red Tape is a critical study of changes of the role of the architect (roles of architects) in relationship to politics and governmental decision-making in Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s with specific focus on the work of the Swedish National Board of Public Building. During the larger part of the twentieth century, architecture was a field that was formed and grew in symbiosis with the Swedish welfare state. Modernist architecture became the symbol of pragmatic political leadership that had realistic plans for the future. Architecture and building construction was not only central for the physical expansion of the built environment, but also at the heart of a political conviction that building was the means to take command and control of social and economic issues, and stimulate industry and the labor market. Architects and politicians were in agreement on the importance of building construction for the development of a new modern country, but were they in agreement of the aims (ends) of architecture, and in the ways (means) of achieving good? This research project is a story of the shifting political concerns with architecture as means for developing the welfare state and how architects and architecture then relate to these matters, at large and in specific building projects. The study brings ideological and organizational aspects of architecture to the fore, and, as such, it argues that the comprehension of changes in the organization and functioning of a political-economic system are fundamental for the understanding of an architectural past.

Cluster 1: Relations and Agency

by evaminoura

My research has recently come to hover quite a bit around this notion of spatial agency, something akin to the definition as ”effecting change through the empowerment of others” by opening up new potentialities (Awan et al.). This leads for me to a number of interesting questions in terms of how agency emerges, and can be sanctioned or compromised by spatial properties (both configurational and material). Of course, there is a relational component to all this, but to deny the material entanglements risks abdicating what responsibility architects do hold. Which is why I am a bit skeptical of an overemphasis on the relational component. For instance, where Lefebvre claims (social) space to be a (social) product, I fear this places the role of architect in the arena of facilitator rather than agent (cited in Awan et al.). Similarly, Latour’s Actor Network Theory (ANT) seems to reject the idea that we operate within spatial totalities by claiming that any event or object is only understood as ”embedded in a set of associations” in effect, ”buildings are not seen as determinants of society” (Awan et al). I see a danger in seeing the architect’s role so marginalized. It undercuts the scope of action for the architect that comes out of making material decisions in practice which actually can have a powerful effect on the end-user (resident) and the incentive to participate in enacting change. That is not to deny that there are many aspects of spatial production we cannot control, only that we shouldn’t be blind to the ones we do control.

Harvey describes the urban dream as a vehicle for capitalist surplus, citing Hilde Nafstad: ”This is a world in which the neoliberal ethic of intense possessive individualism, and its cognate of political withdrawal from collective forms of action, becomes the template for human socialization” (Harvey). And yes, unfortunately, this tendency is also played out at the material and configurative scale. I’ll illustrate this with some examples (what Ian Hodder calls material entanglements) at the interface between open space and building. Why is it that some zones at this interface are intensively appropriated and some invite little or no user action, essentially withdrawing from stewardship of the public realm? Is this individualism expressed as built form?

Underappropriated interfaces.

Underappropriated interfaces.

The images above represent ’urban’ design approaches which for various reasons do not impart agency on the end-user or resident. Doina Petrescu, by way of  temporary/reversible installations promoting ”re-appropriation and reinvention of collective space in the city through everyday life activities”, conceives of critical practice as challenging prescriptive ways of living (Petrescu). My focus is on the zones where agency is formally sanctioned yet not asserted by those living there. For instance, in some residential estates in the Stockholm suburbs, gardening is more likely to take place at a nearby allotment garden than in the collective space earmarked and programmed for residents. Why?

Spatial agency in which the end-user invests the space with practices, presumably producing and reproducing social arenas as neighbors converge on space and negotiate it’s uses may also function well. When it does, appropriation traces are everywhere, the collective space becomes a site of personalization and becomes ”place”. Agency here is not independent of the structure of it’s context , but I would say that some structures impart agency more than others. The question then becomes, why (or perhaps where) is agency asserted, what patterns or logic can be discerned? Petrescu refers to the temporary appropriation of underused spaces of the city. The images below show another, more permanent appropriation of spaces.

Appropriated interfaces

Appropriated interfaces

Even something as banal and informal as a flower pot placed on the (public) sidewalk or paving bricks removed to allow for a plant indicate an emergence of agency, an expression of relating to a place in a permanent way. Once these traces emerge, once agency is taken, more actors tend to get involved and follow suit. I believe the differences in asserted agency rely on potential for privacy control and whether public space is fronted by formal or informal sides of buildings (fronts vs. backs). My research seeks to address these spatial underpinnings of the relational component. While the ’urban tactics’ approach advocated by Petrescu has validity as a way to engender social emergence and collective action, doesn’t the need for such installations mean that the more permanent spatial production has failed in some respect? And if so, how should we address this shortcoming in future practice? My hypothesis is that boundless or oversized spaces are difficult to appropriate (although we may use these spaces!) and that we must reconceptualize boundaries as edges where events may occur and as sites of agency not reducible to mechanisms of inclusion/exclusion alone.

Man, machine and human nature (conceptual cluster 3)

by fridarosenberg

Microsoft Word - kulturhuset photos

I used to be quite fascinated by the idea of human-nature as a machine-like entity. To explain, it was simply a useful thought process, while analyzing architecture in Swedish society and its cultural context. This is what I did, when trying to explain why the buildings we have are like they are in my project: Shifting Identity in Swedish Urban Structure from Folkhemmet to Globalization. This question of identity and self-image and how it’s reflected in architecture is still a foundation for the way I analyze history, architecture and urbanism. Yet, to return to how these three texts evoked the idea of individual subjects as part of the collective in a machine-like system reproducing itself, the 20th century’s ideal seems to rest on such ways of thinking. It seems like this could be reasoned to rests on Marx, and the idea of class-society where path of change is understood to be quite linear. (this is of course to be very marginal, general and not at all a qualified argument, but to continue: Here in our readings, Stengers uses “what physics is” as an analogy to explain what “an ecology of practice” might be. In using that analogy, she explains by using a familiar environment, which uses a linear logic or relationship that I was trying to say about Marx. I think then that what the concept of “ecology of practice” seems to argue for and has more of in Guattari’s terms; “are governed by a different logic to that of ordinary communication between speakers and listeners—subjects and the collective. (the three ecologies) Further on: Guattari continues: “this process of ‘fixing-into-being’ relates only to expressive subsets that have broken out of their totalizing frame and have begun to work on their own account, overcoming their referential sets and manifesting themselves as their own existential indices, procession lines of flight. “ To be critical, this is quite utopian idea, that we are sort of more free or self-referential than before… I do think that there are perhaps more possibilities for subjects to seem self-referential, but in a global perspective and what Guattari identifies in his first line, is that we are “undergoing a period of techno-scientific transformations”—and in this the idea ‘terminal’ is quite useful—where I see that subjects are just part of other collectives due to our networks which interconnects individuals, which are not physically connected. What I intend to say here is that yes, the three ecologies; or the way that Guattari argues for a different understanding of the world through “ecosophy” seems relevant due to techno-scientific developments. But, on the other hand, there is partly a utopian idea that the world works different than before, which Guattari acknowledges (see page 36). “It is as though a scientistic superego demands that physic entities are reified  and insists that they are only understood by means of extrinsic coordinates.”

Anyhow, in discussing a product of a machine-like society I used the term machine to describe Kulturhuset as a product of society. The chapter was titled: Kulturhuset: Playhouse, Identity Machine. In essence, I argued that architecture engages the reconstruction of cultural identity. Kulturhuset in Stockholm, typified the Swedish society during the 1960-70s and I described the building as representing the mechanisms that formed a collective, social identity during the end of the 1960s. I argue that Swedish society had been monotonous and the revolt existed among Swedish people. The irony, as I describe it, is that society’s way of coming to terms with this was to create an institution for play where society as a microcosm recreated itself again, without being able to change the paths.   Stenger’s article seems to touch on this fact and uses physics to illustrate how subjects are part of a tradition and in this she continues to discuss “what technology is”, which is highly relevant for me in regards to my studies: thank you for the introduction!

Conceptual Cluster 3: Ecologies of Practice

by katja2013

CCTV array

CCTV’s autonomy: aesthetic fluidity as partial object

Instead of condemning the architectural object as an effect and instrument of overwhelming social forces and ‘rather than repeating that nothing can be done because of capitalism, which demands and co-opts, Lefebvre encourages us to think of architecture as irreducible to the mode of production, state, and social relations: Lefebvre suggests a dialectical understanding of the conflict between specifically architectural imagination and the forces aimed at instrumentalizing it.[1]

A building is not simply a reflection of its functions, but is in fact active, constitutes information, behaviour, actions and perception over time, which are expressed both through the materiality (aesthetics) of the building and the image it projects. Architecture is both about presence and representation. It is about space and aesthetics, since every action produces an image.

In my analysis of the China Central Television Headquarters in Beijing (CCTV) by Rem Koolhaas I will look further than purely traditional (stylistic) approaches of analysis that primarily focus on the formal aspects of a project. When you like to catch where things are at work you have to register carefully the forms of agency and the relations that emerge in its spatial constellation and aesthetics effects applied. The CCTV building resists the celebration of the media house as just another icon (brand), and favours a much more dynamic understanding of its representation. The CCTV building as icon represents the power and media in China, but through its changing loop-form is at the same time deflating this image. It does not provide power in China an easy icon. Both on content and on a formal level the conflation of different media (loop, program, construction, tectonics, scale, bigness) produces a fundamental dissymmetry between media, provoking a distortion or destabilisation of identification and representation. The physical build loop, it is a visual effect, no skyscraper, establishing an urban site, rather than a point to the sky.[2] It challenges you to rethink it from every position you see it, its sculptural effect with its constant changing appearance, being a Z, I or otherwise estranging formation in relation to its environment. As audience you become a participant in asking what it is. The representation of the building is not a ‘passively representative image’, the image takes on the role of subjectifivization vector, or ’shifter’, capable of deterring our perception before ‘hooking it up again’ to other possibilities: that of an “operator of junctions in subjectivity”[3]. It has as Guattari defined anaesthetic fluidity’ which cannot be detached from the works autonomy, the ‘partial object’ derives from a “relative subjective autonomization”. (…) Here, the aesthetic object acquires the status of a “partial enunciator”, whose assumption of autonomy makes it possible to “foster new fields of reference”.[4]

Although paradoxical, autonomous systems (or autopoiesis)[5] can only exist through its interconnectedness with its environment. Autonomy derives through its interactivity with its environment, its separateness is there through its interconnectedness. Our own autonomy, its defined social relations, means nothing without environment, paradoxically, it is necessarily dynamic, and it is stable in time and change. Not only looking at the relational aspects, what architecture produces, is important, but also the way the autonomous object itself produces political effects/ forms/ aesthetics/ images, is essential to take into account, without autonomous presence there are no relations.

[1] Lukasz Stanek. Henri Lefebvre on Space, Architecture, Urban research, and the production of theory (Minneapolis,: Minnesota Press, 2011) p.250 Stanek speaks about a not yet published book: Lefebvre in unpublished manuscript: Vers un Architecture de la juissance (225 pages, 1973)

[2] Sven-Olof Wallenstein. ‘Media Houses, Architecture, Media, and the Production of Centrality’. (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010) p.168

[3] Nicolas Bourriaud, ‘The Aesthetic Paradigm (Felix Guattari and Art)’, in Relational Aesthetics, Les Presses des Réel, 2002.

[4] idem

[5] The term was introduced in 1972 by Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela

Conceptual Cluster 4: The Theory Tool Box

by katja2013


Jane Rendell sees the self-reflexive mode of theoretical work (as a tool); as a chance not only to reflect on existing conditions, but also to imagine something different, to transform rather than to describe. Deleuze states theory must be used, and continues that theory is by nature opposed to power. But what about the theory concepts hijacked by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), as Eyal Weizman so thoroughly analyses in Lethal Theory? Taken into the wrong hands, theoretical concepts are transformed not to subvert power but to project it, to improve the ‘art of warfare’ and to project the image of a different, more civilized military force than the Arab militaries and Palestinian guerrilla fighters it opposes (The Least of All Possible Evils). Isabelle Stengers writes (theory as) a tool is never neutral. The director of the Operational Theory Research Institute agrees, but adds ‘(…) theory is not married to its socialist ideals.’

If theory development is to inform practice and even according to Rendell should propose an alternative, through which civic agenda should this be enacted than?

Eyal Weizman in his third roundtable PhD research group[1] developed the idea of Forensic Architecture. Forensic Architecture refers to the presentation of spatial analysis within contemporary legal and political forums. The project undertakes research that maps, images, and models sites of violence within the framework of international humanitarian law and human rights. Through its public activities it also situates forensic architecture within broader historical and theoretical contexts. Forensic Architecture is organised in two distinct ways, Fields where the research takes place, and forums[2] where the research outcomes are presented, discussed and even taken to court with Architecture as witness (Elastic Politics) and to be judged as criminal act. Here critical practice is used, clearly with a civic agenda of justice, to excavate, lay-bare the wrongdoing. But as Tony Judt so well puts: ‘As citizens of a free society, we have a duty to look critically at our world. But if we think we know what is wrong, we must act upon that knowledge. Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.’

Excavating reality is not enough; I believe that architecture should propose, should imagine something different. According to Umberto Eco, in his idea of the Open Work from 1962, just breaking open the cliché, to arrive at a multitude of possibilities, is not enough. Openness, as developed by Eco does not go without directionality. But this openness is not after a sense of truth, we should try to escape the major key, work in minor key, to go ‘through the middle’, which would mean without grounding definitions or an ideal horizon.[3] We have to see, like Leibniz, that we live in the ‘best of possible worlds’ we have to work from within, to identify a micro-politics of change that reinvent the idea of publicness and privacy through an estranging and spatial aesthetic that provide the ground for enactments of new forms of emancipation.

[1] at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths University of London

[3] Isabelle Stengers , ‘Introductory Notes on an Ecology of Practices’, in Cultural Studies Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, March 2005.