Philosophies

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

Month: October, 2015

Aesthetics of care

by hannesfrykholmuma

 

MONTAGE DTW_POLETOWN

I am deeply fascinated by Agnes Denes project Wheatfield, a Confrontation, as presented in Peg Rawes text “Architectural ecologies of care”.[1] Having said so, it is impossible to deny that it is the images of the project that fascinates me. Everything else is gone by now. The wheat is harvested, the tools returned to a farm somewhere in upstate New York, the volunteers have gone back to art school and most likely graduated by now, the adjacent World Trade Center buildings have tragically collapsed, and the landfill has been turned into real estate projects with sheets of asphalt or astroturf rolled out over the interstitial spaces between all the new stuff. What remains are the digitalized images. Yet, as Pew Rawes notes, the resonance that the project had “is evidence that aesthetic ecologies are oscillating social, environmental and mental relations.”[2] There is an immediate compelling power in the images of the project, as Agnes Denes stands in a field of wheat with the World Trade Center as a backdrop. Wheatfield can be seen as an ephemeral, full-scale montage that questions the spatiotemporal partitions between food distribution and the global economy through the production of an immediate juxtaposition between these different worlds.

There is aesthetics at work here. It is interesting to consider Peg Rawes reading of the aesthetics of care in this project, perhaps more so than in the artist’s own statement of the work operating on a symbolic level as an obstruction of real estate value or as an attempt to highlight global issues concerning hunger or inequalities.[3] Rawes convincingly argues how Bateson, Guattari and Spinoza all consider aesthetics as deeply intertwined with the care and wellbeing of others, both human and non-human substances.

Following Rawes reading of Guattari’s transversal thinking, Wheatfield can be seen as an “ethical re-integration of repressed other natures (both anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric) into traditional and advanced technologies and scientific realms.”[4] Central in this understanding of aesthetics is the production of difference in an ongoing process of re-singularization. We recognize here Guattari’s call for heterogeneous struggle as something that does not require the constant homogenization of different scales and practices, but instead urges for us to become at the same time “more united and increasingly different”.[5] The aesthetics of Denes work is therefore not only a visual juxtaposition of different objects and things, but also aesthetical in the meaning that it introduces a set of sensorial and temporal conditions that are usually kept apart. For example there is the sound of the wind blowing in the wheat field next to the noise of the traffic, the slow growth cycle of the crop next to the high pace trading of the stock exchange, the amber color of the wheat next to the concrete and glass nuances of the high rises, etc. All of these aspects are part of the aesthetics of care in the sense that they introduce a specific sensorium with a number of “voices” new to a particular milieu. In other words, the aesthetics opens up for difference.

Hannes Frykholm

[1] Peg Rawes, “Architectural Ecologies of Care,” in Relational Architectural Ecologies: Architecture, Nature and Subjectivity, ed. Peg Rawes (London: Taylor & Francis, 2013).

[2] Ibid., 46.

[3] Ibid., 41.

[4] Ibid., 49.

[5] Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (London: Athlone Press, 2000), 45.

The Paradox of Soil Economics

by bojanboric

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The April 2015 edition of “The Economist” magazine front cover featured an image of the dense skyscraper city with a small house in the middle – an obstacle to development. Above the image was a title “Space and the City”.

As the main focus of the text is the question posed on the management of soil and scarcity of urban land. The notion of land is presented as its real estate value in relation to the present and potential growth of the GDP. The author argues that the land scarcity is artificially generated by urban regulations and failed policies. It also points to the artificially devised disparity between the current land use restrictions, urban development regulations on one side and the evolving economic and cultural development trends in cities worldwide. According to this article, the current urban regulations don’t keep up with time and demands of society, technical and cultural developments that have put excessive pressure on some urban environments (Silicon Valey, NY, San Francisco, Mumbai) but have also caused depopulation of other spaces (such as Kentucky). In a way this text is a critique of capitalism while the cure perhaps is seen through more free ecologic or natural capitalism whose forces need to be completely unleashed.

 “Lifting all the barriers to urban growth in America could raise the country GDP by between 6.5% and 13.5%, or by about 1trillion – 2 trillion US dollars. It is difficult to think of many other policies that would yield anything like that.”

Who could argue with such statistically proven prospect for progress today in time of economic instability and lack of financial security on the global scale? I would further pose the question: Which fear is greater, that of immediate poverty, loss of a job and family income, the immediacy of the basic needs to be fulfilled, such as food, shelter, basic access to health care, etc. or that of destruction of the planet? Which of these fears seems more real in most human minds? At least for the time being, the global climate change is potentially a threat but still abstract and not yet an immediate threat for the most living in the centers of economic power.

The article also has a kind of social equality agenda combined and wrapped into the ecological imagery presented through images of integrated land, city and nature, all expressed in terms of money. The argument is that the restrictions in land use and building height restrictions create greater gap in opportunities, cost of living and wealth of broadest segments of population. San Francisco could, for example squeeze in twice as many buildings in its space and still remain twice half dense as Manhattan. This would offset the cost of housing and office space that is currently at staggering levels, also in negative terms to the economic growth. Increasing urban density is often one of the main arguments for ecologically minded architects and urban planners.

The most interesting perhaps feature of this article, perhaps is not its content but how the illustrations and images depict land, plants and soil as printed money growing out of the soil. These are also depicted as made of printed currency. The plants with leafs are literally depicted as an ecology of economic progress, the money growing out of the land. Therefore the natural cycle of crops and plants is translated into the double message featuring the economic necessity for capitalist growth coupled with an organic and free growth in nature. Advancement of capitalism is associated (perhaps in subliminal way) with free and unconstrained ecology of growth, development of society, equality in terms of financial opportunities and higher quality of life, as an agenda that integrates better and more efficient land use with greater economic and social justice.

In contrast this article could be placed against the Architectural Ecologies of Care by Peg Row and the featured art work of Agnes Denes, specifically “The Wheat filed – A Confrontation”. There is a chilling similarity and contradictions in use of terminology and agendas set from perhaps opposing views, assuming that the views and the agenda of the Economist magazine mirror what Guattari labeled as the agenda of the Integrated World Capitalism.

Both this article and the artwork by Agnes Dane express a certain kind of obstruction, freeing from human imposed bio-political control. Meant as a critique of the manifestations and effects of the Integrated World Capitalism, the artwork by Agnes Dane was an act of obstruction, stopping of the machine. In this project Dane constructs a top layer of soil, on an artificially built up land in form of the landfill on the island of Manhattan. This relation between artificiality and nature, the human and non-human, both product of culture and cultivation, in a way is in my mind a play of mirroring between the two. The artificial land that was added to the city as a physical construction of the landscape in an attempt to increase a space for an expanding economy and the city is at least for a while a base for another artificially constructed nature – that of crops of wheat (wheat is also an economic product). Both, the landfill and crops are a product of human activity and culture. Each are almost equally fragile and temporary. Later, through an ironic twist of fate, both have disappeared. The wheat field was replaced by the Battery Park City and the World Trade Center twin towers were destroyed in the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001.

The Void In-between

by bojanboric

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In response to the text “The Force of Things: Steps toward an Ecology of Matter” by Jane Bennett, I would like to make an attempt to refer to some the subject of my own research the related theoretical framework.

According to Jane Bennett, the concept of thing-matter is based on the resistance of material forms, their “recalcitrance” and intrinsic vitality when observed have strong impact on humane beings. The cultural forms themselves are those “material assemblages” that place human body at the center of the political and cultural processes that shape perception of what is real or natural. For my purposes I am interested in the relation to the urban space that perhaps could be seen as the material object or at least a complex of material entities and systems inseparable from human body, activity, production and culture. Bennett’s aim is to raise awareness to the ecological relation between human beings and the power of the material environment by giving it a specific voice. I believe that in particular any human struggle for the primacy in public space necessities the interaction and a strong reliance on the material reality, objects, infrastructures of the city in order to be able to facilitate the protest, engage in the public discourse, urban politics, etc. I also think that reference to two conceptual fields, one by Foucault, the bio-politics and the other Judith Butler, the “performativity” could be viewed as crossing the boundary among biology, culture, politics and power over material structures. Bio-politcs is constract of the “bio-power” as extended over to the state power in order to control the physical and political bodies of population. It is namely a technology meant to function not as a disciplinary mechanism but a social apparatus of control. Through the interaction of the human body or a group of bodies with urban space at the micro scale or with the planet earth on the macro scale, one could discuss the notion of thing-power as a form of flow of forces, vitality, energies through human bodies but also study ways in which the human energies and the nonhuman overlap and merge. In text “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street”, Judith Butler discusses the relation between, public political gatherings, protests and demonstrations as performative actions that are inseparable from their environment. Such acts composed not only from bodies but the interaction and conscious and unconscious interactions conducted in the space between the bodies in urban space construct the public space. The notion of “public” is constructed or projected through an act or performance in space. Even further, the speech and assembly demand material conditions but also in term the public character of the public character of that materiality is produced and reproduced. The politics is dependent on the bodies and their appearance. Since the bodies are viewed here as part of the continuous flow of material things, structures, objects, even those essential for human survival such as food and water, housing. The thing power appears most relevant as the means of casting light on the political sphere od ecological engagement that in effect should and may not be viewed as separate issue from the social, economic and cultural transformations and their political implications. Butler refers to the creation of reality, she also refers to Hannah Arendt, when she claims that the “right to have rights” is not dependent on any political organizations, it is intrinsic and does not rely on the political institutions to legitimize it but instead it comes into life, “the right comes into being when it is exercised”. The very notion of reality is subject of monopolization by those who seek to exclude certain groups from the visible spectrum of reality. The human body itself a material object a thing, is an element in flow of material and non material forces, it could only be conceived as political in terms of the material space and the energy field in the void of the multiplicity of bodies in the given material space. This material continuity is essential for the material transformation of the dead materiality to the living environment, the thing-power.

Subjectivities of the Transition

by bojanboric

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Boulevard D Cantemir-Image

I would like to refer to Foucault since I believe that there is perhaps an interesting difference in approach between Michel Foucault and Felix Guattari in regards to the notion of subjectivity. Furthermore, the concept of “governmentality” (governing mentalities) is at the core of the theoretical framework in my own research. Foucault, developed a historical analyses and critic of power that shapes the subject as an object of scientific inquiry and discipline. A state, institutional, physical and administrative apparatus (dispositif ) a system of relations that not only involved in shaping of the subject but also aiming at studying the subject as the source of knowledge in order to be able to act upon. The subject is shaped indirectly through shaping of milieu (environment). Environment is seen as an object controlled by the apparatuses of security (in town planning) as well as it itself becomes essential in the process of for formation of the subject (seen here in broader terms as population). This is especially important in understanding the role of architecture and urban planning as instruments in this process.

Felix Guattari takes a stand point in reference to ecology, probably the most important question of the present time and reacts to the uncontrollable and homogenous forces of global capitalism that threaten to destroy not only society but also our planet and threaten our existence as species. Therefore, the essential question is that of human relation to ecology and the subjectivity or the creation of the new subject is inseparable from ecology. He proposes that the new ethico-aesthetic and ethico-political paradigms need to be produced in order to create a more heterogenous identity machine which could be directed towards the future by acting upon human unconscious. Instead of technocratic approach to ecology, the more comprehensive activity placing focus on “authentic political, social and cultural revolution” (not like Mao Tse Tung type of revolution) needs to occur in order to shape the objectives for the processes of technological advancement. New collective and singular subjectivities need to be created and radical transformation of society needs to be proposed. Through the lens of my current research in the context of the “transition” from the post Soviet central state to the system of market economy and how does this institutional change impact society and built environment in particular case of Chisinau Moldovan Capital. From the global perspective, I discuss the state of ambiguous global condition of being in between in time and space, not belonging clearly in any political system, while at the same time at least partially shifting within the spheres of influence and territoriality from the East (Russia) and the West (EU), maintaining both the residues of Soviet state bureaucracy and neoliberal policies. The Transition is a fiction, a grand narrative that frames the condition of ambivalence at all levels of society and produces a setting for fluid transformations of forming institutions and new subjectivities based on the ritual of trial and error. Through the case of the Ghost Boulevard (Boulevard D Cantemir, a Soviet planned boulevard in Chisinau, Moldova from 1947 which was never built but has recently been resurrected perhaps ironically by the new elites as an instrument of real estate development. In its latent state as it is in today, not yet realized and with an uncertain outcome, it may be said that in ambiguous condition this space not only interacts with the transforming legal, institutional and bureaucratic apparatus but also serves as the interface for negotiation, re-evaluation of urban practice which is today in service of ambiguous institutional authority between the state and the economic interests. In this space, distinctions between the real and phantasy are blurred and interchangeable. The state and the bureaucratic apparatus are part of an imaginary, a phantasm of the social unconscious. Within this contested extra legal space, the zone is formed based on dissensus, the space of conflict can be a testing ground for “micropolitical” and “microsocial” practices acting upon the new unconscious.

Outlines for a Bestseller: The Secret Life of Buildings

by hannesfrykholmuma

DRAWING REFLECTION 2

In Jane Bennett’s argument for an ecology of matter, thing-power is the force of inanimate things to act, produce, activate and resist, despite being inanimate. For Bennett it is in the assemblage of things that the things themselves begin to have an impact on the surroundings, regardless of the will of humans. This argument transfers nicely into the practice of architecture, in that it allows for a long-needed detachment from the anthropocentric reading of the built environment as nothing but the mute stage for social interaction.

Could we for example imagine an inverted reading of Jan Gehl’s “Life Between Buildings”, in the form of an alternative bestseller entitled “The Secret Life of Buildings”, in which the complex assemblage of a building’s infrastructure is mapped in order to understand its impact on everyday life? The creaking staircase, the air conditioner regulating temperature, the noise from the pipes, the smell and dust of the painted plaster walls, the slowly but steadily expanding patch of mold on the inside of a wall only a meter from our desk, etc.[1] These are the more or less secret assemblages of objects that architecture often fail to acknowledge because they do not have a clear visual correlation to human life or to the city. To consider thing-power as defined in Bennett’s text is therefore not to apply a non-social perspective, but rather to accept the multitude of objects and conjunctions that also form life. This is how the bestseller would become a page-turner.

To think of the assemblage of objects as an activating force in the built, also suggests a critique of the analysis that limits itself to only dissecting architecture into a set of elements or distinct historical styles. This provides the first step of the analysis, but not the second or the third. If the first step is the autopsy of architecture into a number of objects (or “Elements” as they were called in the 2014 Venice Biennale main exhibition) that all perform in different ways, the second step of this anatomy would be to see the conjunctions between the different elements and how they operate together to produce something that is larger than the sum of its parts. The third, and most interesting aspect is to consider new possible assemblages and constellations between the objects of architecture. We can decide on a specific focus point when we perform the autopsy, but more importantly, in the third step of this analysis we are also responsible for a projective imagination of new modes of life.

In “The Secret Life of Buildings” there would surely be chapters of suspense and low-intense terror, as the building transgresses from the familiar into the “secretly familiar”[2] and produces the uncanny realization that we are integrated components in its hidden and sometimes ugly assemblages. In her text, Bennet considers the uncanny in relation to our bodies, as being the “uneasy feeling of internal resistance”.[3] However the same sensation could also appear when we realize how the multiple assemblages of objects that constitute a building – assemblages we assumed were either inanimate or simply not there – have been protecting, hurting, empowering and shaping us since our very first breath. We are moving toward the final chapter now and as any bestseller, the revelation is kept for the end: Following Bennet’s argument, the uncanny introduces fear, but also the potentiality of the secret life of buildings. The secret familiarity of thing-power presents a possibility that is “profoundly productive” and a “protean source of being”.[4] In this way, the uncanny aspects of thing-power can help us in the imagination of new modes of life, as they reveal a glimpse of the “invisible fields that surrounds and infuses the world of objects.”[5]

Hannes Frykholm

[1] In fact a good example of such a book would perhaps be David Gissen, Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments (New York City: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009).

[2] Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: Hogarth Press, 1955), 245.

[3] Jane Bennett, “The Force of Things: Steps toward an Ecology of Matter,” Political Theory 32, no. 3 (2004): 361.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 362.

Gathered thoughts

by evagheysen

When reading Jane Bennett’s text on Thing-power as an imaginary ontology of things and their powers, a childhood memory popped up in my mind. When I was young, we lived in a house with a small courtyard. Seen the size of the courtyard, it was densely stuffed with all kinds of things; toys, garden equipment, chairs, pots and flowers… When it started to rain, I collected all the things that were lying on the lawn and gave them a secure and dry place under the shelter of the terrace. This was a ritual I repeated every time it rained. I did so because I felt a strong empathy for these objects. The ball, the flowers, the buckets…were my friends because I often played with them. Therefore, I needed to take care of them and make sure they wouldn’t get wet and sad. Of course I understood that these objects were inanimate and didn’t have any feelings but I guess it was a rather instinctive urge to take care of my environment.

The relation between human and non-human entities, and the spatial movements and patterns this generates, made me think about a project of a student. For this project, the student occupied her room during several weeks and tried to reduce her footprint of occupation every day a little bit more by moving her belongings and the furniture every time a little bit more closely towards herself. This evolved in a process of simultaneously densifying one side of the room and clearing out the other side of the room. The student initially started this experiment for investigating densification processes in relation to co-housing possibilities but when gradually the open space became larger and larger, she decided to keep the freed space open, to not occupy in order to make space for undefined activities. During the process of this project the students’ aim changed from densification in order to enlarge the number of occupations towards densification as a method for creating qualitative open spaces for the unforeseen to take place. In this case, the open space is in a state of impotence, perpetual tension and potentiality. This inner tension doesn’t exhaust the possibility of the situation but instead poses questions and points towards a new direction for both political and architectural action⌝.

Making space for alternative developments, or, in other words, disrupting conventional relationships and proportions, is also present in Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield project. By turning a building plot in Manhattan into a wheatfield, she visualises and effectuates an alternative ecological relation. Apart from the fact that the wheatfield represents the role of nature in relation to the city, it is in my opinion not so important whether it is a wheatfield, a basket court or a zoo, the quality of this work lies in the imaginative power of the act that stimulates a reconceptualisation of ecological relations.

According to Peg Rawes⌝, architecture plays an important role in these relations since through critical, poetic, political and ethical strategies and imaginaries, new places of occupation and inhabitation can be constructed. These might perform as the ‘existential territories’ discussed by Guattari, or the ‘vacuole’ mentioned by Deleuze; the space of resistance, where new forms of subjectivity can be invented and hence recognise and enable multiple and distinct ways of belonging.

⌝ words borrowed from Beyond Entropy in a reaction on the work of Adrian Paci, The Column, published in the Venice Biennale brochure 2014.

⌝ Peg Rawes in Relational Architectural Ecologies (2013).

Reflections on vectors of subjectification and Felix Guattari’s “Three Ecologies”

by hannesfrykholmuma

Basic RGB

In the introductory text to Three Ecologies, Félix Guattari presents a daunting summary of the ongoing ecological crisis of the planet, and at the same time a proposal for an ecosophy answering to how this crisis can be considered as a possibility to reorganize the current mode of life. Guattari’s reading of three ecologies is hopeful in the sense that it does not fall back on a romantic primitivism with the sole purpose of resetting a presumed lost balance between human and nature. Instead Guattari suggests the reconfiguration of life to happen from within the existing techno-scientific system. For Guattari this implies considering a set of ecologies that forms new nascent subjectivities, the introduction of “new systems of valorization”, and a technically supported revitalization of the planet’s many non-human organisms and systems. In moving away from the typical ecological discourse dominated by the need for austerity, Guattari’s discussion centers on the creative and active processes of restructuring the planet. A key argument in the text is that the stratification between different systems and scales needs to be transgressed, so that the “micro-politics of desire” can be related to larger systems of practice in what Guattari refers to as “processes of heterogenesis”.[1]

In this way the large-scale ecological crisis of the planet is directly related to what Guattari calls “vectors of subjectification” and the emergence of partialized subjectivity.[2] According to Guattari, Freud and his disciples acknowledged certain vectors for the shaping of dissident subjectivity, based on “instinctual urges and […] corporealized imaginary”.[3] Moving beyond the scope of psychoanalysis Guattari argues for subjectification as an ongoing process of different components intersecting and bifurcating, not necessarily in relation to the individual. However, in discussing this process Guattari only provide vague outlines of what these generators could be, referring to them as “institutional objects, be they architectural, economic, or Cosmic”.[4]

So where does this take us in terms of developing an architectural strategy for new subjectivities? Following Vera Andermatt Conley’s reading of Guattari’s text, architecture can be seen as highly involved in the process of forming new subjectivities, as architects have “the responsibility of inventing new territories, of tracing new maps and diagrams while prodding their students and apprentices to do the same.”[5]

According to Guattari’s and Conley’s arguments, it is not enough for an ecosophical architectural practice to reduce emissions in the building process or to design low energy housings. The practice must also consider how architecture supports and delimits new forms of subjectivity. What are the mechanisms and operators that play a part in this process? Following Guattari’s emphasis on the heterogenesis between various micro-conditions and large-scale social processes it is also interesting to consider how the small elements of architecture operate (and can operate) in the formation of new subjectivities. What are the intersections, the bifurcations and moments in which the elements of architecture, such as the staircase, the door, and the ramp become vectors that form new subjectivities? How can the serial subjectivity that Guattari sees appearing in current consumer culture be challenged through architecture?

Hannes Frykholm

Notes

[1] Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (London: Athlone Press, 2000), 34.

[2] Ibid., 25.

[3] Ibid., 37.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Verena Andermatt Conley, “The Ecological Relation,” in Relational Architectural Ecologies: Architecture, Nature and Subjectivity, ed. Peg Rawes (London: Taylor & Francis, 2013), 278.

Hannes Frykholm

by hannesfrykholmuma

hfrykholm

Hannes Frykholm (born 1982) – I was trained as an architect at the LTH School of Architecture in Lund and the CED at UC Berkeley, following degrees in History and Sociology from Umeå University. After graduating in 2012 I worked on a number of housing projects and urban plans in Stockholm, Nacka and Solna, parallel to doing competitions and various theoretical-visual projects. I have published projects and texts in Nordic Journal of Architecture, Arkitektur, Future Arquitecturas, Concept and Soiled.

In 2014 I enrolled as a PhD student at Umeå School of Architecture, with Roemer van Toorn as my supervisor. My thesis project, entitled “Staging the Threshold: Foyerness and the Aesthetics of Entering”, considers the commercial foyer as a stage for new and temporary subjectivities. Investigating how the architectural elements and aesthetics of the entrance operate to produce a specific sensorium, the project speculates on an architectural practice that appropriates these mechanisms for the purpose of engendering new political subjectivities. Through a microscopic anatomy of the entrance, the project compares five different foyers of commercial architecture, in order to consider to what extent these allow for an immersion into an interior landscape of fantasy. What can architecture learn from the spatial practices often located outside of our discipline but inside the contemporary experience economy? In drawings and texts presented as intermissions between the anatomical case studies, the thesis suggests a set of design instruments to promote a foyer that triggers desire and fantasy beyond consumption.