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

Month: January, 2016

Contents page

by olasvenle

Ola Svenle_Contents page

All become means

by olasvenle

You’re young, bred by well-off parents in a western society, you start to see social inequalities all around you, you realize it’s more rule than exception, you’re not fed with the image of inherent divine justice. Hence you reduce the numbers of factors involved in societal change and consequently don’t see why thing couldn’t be radically different. Individual and structural reasons are not yet separated. Laws are not yet systematically understood, they rule not over good intentions. Goals are real. Not competition but collaboration is perceived as meaningful human activity.

Goals tend to slowly wither with time and you have to settle with means.

As Jane Bennett has suggested elsewhere[1] you should perhaps not be so harsh on yourself, as non-living matter influence the progress of the world just as much as you do.

Exit the idealism of the youth; enter the circumcision of possible practices of maturity. You cool down, gradually accepting worldly rigidity through complexity. You find yourself quite dependent of the structures surrounding you. The universal measure deciding on your potential actions is more often than not monetary. The values of human actions to the human communities are measured monetarily. So things as well as experiences, actions and services are commodified, priced – get their exchange value. This was introduced with the economies of mass-production in the 19th century. Capitalism meant investing in expectations and profit-making from the exchange value. But capitalism was confined more or less for a century to the market, the industry and the trading professions, while other considerations guided the relationships between citizens and governments. Since then the balance has tilted and the ideology and economic method of neoliberalism has increased the concerns of the market economy at the expense of the common. The government issues have turned mainly into maintaining the prosperity of the free market and administrating it. The measure of success for governments has been reduced to economic growth.[2] Added to that is the notion of governments having to act as markets themselves. Considerations not included in calculations of risks and benefits, costs and profits, are ruled out. In its most developed shape a neoliberal citizenship would have no public to consider, just individual entrepreneurs and consumers. Then no difference would remain between economic rationality and moral, politics or religion. And there you are at the finish line: all has become means.

What people fail to see is that problems like unemployment, poverty, security, justice, sustainability aren’t caused by external factors but are effects of mechanisms within the capitalist system. They have been caused not by immigration but by the economical logic of capitalism. Instead of critique from scholars leading to action, the discontent has been absorbed by populist righ-wing forces pointing to external threats as the root of evil.[3] The NAIRU concept, (level of unemployment equilibrium) was coined by Milton Friedman in the 80s. It’s the condition inherent in capitalist economies, that unemployment rates are prevented from dropping to levels near zero, where shortage of labour would result in raised wages and uncontrolled inflation.

[1] Bennett, Jane. The Force of Things: Steps toward an Ecology of Matter, 2004

[2] Brown, Wendy. Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy. p. 42

[3] Boltanski, Luc. The New Spirit of Capitalism, 2006


by olasvenle

Guattari’s thoughts on the liberation of human beings from labour are striking in their actuality today. The substitution of human workforce with robots has long since taken place in the manufacturing industry. Starting now the service industry finds itself in the same situation. It won’t be long before computers can perform juridical, economical, medical services.[1] As spare time for humans ever increases, Guattari’s cry for meaningful (artful) occupations rings out unheard. Instead politicians keep clinging to the notion of full-time work for everyone as the solid societal foundation.

What’s constantly underestimated in utopian forecasts is people’s need for consistency. This is evident when he turns briefly to architecture, and bases his judgement only on what’s suitable for contemporary material needs. Archaism and folklorism are his terms for those complexes of thought ascribing value to consistency, essentially recognizing that aesthetic experiences be defined as meaningful relations between user and object. Meaningful because the extentional relations represent the intentional ones. The inner images of the world and of architecture don’t necessarily change as easily as the outer ones do, they abide to other laws of the psyche.

How true don’t Guattari’s thoughts hold on the invasive commercialism of our days? Capitalism has moved into our lives and become an inseparable part of them, shifting focus from the production of commodities to that of messages, values, emotions.

Also, Guattari notes how Integrated World Capitalism is dependent on the establishment of “stimulation” with zones of misery and poverty in the developing countries. In the developed countries their equivalents are the groups of people stuck in unemployment and marginalization.[2]

[1] Paulsen, Roland. DN, artikel, After Work – när datoriseringen tar bort jobben 2015-04-29

[2] Guattari, Félix. The Three Ecologies, article. p. 21f

Everything is everything

by olasvenle



Jane Bennett writes hopefully in her book Vibrant Matters about the subjectification of things as an answer to the desire for alternatives to and ways out of the race to the bottom of the narcissistic consumerist society. However her train of thoughts has a long way to go to have an impact on the contemporary public, whose image of the world situation is at best influenced by professor Hans Rosling’s statistics focusing on the level of education, infant mortality, vaccination programs against common diseases and similar exclusively human concerns.

Certain concerns of Western thought a little over 100 years ago spring to my mind. Following the all-encompassing changes brought about to British society in the 19th century by industrialization, disrupting social and economic life, a new sense of realism arose in intellectual and artistic circles. On one hand it opposed the idealism of the academic, which can be said to represent an old abstraction of the things, reducing them into instances of governing ideals. One the other hand it countered the new threat from the mass-production of industrialization. The new abstraction consisted in the machine, housing the actual expression of the thing, while the commodity being produced was rather a bi-product. The proposed alternative was centred on human beings. Humans as creative force, the human creation as the central concern and the thing, the object, constituting its witness. It upgraded man violently, with the degradation of industrial labour as the backdrop. It postulated an individualistic take on man, the personal ability to create meaning, apart from a collective one. Denouncing industrial mass-production meant a more gentle use of resources.

Over a century later Bennett’s vital materialism recognizes the way that raging consumerism has plundered the earth of its resources and threatens to devastate man’s home. Human intentions do not suffice to explain or lay the foundation for chains of events. Instead entire swarms of factors are recognized as underlying. By defining the action concept without including intention, all objects can be included, human and non-human alike, living and non-living. As the concepts “efficacy, trajectory, causality”[1] are used to define actions, all worldly objects become potential actors, in groupings (assemblages), with other entities. Instead of animating nature and objects (like the animism of indigenous people and fetishism) the soul is sucked out of humans, leaving them on the same level as everything else existing in the life-world. Parts of humans form alliances with parts of other entities and become assemblages acting according to their potentialities. No qualitative differentiation between human and nonhuman action.[2]

A theory as hands-on as this can’t help but pronouncing normative ethics: “We need not only to invent or reinvoke concepts like conatus, actant, assemblage, small agency, operator, disruption, and the like but also to devise new procedures, technologies, and regimes of perception that enable us to consult nonhumans more closely, or to listen and respond more carefully to their outbreaks, objections, testimonies, and propositions.”[3] Challenging.

Arts-and-Crafts was all about the presence of man within his things. Vital materialism aims at upgrading the things, the nonhuman, to the human level of significance. The things aren’t loaded with the human spirit; it’s not man who invests himself in the things, but man denouncing his supremacy, acknowledging its non-existing exceptionality. Actually quite the opposite.

[1] Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter, 2010. p. 31

[2] Bennett, 2010, p. 34

[3] Bennett, 2010, p. 108

Ola Svenle

by olasvenle


Ola Svenle obtained his Master of Architecture at LTH, Lund in 2009. His master thesis was a historic survey of the Swedish academic architectural education and the role played by the Italian study trip in 19th century. He has been working at the Swedish Museum of Architecture and National Museum in Stockholm, mainly curating architecture drawings. 2012-2013 he was the architecture scholar of the Swedish Cultural Institute of Rome. He is currently a PhD student at the department of history and theory at KTH Architecture school. The PhD project deals with the initiation of the polytechnic architectural training, with 19th century architectural theory and thought, with realisms and romanticisms, rationalisms and functionalisms.

A Walk Through the Lobby

by hannesfrykholmuma

Coloring in-book-1

Objects – part 1

by jasminmatzakow

Our group of attendees of the philosophies course visit Louis in his temporary home, which is situated in the greenhouse at Färgfabriken. Together with his family, he lives inside a public exhibition for two months. As part of his project presentation to us, Louis reads out loud two letters that describe the intention of this project. I close my eyes to better follow his words and I find it hard to take in the dense information and loose hold of the words. When he finishes, I open my eyes again, and immediately I am captured by all the objects around me. The objects in this in-between space are demanding my attention. I wonder: where did they come from? In which new and old contexts do they live here now? How did they get here? Someone asks about all the plants in the greenhouse. They are from his backyard in Puerto Rico, Louis explains. Some plants look really strange and foreign to me. Other plants, like the basil and the peppermint are from Swedish supermarkets. I recognise the typical little black pots, about 50 of them. The herbs have grown three times the size than what one would expect to see in a kitchen. Even though the supermarket variation of herbs is not meant to last long, they have grown wild and big, reclaiming some of their natural plantness. Louis tells us, the construction of this home is, within a budget, sustainable. The beams are from Swedish pines and the installation framework will be donated after the exhibition is over, nothing goes to waste. I wonder what will happen to the smaller stuff? The home is filled with objects, piles of things sit on the kitchen table, the sink and inside the little rooms. The amount is quite astonishing to me, considering this space exists only for a limited period of time. Some objects are obviously not from Sweden but from a country which is exotic to me. They attract me with their thingness, their generous projection surface, and I feel free to attach to them. Other objects are very personal, marked by frequent touching and it is hard to read their history or their meaning and function. They do not invite me into their world because they are closed and obviously occupied by Louis and his family.
These two categories of objects add to the picture of the creative artist. I am invited to see the artist’s mess. I begin to enjoy my role as a voyeur, which initially felt quite uncomfortable and forced upon me. I also notice  a candlestick and a lampshade, typical Swedish design from renowned department stores. Most Swedes with a good income will have them in their homes, too. These objects facilitate relating to the situation, to Louis and his family. They make a big group of people feel at home in the exhibition which I imagine helpful for the family actually living here. Or does it make visitors feel too comfortable and maybe extend their welcome?

Then, I am almost shocked, when I recognise kitchen utensils from Ikea. The presence of Ikea in this displayed home suddenly questions the ecological and holistic aspect of the project. Or does it make this home more believable because millions of people have objects from Ikea at their home? Now, the whole western world together with China and Russia, can relate to the project. By including objects made from a multinational company into the project, everyone gets an entry point. Could this entry point be the secret most important part of this home project? I am still so enchanted by the exotic things, like the enormous, strangely-shaped carpet hanging in the entrance, that the contrast to the Ikea objects pulls me out of the romantic magic into an interesting, trivial space. This pull is a strong movement and suddenly the hanging carpet becomes a flying carpet. In this specific, unique constellation, the objects show their vibrant matter, as Jane Bennett calls it. Louis has assembled objects that move with Deleuzian speed and allow me to hang out with them for a brief moment. I wonder if really Louis put together these objects or if the objects actually assembled Louis?