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


Two lists

by lenastinaandersson

things 5_Sida_1List 1

1. Pillar, brick and plaster, during renovation, 1960s

2. Floor, stone, Before 1960

3. Scrap material, wood and chipboard, during renovation, 1960s

4. Ventilation pipe, unknown material, late 1960s

5. Plant, ormbunke/ fern, late 1960s

6. Cigarette, 1960s

7. Wooden covering/protection, fir-tree, 2017



things 5_Sida_2List 2

1. Window, during renovation, 1960s

2. Pillar/column, cararra marble, 2017

3. Woman drinking from cup, late 1960s

4. Scrap material, planks of wood, during renovation, 1960s

5. Lamp, brass and glass, 2013


Sharing- Thing- Environment-World

by shydes

Objects in a home – part 2

by jasminmatzakow

The idea that objects have an agenda upon which they act and influence humans is a provocation to me and to most people to whom I talk about this. After an initial expression of “No, that’s not true; that’s crazy!” my dialogue partners are intrigued and want to know more. But here is the issue: I don’t know more, I can only pose questions, I do not have answers. I can only continue to wonder “what if?”.  What if I only believe to be in charge of the objects around me? What if I am blind towards an active world of things? How can I ever know? Where could be the entry points into this world?

I find an entry point provided by George Bataille in his text “The Notion of Expenditure”. He describes a way we interact with objects, give and take. His example is a sacrifice of money in return for “sexual love”  when buying a diamond necklace (p.170). He points out that the beauty of the stones is not sufficient to want them. It’s the sacrifice of a big amount of money that provides the right thrill. But one could also say that the stones actively give the excitement to the buyer. What then, does the object gain? Attention and energy. Something key is happening in this transaction. People have died to fulfil a transaction as mentioned in the example. Could an object be an author of such a compulsion? Looking at this from a different angle, I can state that the all-encompassing element in these scenarios is space. What if the objects were not to have an agenda and a will of their own but the space around them instead? Objects, animals and humans constantly change their position to each other and thus change their space. What if  it is in fact space that exercises influence over us? What are the consequences of this scenario? What happens to the hierarchies between objects, humans and space?

Let’s go back to the example by Bataille and add some cheesy details to it: A man buys a diamond necklace for one million euros and gives it to his woman as a present. In return, he receives the thankful reassurance of his manliness as a strong provider as well as sexual attention for a month. She might never actually wear the necklace because it is too expensive, and instead store it in her safe. If the necklace had willpower of its own would it not want to be a bit cheaper, so that it will be admired in public often or be bought by a museum to be on permanent display? I am imposing a human value system on the necklace, when I think that if I were a diamond necklace, I would not want to live in a safe, neither would I want to be part of a transaction of this sort. If on the other hand the space around the actors had willpower then this show makes more sense to me. Why would the space want this transaction? What would it gain from it? Why is it the best solution? I imagine the space cares more about general harmony and less about the destiny of a single object. The goal might be to keep a peaceful relationship between a man and a woman. It might not actually care but react on voids and flows of energy, filling voids and keeping balance between different flows. But then again, non-human entities must have their own value system that I cannot even begin to imagine.

At this moment my partner crashes into my room to tell me that scientists have found Einstein’s gravitational waves. A ripple of space-time matter passed earth, and it was measured! That sounds as scientific as it sounds mysterious and I wonder if this is a crucial underlying part of my undertaking: Logic and mystery go nicely together if allowed to be. Which leads me to the following temporary conclusion: The change in perspective of who or what acts is an insightful but difficult thought construct. Logic and mystery together can lead the way towards interesting questions and answers, which might not present themselves in words but come along in unexpected forms.



(Georges Bataille, ’The Gift of Rivalry: ‘Potlatch’ ‘, in Fred Botting and Scott Wilson eds. The Bataille Reader, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.)




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

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?

the concrete frame – a model of economy

by helenawesterlind

diagram copy

If the success of an architectural typology can be defined merely by its reproducibility the concrete structural frame must be regarded as the most successful example of architecture as an industrial process. It is a global phenomena that appears in endless variation based on a few generalised design principles and has become “the most recognisable –the most fundamental –project of twentieth-century”.

Adrian Forty has pointed out that the introduction of concrete as a building material, not only, changed the economics of construction, but that it also has affected the entire composition of the building industry by shifting the balance from skilled craft labour to unskilled labour. As an alternative to traditional construction that was dependent on expensive skilled craft labour, concrete offered the possibility of cheaper construction by sidestepping the traditional trades, and breaking their monopoly over construction. “There are good grounds for saying that the phenomenal success of concrete in advanced economies where wages are high has had as much to do with this aspect of concrete as with any constructional advantages”.

It is against this background of ‘economy of labour’ that the phenomenal success of the concrete frame typology can begin to be understood–as yet another consequence of the capitalist demand for more cost-efficient construction. The execution of reinforced concrete as a structural frame enabled the pursuit of a ‘structural economy’ that promised even greater radical reductions in material, time and labour.

The conceptual basis for the model was provided by Le Corbusier, when he in 1915 tried to patent, but failed, his Domino design for a simple post and slap reinforced concrete structure. The scheme represented a new method of construction that promised a rapid an economical way of producing mass housing as a solution to the post-war rebuilding problem after WW1. The Domino scheme was a continuation and radicalisation of existing standardized reinforced concrete systems such as the Hennebique system. Even though Le Corbusier’s project was never realised in its pure form, and is widely acknowledged to not be fully resolved technically, the project became extremely influential as a concept of an economical model for housing that anticipated the industrialisation of construction.

to be cont…


by olasvenle

Georg Simmel’s century old text on The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903) offers interesting reflexions on what impact the monetary reward system have on people’s minds. How the system is closely connected to the urban environment ever since antiquity.

His line of argument is intriguing inasmuch as it ranges back and forth from apparent criticism to appreciation of the effects of the metropolis on the human mind. From stating that individuality is subdued in the urban environment since economic scales and quantitative measures are ruling all relations he goes on to state that the individual freedom is considerably greater in the metropolis as compared to small societies. In the latter the groupings of people are small enough for the included members to work as monitors of each other, while in the former this surveillance is rendered impossible. Simmel ties the 19th century concept of division of labour closely to that of the city. Only there the proper conditions can be provided, there the people are forced to develop their own specialties not to be effortlessly substituted by somebody else.

Simmel sees a core shift of essence in the city life as compared to the previous rural one in the new fight for survival. No longer a struggle against nature for the means of living, but a struggle with other humans. Since it is other people who must provide the means of survival in the metropolis, whatever is produced have to make sure to find new and unique needs in the presumptive buyers. Individualization and differentiation as responses to the individual interchangeability. Ultimately for Simmel this individualization of human beings is something artificial, something applied in order to compensate for the loss of the whole personalities that were smashed by the division of labour.

The metropolis makes room for both of the concepts of individuality of the previous periods; that of the 18th century Enlightenment, freeing man from bonds, be they religious, political or guilds, and that of the 19th century romantic movement, looking to the particular, the irreplaceable. Both are housed in the city of modernity.

As relationships in Simmel’s metropolis are quantitative no values other than economic ones survive. The nihilism strikes. So does the apparent conflict with late 19th century seriousness and preoccupation with proper formal expressions.

Simmel’s object of study is the individual, however entirely on a group level. For greater explanatory power on individuals much theoretical input would be needed. Furthermore, different individuals react differently in new situations, based on their upbringings and dispositions, and different individuals are drawn to different environments for the fulfilments of their needs.

Ola Svenle

The performative power of thick description

by evagheysen

bad collage

In critically rethinking the traditional framing of economy, Katherine Gibson follows J.K. Gibson-Graham’s approach of analysis that resists static and dominant theories of economy and instead argues for a “diverse economy”. In opposition to economy as an abstract and autonomous object, diverse economy represents economy as complex, dynamic processes of social and ecological relations and actors.

Gibson propagates the use of thick description and weak theory in order to make the hidden dynamics of economical relations visible. Hence, thick description and weak theory can be seen as ‘tactics’ to construct a particular model of understanding and communication. The quality of these tactics is their perforative power; as Gibson states: “how we represent the world contributes to enacting that world”.

The tactic of thick description, introduced by Gilbert Ryle in the seventies, is a way of describing events or things in an inclusive way, capturing details, context, emotions, relationships, characters et cetera. More than an objective recording, a thick description interprets the circumstances, meanings, intentions, strategies, motivations…that are at play.

In my own design work I am using a similar tactic as a way of investigation that I call extensive description. An extensive description is a very elaborated description that can be executed in words, images, sounds and other media. An extensive description reveals the descriptive extent of a thing by the creation of referential collections. Through extensively describing a subject in an unrestricted, associative flow, referential collections illustrate the referential extent or space that the subject covers or affects, and reversely, the referential elements that affect the understanding of the subject. In that sense, the descriptive extent provides insight in meaning making processes. The descriptive extent has a highly associative character and contains no filter: emotional, cognitive, experiential…references can collide in a referential collection. An important value of the descriptive extent is the fact that it includes properties that are usually dismissed as irrelevant in general definitions.

The performative power of thick description and weak theory lies in their representational character. How the world is described determines how we perceive and experience reality. Representations of reality are always translations of this reality, in most cases even exact copies. But in representation, various translations are possible and parallel models of reality can be generated based on alternative frames of references. This gives the opportunity to present several modes of experiencing the world and to use the frame of reference that is most appropriate for understanding a situation. Gibson uses the performative effect of ethnography for the making of a story, “a framing which allows for a different imaginary in which economic possibility proliferates”. The representations provide new dimensions for perceiving and understanding our surroundings. In my own work I use representation techniques as a conception device to create and recognise parallel versions of reality. In that case, the representation is not just a copy of dominant thought patterns or an affirmation of the status quo, but achieves a performative power and contributes to processes of world-making and differentiation in ways of belonging.

Eva Gheysen

Reflecting on power economies and the production of research space

by acaskeyg

“It is not easy to define a supportable ethical or political position that takes into consideration the way in which precariousness and possibility can be thoroughly entangled and the way in which things do work but are hardly just”. This quote from Abdoulmaliq Simone’s work on urban economies in Kinshasa has stayed with me throughout the past few day and throughout the other readings and class work. There seems to be something said and not said. Though Simone is a wonderful writer and brings each of the subject group he profiles to life in clear and intricate ways. A complex political economy that produces enormously high real estate prices in Kinshasa but de-valorizes the ingenuity and (dare I say) innovation of the Bloods in the marketplace.

What does Simone’s analysis say about research in precarious areas, like slums and other informal landscapes? Could the Bloods and also the urban cultivators Simone profiles and interviews be considered as participants in a tactical urbanism? This last question is not something Simone proposes, nor do I think his article makes the claim that the residents of Kinshasa are seeking to subvert neoliberal economic processes and power through their actions.

In thinking about the way researchers study places I came across a piece by Neil Brenner about an exhibit at MOMA last spring. I think his work his helpful, especially as it is grounded in analyzing neoliberalism. Which, as we saw today, is an economic system constantly adapting and manipulating our perspectives on gender, race and consumption. His urban critique might be valuable:

Tactical urbanism could counteract neoliberal urbanism. Especially in light of the stridently anti-planning rhetoric that pervades many tactical urban interventions and their tendency to privilege informal, incremental, and ad hoc mobilizations over larger-scale, longer-term, publicly financed reform programs, it seems reasonable to ask in what ways they do, in actuality, engender any serious friction against the neoliberal order, much less subvert it. In some cases, tactical urbanisms appear more likely to bolster neoliberal urbanisms by temporarily alleviating (or perhaps merely displacing) some of their disruptive social and spatial effects, but without interrupting the basic rule-regimes associated with market-oriented, growth-first urban development, and without challenging the foundational mistrust of governmental institutions that underpins the neoliberal project.

It is true that Brenner is assuming a position wherein today’s urban human condition is largely unjust, asymmetric and “environmental insane”. Which is a condition that Simone also hints at through his writing of people in Kinshasa dealing with the “grinding boredom” of working and hustling through precarious daily uncertainty.

The envied position of the intellectual observer, of the flâneur, is made possible through a certain amount of economic certainty. Stability and free-time, as was pointed out in today’s lecture, allows for a contemplated wandering in the city. And it also might create the conditions for a de-coding of our economic market system. The market may not have a consciousness, but conscious people drive it, manipulate it and profit from it. Does intellectual analysis give us tools to de-code these human constructed systems?

On that note, I turn sometimes to art and performance. Not for answers but for a different analysis. Alexandre Paulikevitch is Lebanese dancer who inhabits an interesting space. He is male, is a professional raq’s baladi dancer, creates original choreography using a traditional form and continue to work and practice in Beirut. His piece Tajwal, is about his wanders in the city.


Experiential Erosion in the Metropolis

by evagheysen

beeld simmel

In his essay The Metropolis and Mental Life, Georg Simmel discusses the impact of the metropolis and its modern dynamics on the social life of the citizens. According to Simmel, a consequence of the metropolis and its modern lifestyle is the reduction of the individual to a single, negligible entity in a complex system. The metropolis homogenises unique ideas and traditions of diverse groups into a single urban way of life. Simmel points out the contrast between the slower, more habitual and familiar rhythm of a small town in relation to the overload of stimuli generated by the metropolis. In order to protect ourselves from the intense stimuli of the city behavioural mechanisms as for instance indifference, reservation, and rationality eliminate personal and emotional reactions. As a consequence, we no longer feel ourselves acting on the world around us. Simmel indicates a conflict and increasing gap between subjective —individual— culture and objective culture, the modern social relations. In his observation, impersonal cultural elements and existing goods and values of the metropolis suppress personal interests and particularities.

The consequences of metropolitan life outlined by Simmel show direct comparisons with the repercussions of globalisation: the loss of authenticity and personality and the disconnection between the individual and society. Jean-Luc Nancy describes globalisation as an undifferentiated sphere of uni-totality in which everything becomes a commodity. Globalisation leads to dominant cultural world views that weaken cultural subgroups and independencies and thereby an entire order of representations of belonging (Nancy, 2007 in: Janssens). As a counterbalance to globalisation Australian psychologist Jennifer Gidley (2007) proposes ‘planetisation’, an anthropological and ecological stance on ‘world-forming’ that emphasises the more inner oriented development of psychology and culture with respect for the individual and cultural diversity (Gidley 2007 in: Janssens). The different focus and value system of globalisation and planetisation is comparable to the differences outlined by Simmel between subjective culture and objective culture.

The loss of qualitative differences by the transformation of subjective culture into objective culture can be framed as a process of ‘experiential erosion’. Erosion, a term found in Geography, refers to ‘the gradual destruction of something by natural forces’. In my own work I use the physical process of erosion as a metaphor for the phenomenon of an environment that through frequent contact loses experiential qualities. Erosion is a destruction that acts upon the most outward layer of the thing and progresses, rubbing off layer by layer, ever more inwards until finally all matter is worn off. The destruction, which is in fact a repetitious contact between two matters by which the one matter hollows the other, is not a single conversion but is conditioned by frequency (of touch, contact, use) and hence is always a gradual process. The frequent rubbing results in a diminution of the textural inequalities of the superficial layer of the thing. Because of this textural smoothing the thing loses its distinctive features in relation to other things and is in fact homogenised. The frequency of physical contact leads to egalisation and continuity and hence diminishes the intensity and differentiation of experience. Based on Simmel’s observations of modern city life, the metropolis can be considered an environment that entails experiential erosion.

In order to counteract experiential erosion and ‘re-sensify’ existence, the individual seeks for qualitative differences in experience. This can be related to the forms of differentiation (eccentricities, extravagances and self-distantiation) the metropolitan citizen turns to in order to be ‘different’ and become noticeable. Architectural professor Randall Teal talks about a similar need for an ‘extraordinary encounter’ in architecture.  An extraordinary encounter is explained by Teal as “an immersive and embodied encounter that generates an affective experience within a world”, resulting in a unique resonance between the individual and a situation or place. What makes it ‘‘ordinary’’ are the familiar and measurable elements of our world, and what is ‘‘extra’’ is the immaterial wholeness that emerges from the embodied experience (Teal, 2013).

In The Metropolis and Mental life Simmel gives an insight in how citizens of the metropolis have become detached from their environments and intense personal experiences are weakening. What interests me the most however is which tactics can disturb processes of experiential loss, indifference, reservation, and pure rationality; the processes that are at play in the metropolis. What kind of designs might enhance the extraordinary encounters Randall Teal speaks of, and, can these encounters counteract the phenomenon of experiential erosion?

Eva Gheysen

Janssens N., 2012, Utopia-Driven Projective Research: a design approach to explore the theory and practice of Meta-Urbanism, Doctoral dissertation, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg.

Simmel G., 2002 (1903), The Metropolis and Mental Life in Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson (eds.) The Blackwell City Reader. MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Teal R., 2013, Immaterial Structures. Encountering the Extraordinary in the Everyday. USA: University of Idaho