Projecting Horizons: Architecture, Capitalism and Radical Politics
By Patricio De Stefani
(written in June 2011)
Architecture’s relation to nature and society has always been a tricky one. However, is not precisely in the mode of this elemental relationship that all architecture is grounded? The world we have built so far has established different types of this relation. Our relations as social and individual beings are mediated by the artificial world we have created. Architecture stands between us and society.
In the last century, this fundamental relation has been radically transformed due to the major restructurings of our economic and political systems. The different modalities that architecture has adopted in relation to the overall reality of capitalism have had a profound impact on the formation and practice of architects.
The study of this relationship has not been a major preoccupation for architectural theorists, let alone practitioners. However, recent works on this matter, specifically on consumer culture, have been treated by Juhani Pallasmaa from the perspective of phenomenology. Manfredo Tafuri has made relevant contributions from the historical and critical perspectives. From the Marxist standpoint, Henri Lefebvre, Fredric Jameson and David Harvey have analyzed the spatial logic of capitalist accumulation and its social consequences on the built environment. More recently Pier Vittorio Aureli has investigated the relations between worker movements and architecture in the sixties. Despite these authors have been very influential in architecture and the social sciences, there are some questions that I think remain unanswered. For instance, what is the role of architecture in the reproduction of the existing social system? What should be the role of architecture in facing major instabilities and injustices in the cities produced by capital?
What have been the different modes of relation between architecture and capitalism throughout the twenty century? If the architectural project is an instrument inherently tied to the envisioning of a future not yet been achieved, then it is always a matter of understanding this future as a transformation or else a reproduction of an existing state of things. Architects are compelled to make a decision, and to define a position in the broad spectre between these two poles. How to develop possible alternatives to the current relation between architecture and late capitalist societies?
This research aims to determine the laws that lie behind this fundamental relationship and its effects on the formation and practice of architects. Furthermore it looks to explore possible alternatives to the current production of architecture and its relation with late capitalist society. The methodology will consist in the study of different theoretical approaches as well as practical, through the use of scientific and dialectical methodologies. The study would develop an area of theoretical issues that is unusual on architectural knowledge and it would contribute to the formation of a critical practice within architectural education and practice.