About this Research Project

This Research Project is an attempt to set the bases for the development of an architectural and political theory and practice. This aim may seem ambitious but this task does not represent an end in itself but a work not only necessary but inevitable.

I think that one of the things that are most decisive in a work of architecture is the way in which the architect positions itself in relation to the world in which he inhabits. The architect needs to be primarily a situated human being, with full awareness of its role in time, space, and society. In my view, this problem can be addressed by asking three main general questions:

1)    Where do we stand today? Analysis

2)    What is to be done? Program

3)    How should it be done? Project

Each of these questions point towards different research tasks, which are a pre-condition for give those questions a satisfactory –though not definitive– answer. To know in what kind of reality we live and what is our position and role in it, we have to analyse it critically. To know what we can do to transform it, we have to propose alternatives. And finally, to know how to implement those alternatives, we have to apply a method.

1) ANALYSIS (First Stage 1-2 years)

The first stage of the research project aims at building a model for the interpretation of the reality of architecture mainly on the second half of the twentieth century and the beginnings of the twenty-first century, from the perspective of its concrete production processes. It is a systematic historical materialist analysis of the world-reality[1] from the standpoint of architecture, that is, from the standpoint of the human built environment. This broad analysis will be carried out through a dialectical method of thinking as a conscious manifestation of the dialectical process of reality itself. The main stages of this analysis are:

a) Analytic Stage: aims to identify the totality in motion (object of study) to be analysed/decomposed and determine the essential levels, categories and elemental concepts through a general process of abstraction. At the same time, it is fundamental to locate the inner connections between different phenomena analyzed, that is to say, the dynamic between its different levels, categories and elements. Moreover, the unravelling of the internal contradictions within the totality is one of the most crucial aspects of this analysis. Throughout the whole process, the logical form of the dialectical method has to be subordinated to the particular object under scrutiny, though without losing the general framework provided by the theory of historical materialism and its method.

b) Critical Stage: aims to locate the internal contradictions between the fundamental elements within the totality, the unity and conflict within each levels, categories, and elements, the reciprocal action between them. It is a critique of the main introductory thesis, and further development of the main questions and hypotheses till arrive to the minimal irreducible contradictory elements.

c) Synthetic Stage: aims to reassemble the totality in its movement, that is, in the processes and objective laws (constant relations) of its formation, transformation and evolution in time and space. The reconstruction of the dynamics of the totality analyzed is a necessary condition for the deployment of the thesis (method of presentation).

The fundamental levels of analysis are developed according to the dialectical interplay between Base and Superstructure: the economic/material structure and the ideological/mental superstructure (Marx). I argue that these levels are not enough when it comes to the analysis of architecture and its relation to wider social phenomena. Following Lefebvre’s insights in this respect, the essential levels to be indentified in their relative autonomy, compose not a dual structure, but a triadic one: Mental, Social, and Perceptual. In Marxian terms, these would probably mean: mental/ideological superstructure, social mode of production or structure (relations of production), and perceptual/material base or infrastructure.

These three fundamental levels can be founded in any product of human labour, any human creation, and I further argue that no human creation can take place without existing simultaneously in these three levels –though the distinction is purely analytical. For instance, an idea, something apparently formless, purely mental and abstract, it would be nothing without the material conditions that make possible for a human subject or individual to develop it, and furthermore the material means through which these ideas spread and relate with each other (books, media, and so on). Likewise, a building, something rather plainly material would be nothing without the mental conceptions, ideas, and social relations that generated it. Although the Social level has no privilege over the Mental and the Perceptual, I think that it has the merit of be the realm where these last two categories merge into one single experience. And this to the point that neither ideas and concepts nor buildings and things can be grasped in isolation but rather they become actual only through social relations between human beings.

These are some of the key concepts to be analysed in each level:

  • Mental: ideology (philosophy, religion, politics) – institutional order/the State (legal system/property relations, political, educational) – culture (art, media, mass culture).
  • Social: daily life (consumption, reproduction) – relations of production (bourgeoisie, middle class/petit bourgeoisie, proletariat/precariat) – forces of production (labour power).
  • Perceptual: phenomenology (human body, external senses, internal senses) – human labour (concrete, abstract) – technology (materials, materiels) – forces of production (means of production) – relation to the environment (nature, society).
2) PROGRAM (Second Stage 1-2 years)

The second stage of the research project aims to develop a program of architecture as a proposition with sense. It is the inner logic, structure, order, and set of rules that regulates and orients an architectural practice. It is a set of fundamental propositions that guide the production of architecture and position it with respect to its ideological background, particularly in relation to the problem of postmodernism (as the cultural form of capitalism). It is important to note that the program has no form (in the figurative sense), but only constructs the rules that redefine the mode of relationship between human being and world-reality, as well as between past and future, between the existing and the new. The program defines architecture’s ought-to-be –i.e. the issues it should address, the objectives it should aim to, and the most appropriate methods to achieve those objectives. The main stages are: 1) ought-to-be (topics, objectives, methods); 2) logical calculus (rules); 3) fundamental propositions (philosophical system, ideological system, plastic system).

3) PROJECT (Third Stage 1-2 years)

The third stage of the research project aims to implement the programmatic principles developed earlier in concrete architectural projects, designs, and works. Isidro Suárez defined the difference between program and project as follows: the program is the project’s entelechy and not the other way round. This means that in order to develop a project we must necessarily have laid out a program beforehand, and that this program is both an exercise and a result, a method and a product. The program is the structure or internal logic of a project. The conceptual project is a specific expression of the program. There are two types of conceptual project: 1) universal/formal (program study); 2) particular/content (particular analysis, particular program study) –these kind of projects don’t have any specific really-existing site or time, they are abstract or formal. Then we have what I call specific project (more known to the English speaking world as design), in which the starting point is the motive or brief that sets in motion a particular design in a particular place and time.

[1] For methodological purposes I make the distinction between the notions of ‘world’ and ‘reality’. The first means the perceptual-phenomenological realm, stripped from any kind of symbolic structure; and the second is the socio-symbolic network that mediates our perception of the world. Thus, instead of simply confuse world and reality, we can say that our experience of world can be us breathing, smelling, touching, tasting, listening, moving around and so on; and our experience of reality is all of these thing but passed through language and thought, thus breathing makes me feel alive and listening the street noise makes me think that I want to move to another location.

4 Responses to About this Research Project

  1. With great interest, I have seen your blogs and websites. We (Karlsruhe University and HfG) are concerned with matters of spatiality today, and for this, one contribution has been made in our EJournal “New Frontiers in Spatial Concepts” titled “Formatting & Loss of Space” (see the Website below) Where can we contact you for further details regarding your work and scope/participating conditions of your Charnel House?
    Many thanks in advance,
    Ulrich Gehmann, Editor-in-Chief

  2. Terrapol says:

    A very ambitious project Patricio! I share your sense of urgency for such an undertaking because it seems completely self-evident that any attempt to progress beyond our current state will require some form of theoretical framework (the program as you mention). Architecture as social and socialising project seems to be the elephant in the room insofar as philosophical debates about human development are concerned, and a vital field for investigation.

    I’m stuggling with some very similar ideas, albeit from a far less broad base – looking particularly at the work of Foucault and his understanding of Power, its physicality and laws of operation, and how they might operate through designed physical imbalances (architecture). In this sense i am interested much more in the objective reality (physicality) than the architecture of semiotics. This is where i locate the real political power of design. I wonder if you’d be interested in reading some of the things i’ve written? Perhaps we could both benefit from further conversation.

    • Thanks for your comment Terrapol. One of my sources is Foucault, especially his discussion with Paul Rabinow (Space, Knowledge, and Power) in which I intend a critique of his conclusions. I’m also reading a book called “Bio-Politics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture” by Sven-Olov Wallenstein, very good stuff too. My view also focuses on the real practice of architecture vs all the discursive and rhetorical ideologies that obscures it. I would definitely like to read some of your stuff. I will check out your blog. Cheers!

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