Events And Opportunities

Architecture of the other 99%? – Power, Economy, and the Dilemma of History

Session at the 106th ACSA Annual Meeting "The Ethical Imperative", Denver, CO, March 15 - 17 2018

Submission of full papers:


»Architects have always served the interests of the ruling classes.« – »Architecture is the most public of all the arts, a manifestation of the collective.«

The history of architecture speaks volumes about this dialectic: on the one hand architecture is a practice that is driven by the need for access to vast amounts of capital, labor, material and other resources, and hence, has always been in close relationship to the dominant social powers and their interests for representation and cultural hegemony. On the other hand, the relationship between architects and power varies between servitude and emancipation, between cynical realism and ideals of public stewardship, critique or even counter-culture. This dialectic is especially urgent for a growing human population of the 21st century faced with the legacy of modernity, which had once promised participation for all with regards to power, economy, culture, and the city.

Nevertheless, the discourse of architecture tends to side with the elite: no matter if one opens books for teaching architectural history, looks at professional awards, architectural exhibitions, trade magazines, and the public media coverage, or if one analyzes the precedent studies in design studios and offices. Architects, educators and students refer mostly to the canonic pieces of the past or to the exclusive and extravagant projects of a globalized media economy of today. And if in the 1960s and 70s Tafuri imagined a critical role of history and theory distinguished from a necessarily collaborative practice, even this section of academia offers little resistance today: despite the curricular changes over the last decades that questioned “the canon” and introduced a global perspective, the main narratives continue to focus on the palaces of the kings (rarely queens), the churches and temples, the representative structures of the state and of large corporations, or the villae of the most affluent.

By translocating the provocative motto of the occupy movement into the field of architecture, this session asks for reflections about the charged relationship between architecture, power, and economy. What are the strategies and tactics to evade the repetition of the socio-economic status quo? How can architecture become empowering and liberating for diverse constituencies, especially the ones so far deprived of design services? What is the role of architectural history, which seems more often than not to narrate a “winners’ story”? What about histories of alternative practices and critical modes of spatial agency?

This session welcomes presentations that address the difficult relationship between architecture and power theoretically (problems of historiography) and empirically (case studies of alternative spatial practices) in order to scrutinize the hegemonic economic regimes at work. Both approaches shall contribute to the question of how to imagine, design and reflect upon an architecture of the other 99%.
SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Foundation for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
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