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Call for Papers: Architecture between Boom and Bust – Calibrating the financial economy of the built environment

  • Dates: 08 Nov – 10 Dec, 2012
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
  • Contact: Ole W. Fischer
  • Email:
Call for Papers and Projects

DIALECTIC, a referred journal of the School of Architecture, CA+P, University of Utah Architecture between Boom and Bust – Calibrating the financial economy of the built environment

Theme: “What ever happened to Architecture?” “It’s the economy, stupid!”

Deadline: Dec 10th 2012 Requirements: Abstract (350 words) Short CV

While the economic boom of the 1990s and 2000s made architects and media designers the epitome of the urban creative class, the credit crunch of 2008 and the accompanying economic downturn severely shrunk the profession. Not for nothing. The bust of the US American housing market has been arguably the trigger for the current global financial and economic crisis. With the building industry as its main victim, the bust has directly affected architects, whose fees are linked to building costs and built volume.

The second edition of Dialectic, a refereed journal of the School of Architecture, University of Utah, invites papers that address architecture’s relationship to economy. We welcome contributors who scrutinize architecture’s dependency on market forces theoretically (as part of cultural, political and social history), historically (case studies of an alternative practice of architecture) or pedagogically (exemplary formats of architectural education). All these approaches shall contribute to a process of rethinking the profession of architecture in history, theory, practice, and education in relation to economy to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Dramatic economic turns, while involving individual hardship, are nevertheless great indices for making visible the immanent connections of the discipline to the marketplace and for challenging our understanding of what it means “to architect”. One question raised in the aftermath of the current economic (and architectural) crisis is the failure of the starchitect system that evolved parallel to the real estate bubble in Western societies as well as “new markets” in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America. At the 2010 Venice Biennale, Rem Koolhaas was alone in criticizing the gains in artistic freedom, budgets and size of commissions, reminding us how they paralleled a loss of intellectual stance. Public, as giddy decision makers had learned to expect extravagant signature buildings, formal experiments and endless artistic ingenuity. With this, they traded the role of the architect as a public intellectual and keeper of a common good for a celebrity figure who would bring global fame and tourists to their communities.

A series of recent exhibitions have addressed different aspects of the issue at hand. The 2010 “Small Scale, Big Change” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, for example, featured contemporary architectural interventions from all across the globe that worked on small budgets and the limited scope of community interests. This September, MOMA’s “9 + 1 Ways of Being Political” is displaying humble-scaled appliances and equipment from the 1960s and 1970s, that circumvented economic challenges and created politically and socially relevant architecture.

The history of the profession in the twentieth century bears witness to the attempts of the Modern Movement to bring the elite cultural products to the ordinary man. Modernists took up public commission of schools, industry and infrastructure. They got involved in urban design, workers housing and the provision of public amenities. Architects in the 1960s critiqued the paternalism of their disciplinary forebears and interrogated the role of an architect both as a social engineer and as a moderator of participatory design. The concurrent post-modern turn to semiotics and imagery moved the discipline to the opposite direction of “art for arts sake.”

Advertently or inadvertently, architects who dreamt of the autonomy of design from context– function, material, economy, client, history and site—built the ground for the hedonistic formalism of the 1990s and 2000s. Following the economic downturn in 2008, one might observe yet another calibration of architecture to society. Community engagement, sustainable design, (ecological as well as social), and micro problem solving developed throughout the twentieth century. But in the twenty first century, these as well as other alternative practices became the mantras only after architecture’s meltdown.

We think that these interdependencies of architecture and economy have not been thoroughly theorized yet. We seem to have few alternatives and hence are in desperate need of dialectic reflection. Contributors may ask: Does the engagement with (underserved) communities, with micro-projects, with “green” building performance and with parametric design practices, constitute a retreat or an expansion of the discipline? Is the architecture of scarcity necessarily “modest” or is it as an opportunity for new design acrobatics? Does architecture’s dependency on economy falsify or strengthen the theory of “autonomy”? Where lies the future of the profession of architecture on the spectrum between service provider and cultural producer, between detached artist and public agent, and between technocrat, utopist and DIY? Finally, what can we learn from historic examples such as the Great Depression and the economic recession of the 1970s? These are just some of the questions we would like to put forward for an open debate.

The editors encourage critical statements and alternative practices. An abstract of 350 words and a short CV are welcomed by the editors Ole W. Fischer and Shundana Yusaf until December 10th 2012.

Accepted authors will be notified by Dec. 17th. Full papers of 2,500 words must be submitted by March 1st 2013 (including visual material, endnotes, and permissions for illustrations) to undergo an external peer-review process.

This issue of Dialectic is expected to be out in print by September 2013.