This panel aims to explore the ways in which certain forms of material production can be testing grounds for doing theory. We are particularly interested in how architectural production, as a sociomaterial assemblage and as a design practice, might challenge conceptual repertoires of STS and ANT.
This panel aims to explore the ways in which certain forms of material production can be testing grounds for doing theory. We are particularly interested in how architectural production, both as a sociomaterial assemblage and as a design practice, might challenge existing conceptual repertoires of STS and ANT. The panel acknowledges the emergence of an intellectually lively space at the intersection between architecture and STS, ranging from STS studies of architecture to architectural propositions inspired by ANT, but it specifically aims to explore the conceptual shifts and challenges that might result from engaging with architectural production. It invites STS researchers and architects to discuss whether and how current architectural production can not only put to work STS and ANT concepts and sensibilities, but also challenge them? This might involve asking what are the limitations, the constraints, the blind spots, the common places of predominant STS and ANT vocabularies in relationship to architectural production, as well as exploring the opportunities, overflows, openings related to this site of material production. We thus aim to create an opportunity for exchange and reflection on the capacities of architecture to challenge STS and ANT propositions. Presentations might focus on conceptual discussions, project presentations or empirical case studies, but in all cases they should propose reflections, establish connections and map the mutual influences, with the aim of opening up an intellectual space for new questions, methods, sensibilities and forms of critique.
This track is closed to new paper proposals.
No-thing is possible: Architecture, politics and urban decay
This paper asks for the potentials and problems of an ANT-view of architecture. By changing the focus from production to decay, it sketches the consequences for a political reading of vacancy and seeks for a dialogue between ANT and other approaches on material space.
In his essay "Imagining Nothingness", Rem Koolhaas (1985: 54) once said: "it is a tragedy that planners only plan and architects only design more architecture. More important than the design of cities will be the design of their decay". To expand the focus on architecture, ANT enables some interesting thoughts. With its focus on the movement of buildings (Latour & Yaneva 2008) and the political relocation of the city (Latour 2012), ANT can be helpful to think about urban decay in a different way.
This paper is located at the interface between architecture, politics and urban decay. Against the background of my ongoing PhD-project on "Ghostscrapers" - the abandonment and ruination of significant built structures in Detroit and Bangkok - this paper asks for potentials and problems of an ANT-perspective on vacancy and urban decay. In what sense does ANT changes our view on the city and the material production of buildings in regards to urban decay? And what are the limits of such an approach that calls for 'moving contexts' and 'flowing buildings'? Following Müller (2015: 35) who calls for "co-articulating" ANT with other social theories, this paper seeks for a dialogue between ANT and other approaches on material space. By focussing on the interplay between the city and its vacant structures, 'no-things' can become visible. As things that have lost their intension and relation to the rest of the city, such vacant structures make space for the political, because "where there's nothing, everything is possible" (Koolhaas 1985: 54).
Inviting atmospheres to the architecture table
The design and production of a temporary installation has been the means to inquire how designing with atmospheres may challenge STS notions of material participation, as well as proposing a different account of how socialities can be facilitated with buildings/atmospheres in architecture.
STS accounts of material participation have acknowledged what buildings can do in relation to the social. In particular, things (and therefore buildings) acquire their agency and political capacities depending on how they are deployed, which implies that the socialities facilitated by buildings cannot be completely predetermined and are necessarily experimental. In order to test this shift to the processual and architectural practice's ability to design socialities, this project proposes to think and work with a dynamic material: air. What we gain shifting from architecture as objects to atmospheres is twofold. On one hand, it destabilizes conventional ways of practising architecture. On the other, it opens up spaces for experimenting in the design of socialities, which do not necessarily take place only after the project is finished through atmospheric attunements, but is a permanent transformation that occurs also during its production. Or in other words, it is a continual material invention of the social in three dimensions.
This speculative proposal is part of an on-going practice-based research illustrated through an installation of an art space in 2014, which became an exploration in how to take seriously the invitation of (atmospheric) more-than-humans to architecture, as well as showing how the social can be in part designed with matter and atmospheres.
æther, the O2 apparatus
æther will explore physical and oral contamination through air as form-of-life. Moreover, the project explores systems of actans (B. Latour) connected through breath. It will bring together philosophy and political theory (immunity), architecture and social, poetic and performative space.
æther will explore contamination as form-of-life. Moreover, the project explores systems of actans and hybrids (B. Latour) connected through breath. Air is a habitat in its own right. Its territoriality is indeterminate and vulnerable.
æther is the seed of a project initiated on 2012 based on the idea to create a temporary community through air.
It is a project that activates and analyses the "immunity" of a community through the fact of breathing, manifesting and enhancing the contamination that continually occurs between bodies:
"I breathe in what you breathe out".
æther is the vacuum that fills everything. For Foucault, knowledge emerges in the interstitial clash between objects.
The invisibility of the vacuum that fills the space and the gases ingested lead to the creation of a community through contamination.
The space becomes filled through the breathing.
Contamination between the space and the community is unavoidable. Immunity, as a defence of one's own and one's private sphere becomes nullified.
Breath escapes all control. We cannot be immune.
The limits dissolve giving themselves over to a never-ending reciprocity. It is cyclic circuit that profane the bodies and the space by its mislocation. This inter-action becomes an invisible re-appropriation through breathing.
'In a symbiotic process the air captures the community. With each breath the space shudders and evolves together. The organs explore the space like receptors, and at the same time, the space takes control of itself to become seen by the group as an autonomous yet dependent entity'
Sound and space. ANT approach to building concert hall acoustics.
In this paper the ANT approach is applied and tested in a study tracing the assemblage of the concert hall acoustics of Helsinki Music Centre completed in 2011. The study follows the footsteps of classical STS case studies that have traced gathering and disentanglement of technological projects.
In this paper the ANT approach is applied and tested in a case study tracing the assemblage of the acoustics of Helsinki Music Centre completed in 2011. Incorporated in the architectural shape and materials of the concert hall, acoustics is defined as a technology that mediates music to the audience and orchestra. It is truly a hybrid actor: in Helsinki the pursuit of "best possible" sound collected together several ideals - artistic, physical, visual and social - that combined in the architectural design of the concert hall were to create the perfect acoustical experience.
Through the possibilities opened by ANT's inclusion of non-human actors as part of the collective the objective of the study is to access sound as a social phenomenon. Analysis is conducted by locating the displacements where acoustics joined new bundles of relations and became more articulated until finally reaching its' (possibly) final form in the vineyard-shaped concert hall. The study follows the footsteps of classical STS case studies that have traced gathering and disentanglement of technological projects (e.g. Callon 1986; Latour 1996; Gieryn 2002).
As any mediation of art, acoustics, although a field of physics, has a subjective dimension: it mediates different impressions to different people. Material production of subjective experiences appears difficult to grasp relying solely on ANT repertoire. Different acoustical features can be conceived as matters of taste and therefore even expert opinions of the quality of acoustics differ. Hence, the notion of good acoustics involves an element of power: who were able to stabilize their idea of good acoustics and how?
STS and the Analysis of Design Research in Architecture
This paper discusses blind spots of laboratory studies inspired STS vocabularies in analysing architecture. Such concern the epistemic differences of knowledge production cultures in the hard sciences and in architecture and the translation of tacit and intuitive knowledge into written forms.
Ethnographic analyses of STS scholars, known as the laboratory studies, have challenged the traditional conceptualisations of knowledge production in the hard sciences in terms of objectivity and universalism by pointing to the relational character and situatedness of scientific knowledge production. However, such relational and situational aspects are at the core of architectural research practices, which are based on the idea of creating something individual, new and using intuitive approaches. Thus laboratory studies inspired descriptions of the practical construction, the situated configurations and the alignments of persons and things in the architecture studio, consequently lack of the critical dimension that is inherent to the traditional laboratory studies.
Using an empirical analysis of architectural design research projects at a UK architecture school, this paper argues that by applying a laboratory studies based research approach, originally developed for studying knowledge production in the hard sciences to the analysis of architecture, often omits the fundamental epistemic differences of the two knowledge cultures. Furthermore, with its strong situational orientation on the place where knowledge is produced, such an approach is likely to oversee translation processes that take place outside of the studio. However, particularly in design research these translations of the tacit and intuitive approaches into written texts and the ways these might transform the knowledge culture of architecture are of particular importance. Not least in times of harmonisation and economisation of research and higher education, such translations account for related demands like that of publications, academic promotion, peer review processes, research-funding institutions and evaluations.
Digital cultures: architectural design and innovation in practice
Innovation entails a change of perspective, a departure from existing ways of doing things. Digital tools in architecture upend visions of scale and tectonics and change the nature and practice of design, providing a privileged site to re-visit key notions in STS and the study of innovation.
With the rise of scripting in architecture, programming and customisation becomes integral to design research and the creation of form. A new generation of user-friendly design tools and low-level programming languages empower architects to become tools makers rather than users, raising a series of questions about the feedback loops pertaining between tools, practice and knowledge in the digital design studio.
Scripting and digital tools provide a venue for reconsidering conceptual mainstays in STS: What happens when the default becomes users configuring tools rather than tools and manufacturers configuring users? How is the relationship between tools and users changing, and how do changes at the micro level of practice relate to the macro level of professional community and the built environment?
The notion of "configuring the user" in STS arguably puts too much stress on the legibility of advanced technical tools to the detriment of localised practices and adaptation. Innovation entails a systemic re-organisation, highlighting affinities between local practice and a gathering sense of something emerging across cultures, fields and technologies. I forward digital architecture as a venue for considering innovation in practice, exploring the relationship between technical and social mores in design.
STS can inform architecture by breaking with simplified notions of divine inspiration or lone genius, by restoring the socio-technical context to the design studio. This opens new venues for the study of digital technology and practice within STS, and for thinking about the relationship between practice, innovation and change within the architectural professional community.
Seduction tools and community of practices. The estrange case of an unlikely Video Art Center
In this contribution we show how a group of designers try to escape from the paradigms of efficiency and authority traditionally assigned to the implementation of technologies in architecture, through the use of seduction tools or rethinking the potentials of a community of practices.
In this contribution we address the case of the rehabilitation of some traditional houses located in an inner Mediterranean village, to host the Video Art Center "Espacio Doméstico" (EDOM).
As designers, we tried to escape from the paradigms of efficiency and authority traditionally assigned to the implementation of technologies in architecture, in order to achieve in their effects as diverse aspects as local communities, digital manufacturing or recycling policies that operate around the rehabilitation of built heritage.
The design process tried to assign to different technologies the role of mediating with the existing through the incorporation of some strange paradoxes we found attached to the history of the site. So we printed fluorescent cool tattoes over damaged and disappearing walls, we reconstructed the profile of old furniture with contemporary silk wiring, or we completed the fables about the former inhabitant importing some pieces of his lost furniture, still remaining in the memories of the bewildered neighbours that approached us during the process of reconstruction.
If we can understand the seduction as the process of converting affinities and disagreements into affirmative communication, EDOM proposal can be understood as a process of creating seduction assets between technologies and users.
This process showed us how the net of possible actors coming together in a long building process very precisely situated is not manageable in advance or as a matter of fact, but it depends for instance on the community of practices the designing group wants to implement in each occasion.
Domestic theatres: living (in) black boxes
‘Black box’ is a common term in STS theory that usually refers to processes that remain unnoticeable. However, it may also refer to the ‘stage black box’ in a theatre. This paper aims to explore the ways in which domestic space can be a testing ground for challenging the concept of ‘black box’.
'Black box' is a common term in STS theory that usually refers to a set of invisible processes and technologies that are taken for granted, that generally remain unnoticeable. However, a 'black box' may also refer to the 'stage black box', that is, the space within a theatre that is formed by the stage, the stage machinery and the backstage. In summary, the 'stage black box' is an architectural device where any fiction can be brought into life.
This paper aims to explore the ways in which domestic space can be a testing ground for amplifying and challenging the concept of 'black box'. This is done through a set of domestic case studies that transfer stage and performance strategies from live art to domestic spaces in order to 'open the black box. The tension between this two ways of understanding the 'black box' is an opportunity not only to rethink the conceptual repertoires of STS and ANT, but also to rethink nowadays domestic spaces.
Olla Gitana. The Conversation as Architecture of Community
Olla Gitana is an architectural project that explores the practices related to the rituals of eating as more than just routinary and sensory experiences and aims at showing the dining table as a "parliament of things" in which many daily activisms are discussed.
Olla Gitana is a transdisciplinary project (architecture, gastronomy and communication) that claims the dining table as a socio-technical object that involves people sitting around it, economies and ecologies of power, everyday rituals, media production, industry, laboratories…
The project rejects the interpretation of the liturgies of the kitchens and dining rooms as neutral formalities and tries to rescue their political dimension, institutionalizing them as discussion arenas to foster positions taking and the establishment of conflictive democratic citizenships.
Olla Gitana explores the practices related to the rituals of eating as more than just routinary and sensory experiences and aims at showing the dining table as a "parliament of things" in which many daily activisms are discussed.
In Olla Gitana, solidarity is promoted through affective communities, ways of everyday resistance and cooperation routines that reinforce social ties, thanks mainly, to the material and technological support involved in the design.
Thus, the architecture of Olla Gitana is no longer a spatial action that "guarantees the social", but a technology "of community", all being part of an heterogeneous composition, equipped with tools such as food, the art of conversation or communication technologies, and also furniture, wood, polyurethane, iron and steel cables … all contributing to promote the free exchange of opinions.
Buildings for care: an ethnographic de-scription of architectural elements
Rather than seeing a building as one entity, we explore how architectural elements and care workers together achieve the goal of making residents' 'staying in the place'. Herewith we hope to contribute to a view of how buildings and care practices relate beyond architectural determinism.
When Ariane (first author) recounted stories to architects about how spatial elements co-produced occurrences in her fieldwork, the response was often "Oh, that's the influence of the building". Our STS background leads us to question this architectural determinism: after all, STS scholars have drawn attention to the continuous (re)making of objects in interactions between human and non-human actors. Looking at architecture in this manner implies a focus on interactions between humans and architectural elements, such as rooms, doors and specific spatial arrangements (Koolhaas et al., 2014), instead of buildings in their entirety.
Rather than seeing a building as one entity, we empirically open them up to analysis. Drawing on both authors' ethnographic researches, conducted in psychiatry and dementia care respectively, we explore how the goal of making residents' 'staying in the place' is achieved by care workers and architectural elements together in practice (e.g. closed, opened or equipped doors; cameras; circulation means such as corridors or stairs). We use the notion of 'script' (Akrich, 1992) to analyse practices of care-full adjustments of architectural elements. Herewith we hope to put forward a more nuanced view of how buildings and care practices relate to each other, that goes beyond architectural determinism.
Koolhaas, Rem, AMO, and Harvard Graduate School of Design. Elements. Marsilio. James Westcott, 2014.
Akrich, Madeleine. "The De-Scription of Technical Objects." In Shaping Technology / Building Society: Studies in Sociothecnical Change, Cambridge, Mass. ; London, MIT Press. Inside Technology. Beijker Wiebe E., Law John, 1992.
Re-imagining political architecture: settings as political actors
Based on a sketch design seminar, we discuss how students' proposals for a parliament of things propose different ways of imagining what political settings could do. We identified five architectural principles that challenge STS and ANT to engage with the question of what a good parliament could be.
This article is based on a sketch design seminar with architecture students, in which we asked them to design a space for hosting a highly heterogeneous set of actors involved in an imaginary socio-environmental controversy, as well all the things that sustained each of their different claims. The controversy involved a factory, a polluted river, dead birds, vegetables with bad taste, mothers concerned about the health of their children, fathers working at the factory, scientists, activists and so on. We argued that whereas parliaments as building types offered a very good architectural solution to an old political problem, namely, the representation of a nation, they were inadequate for our controversy. Students were invited to re-imagine political architecture.
Students' propositions were not just very diverse, but also problematic in all sort of ways. Thus, our pedagogical experiment could be read as suggesting that 'parliament of things' or 'hybrid forums' should be primarily thought in procedural terms. Or that, as Marres has advocated, in order to understand techno-scientific issues, we need to explore other non-public sites of material participation, such as the home, the office or the bus. But, and this is the main insight from our experiment, at least in some of the students' projects, we could identify architectural operations that suggested different ways of imagining what political settings could do. We identified five such principles that challenge STS and ANT to engage with the question of what a good parliament could be.
This track is closed to new paper proposals.