Towards an architectural anthropology

Location 205
Date and Start Time 17 May, 2014 at 10:30


Raymond Lucas (University of Manchester) email
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Short Abstract

This panel seeks to investigate the possibilities of a deeper anthropological engagement with the discipline of architecture, based in but distinct from the practices developed by design anthropology, what can anthropologists learn from architects and what can architects learn from anthropologists?

Long Abstract

The recent development of Design Anthropology (Gunn, Donovan Eds. 2013, Gunn, Otto, Smith Eds. 2013) as a distinctive sub-discipline has some lessons for collaborations with the built environment disciplines including architecture and urban design. Many of the issues raised are of interest to architecture, most notably the opportunity to integrate anthropological theory and methodology into the design process. A distinction must be drawn between the needs of a Design Anthropologist and those of an Architectural Anthropologist. This distinction is more than merely one of scale, however: most notably, the use of prototypes within design anthropology is inappropriate for architecture, and fundamental issues about our relationships with the environment and what it means to dwell are concerns shared by architecture and and anthropology.

There have been a number of studies in the mode of an 'anthropology of architecture' (Buchli 2012, Marchand 2009) or an 'ethnography of architecture' (Yaneva 2009, Houdart 2009), but what does it mean to produce anthropology by way of architecture (Ingold 2013)? It is easy to see what architects can learn from anthropology, but a greater challenge to ask anthropologists to learn from architects and designers.

Themes for the panel include but are not restricted to the following:








This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


(Escape from) the conundrum of vernacular architecture: progressing an anthropology by way of architecture

Author: Rachel Harkness (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

What might characterize the vernacular as the riddle-some conundrum? Conundrums are traps that keep questioning going round and round. To escape, a line of flight is taken to the creative works of architects who cite vernacular architectures as inspiration for their socially-minded, anthropological, practice.

Long Abstract

Conundrums… What is it that characterizes the vernacular as riddlesome? In what sense - if any - is vernacular architecture endlessly puzzling? Is it the boundaries of the category which are tricky? Where does it blur with the Traditional, for instance? Furthermore, if the vernacular is all that people build for themselves and their communities, an 'architecture by, of and for the people', do we leave ourselves only a caricature to stand outwith (and in opposition to) this: Modern Architecture as soulless monuments to global capital, exploitation and megalomaniac architects? Or, does the riddle lie in the way the vernacular is supposed to include both building that is heralded, conserved and deemed authentic embodiment of culture and building that is desperate, born of necessity and ingenuity, which, if at all acknowledged by the State, is most often derided as unsanitary and inconvenient?

Conundrums, I venture, are a trap! To escape from the conundrum of vernacular architecture, I propose a line of flight (Deleuze and Guattari, 2004[1980]), by way of reference to the work of architects who seem anthropological in their mode of practice. These architects have studied with builders and dwellers of vernacular or informal architectures and who have attempted to incorporate what they have learnt about dwelling, materials, the environment and social life, into what they design and build. Through reference to their works - sometimes deemed alternative due to their scale and unconformity - this paper turns finally to the argument that anthropology can learn much from this sort of anthropological architecture.

Integrating transactional people-environment studies into architectural anthropology: a case for useful theory building

Author: Paul Memmott (University of Queensland)  email

Short Abstract

None provided.

Long Abstract

This presentation outlines a transdisciplinary theoretical framework for what could be termed a transactional theory of architectural anthropology that has evolved over 40 years with particular application in Indigenous Australia. One platform component is the general theoretical frame of culture taken from anthropology including constructs of enculturation, acculturation, cultural change process, cultural identity, theory of person, material culture, social behavior and control. To this framework is joined the model of transactional people-environment relations, explaining the continuous stream of mutually adaptive interactions that people have with their surroundings at the sensory, perceptual, cognitive and behavioural levels. This approach gives equal emphasis to how people use and find meaning in their environments, and to how people encode meaning into their environment via design and construction processes, as well as to a type of structuralist approach that incorporates the transformations of properties of people-environment units or settings, the self regulation of these units or systems and their temporal properties (an example being the ‘behaviour setting’). The integrated theory has provided a potential for addressing a range of Indigenous social problems, including housing design, crowding, homelessness, and effective service delivery. Peoples intentions, needs and social capital are understood and contextualized in terms of their enculturated identity, social values and group relationships as embedded in past environmental behaviours adapted within processes of directed and reactive cultural change in the colonial and post colonial eras.

Architecture and things: an examination of architecture's encounter with object theory in anthropology

Author: David Johnson  email

Short Abstract

From an overlapping terrain of material study in both fields, this paper first maps architecture's emerging encounter with anthropology's object theory and then attempts to determine the theoretical motivations as to what architecture might have to gain from a renewed theory of objects.

Long Abstract

As recent thing theories in anthropology continue to give voice to the underrepresented material object in human society. its audience grows ever wider to include design fields such as architecture. For the architect, what lessons might this bring? When the internationally renowned architect Renzo Piano placates us to see his recently completed skyscraper in London not as a politically controversial post-2008 £435 million building but rather as an ethereal glass object that mirrors the sky - perhaps this is what a thing theorist in anthropology might do as well To a trained architect, this way of seeing and placing value on architectural materiality and objectness might seem relatively banal, even old-fashioned and, dare we say, modernist. In both architectural practice and academia, an architectural modernism - once the standard bearer but now under other less recognisable guises - continues to propose an architecture of glass, steel, concrete, etc that speaks through its material expression. From this overlapping terrain of material study, this paper first maps architecture's emerging encounter with anthropology's object theory and then attempts to determine the theoretical motivations as to what architecture might have to gain from a renewed theory of objects.

Lateral and linear interplay: creative interference within processional routes

Author: Darren Deane (University of Westminster)  email

Short Abstract

The aim of the paper is to articulate the active role architecture plays in the formation of processional routes. In particular it proposes interpretive methods for articulating the reciprocal spatial transformations between generic urban fabric and ritualised, processional topography.

Long Abstract

"Objects - near and far - are brought into union through the manifold gestures and actions of the conversing participants [thus underlining] the topographical context of ritual. Hence, whether disclosed in a landscape, a room, or the surface of a table, the … objects of ritual are brought into a sustained dialogue through the interaction between their various topographical settings and the bodies of the participants present." Nick Temple, Rites of Intent: The Participatory Dimension of the City.

During a procession the wider social life of the city is wrapped and compressed in a dense readable figure. Reciprocally, ideal archetypes are decompressed into, and filtered by, everyday patterns of action. Using David Leatherbarrow's model of 'Lateral Spatial drift', this paper will focus on the detailed nature of this dynamic interplay between symbolic and functional topographies of movement. It will present close readings of two case studies, both processions that took place in Manchester (UK), during 2013, one secular and political, the other sacred and spiritual. The interpretive model will reveal the spatial analogies linking these two types of social drama, as well as their incorporation of 'weak lateral space' as a tactic for legitimising the 'strong, ontological order' of processional routes.

Architecture for senses: towards embodiment's strategies for people

Author: Mónica Díaz-Vera (Universidad de Chile)  email

Short Abstract

This research wants to reveal the latent presence of embodiment design strategies, involved in the architecture process. Studying the relations between architect and client is vital to understanding how a space is lived, the essence of an incarnated experience of architecture.

Long Abstract

How can we understand the body under a language where the emotion of the speech dissipates into the characteristic abstract concepts of the architectural discipline? Under which forms, materials and configurations are sheltered these emotions and senses? How can we conceive the spatiality of the emotions?

Considering the spatiality of the body as a protagonist, immediately confront us to the problematic of how can we build a corporeal speech of the formal space (Merleau-Ponty, 1964), from a discipline, such as architecture, were its development is mostly diminished to the fact of "making" objects for the contemplation and joy of our thoughts, leaving behind the perceptions and corporeal sensations that generally transcends the words and the rational language (Holl, 2010). This is how is raised the need of a disciplinary awakening more empathetic to the affective relations of the physical and emotional relations that are established between the inhabitants with the configurator tissues of space.

Considering this condition as the main axis at the moment of the design and planning of the future architectures that will frame the singular ways of the inhabiting.

Architectural anthropology or anthropological architecture? Bringing "lived experience" into architectural practice

Author: Saffron Woodcraft (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

Social sustainability re-assigns architects and urban planners an explicit social purpose. This paper explores how architects are responding to social sustainability as a new field of practice, research and policy.

Long Abstract

Social sustainability is an emerging discourse and professional practice in urban development in the UK and internationally. It has become shorthand for a set of narratives about the relationship between the built environment and the social life of places, emphasizing the role of architecture and urban planning in creating communities that are inclusive and equitable, not merely architectural or environmental exemplars. Increasingly, the language of social sustainability is used by governments, urban planners and property developers in Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, Canada, and more recently Asia, to frame decisions about the social outcomes of urban development and regeneration as part of a burgeoning policy discourse on placemaking and the sustainability and resilience of cities (Dempsey et al. 2011; Colantonio & Dixon 2010; Karuppannan & Sivam 2011). Social sustainability re-assigns architects and urban planners an explicit social purpose which, in the UK at least, has been largely absent since the demise of post-war planning. It creates tensions in design practice between prioritising built form and wider social needs. In this paper I will explore how architects are responding to this new field of practice, research and policy, and discuss what anthropological theory, research methods and ways of knowing can offer architecture and architects engaging with the idea of social experience in sustainable development. This paper will draw on my PhD fieldwork, which is concerned with how architects and urban planners imagine, theorize and interpret terms like home, family, community and dwelling, in the process of designing new neighbourhoods in London's Olympic Park.

Visualization, embodiment, transfer: remarks on ethnographic representations in architecture

Author: Sascha Roesler (Accademia di architettura, Università della Svizzera italiana )  email

Short Abstract

In his contribution, Sascha Roesler distinguishes between three forms of architectural-ethnographic representation while arguing for the necessity of doing justice to the epistemological peculiarities of this type of research.

Long Abstract

Generally speaking, the anthropological resources employed by architects are shaped in constructive and visual terms in three different ways: first, through their own images; secondly, through their own bodies; and thirdly through their own buildings. They are, as Beatrice Colomina has pointed out, the "media" - or to use Friedrich Kittler's expanded term for writing, derived from a reading of Jacques Derrida: the "inscription systems" - of ethnographic research within architecture that render the documented contents visible in the first place. The anthropological gaze of the architect can be enacted in all three media: images, bodies, and buildings. Here, it is important to emphasize the ambivalent character of the constructive knowledge that is represented in this way; that which is documented offers itself as knowledge about anonymous builders, as well as knowledge generated by architects. This leads to a symbolic split within architectural-anthropological knowledge, one that necessitates a reference continually to systems of vernacular and informal building on the one hand, and to the system of contemporary architecture on the other. Drawings represent supporting structures created by anonymous builders, and are the same time images created by the architects who execute them; the depicted technical performances belong simultaneously to the anonymous builders and to the architects who study them and hence reflect on them on location; the buildings are buildings of architects and of those anonymous builders to whose traditions the modernization attempts undertaken by architects refer.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.