Title: Architecture’s Provoking Instrumentality: Materializing Encounters as Triggers to Thought and Conflictual Negotiation
Authors: Liekens, Jo
Issue Date: Jun-2015
Conference: Doctoral Seminars – Radical Materiality Research Group location:Brussels date:9 June 2015
Abstract: This research explores a re-conceptualization of the architectural artefact, oriented not only on what architecture ‘is’ –in the realm of conception– but rather on what architecture is able to ‘produce’ – in the realm of reception –. The focus then is not only on architecture’s objective parameters and functionality but on an exploration of its ‘political’ capacities, its para-functionality to speak with Anthony Dunne. According to a variety of authors such a re-conceptualization is much needed in contemporary architectural practice, if it intends to revive its atrophied capacity to act critically and politically within the world, or more precise in the socio-spatial constructs that constitute our everyday surroundings. The research is developed around ((co-)authored) materialized architectural interventions that intercede in such socio-spatial constructs, provoking instances of thought and unfolding conflictual negotiations. As such, they set in motion throughout their being used/experienced an ongoing political dynamic of de- and re-territorializing what was previously held and recognized as evident, fixed and agreed upon. The cases adopted are not exemplifications of a theoretical framework. Rather, a theoretical framework is developed in close relation to the cases, grounding these and deepening their sense.

The research ventures from some intriguing suggestions relating to such a reconceptualization. In the field of philosophy it connects to Gilles Deleuze’s foregrounding of the necessity of an ‘encounter’ with something forcing us to think, suggesting to some extent a relationship between the emergence of thought and something materialized, made sensible and/or made visible. Such a connection is also present in Critical Design, a branch of Product Design. Authors such as Rick Robinson attest here to the fact that the artefacts people interact with have enormous impact on how we think. That these do not merely occupy a slot in that process but fundamentally shape this dynamic. In the field of architecture, the research connects to Aldo Rossi’s idea of the architectural artefact as an instrument that has to be prepared with care by its designer in the realm of conception only to be (dis)placed then within the largely contingent realm of reception, i.e. the world. It then not only affirms to the intended use but welcomes also contingent, unforeseen uses. Following these authors, this research explores how architectural artefacts instigate thought through their being used and experienced, through their being encountered. The ‘something in the world forcing us to think’ according to Deleuze is not an object of recognition but an object of fundamental encounter. In line with Deleuze, this research opposes the logic of recognition and conversely explores the logic of the encounter. This research not intends to define ‘what’ will be thought in the encounter since this resides largely in the realm of the contingent. It rather explores how thought might be triggered by the architectural artefact.

Central to the research thus is the provocative correlation between thought and the encounter that is (co-) substantiated by the architectural artefact. What this research is particularly interested in is the differences within thought the architectural artefact is able to produce, as a result of a difference in the interpretations and appropriations it unlocks. Variations that might be conflictual. Hence, a central role in the research is reserved for the notion conflict, foregrounding a conflictual mode of architectural practice.

Putting the provocative correlation between the materialized encounter and thought central in the research, with a specific orientation on revelation and transformation, implies an exploration of the critical working of artefacts. First, the research visits the realm of Critical Design, an enigmatic branch of Product Design, in which the concept of para-functionality is developed by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby. In line with the central idea of the research, para-functionality establishes a supplement to functionality. Function here is used to encourage reflection, situating the design within the realm of utility but attempting to move beyond conventional definitions of functionalism to include the poetic. In the field of architecture then the critical working of the artefact is subsequently observed in the realms of Critical Theory, critical architecture and post-critical or projective practice. In the latter, the notion ‘projective’ is further examined. In most projective architectural practices the notion ‘projective’ is seen as referring only to a progressing through projects, just doing cool stuff and hence in fact operating a-politically, to use Roemer Van Toorn’s terming. Conversely, in this research the notion ‘projective’ is seen as a projecting of (thought on) possible futures, an activity of casting ahead, constituting then a political working of the architectural artefact.

Putting the provocative correlation between the materialized encounter and thought central in the research implies an exploration of the political working of artefacts. This research thus explores the critical as (well as) the political. The political is by several authors identified as a positive variation of the negative critical. The danger in this is that the political might be developed in opposition to the critical, draining it from any criticality. In this research, the political is devised as a positive force –in the sense of actively and ‘substantially’ engaging with the world through materialized actions beyond merely critiquing– with a sharp critical force – in the sense of producing critiques rather than just advanced entertainment, to speak with Van Toorn -.

The political –and critical– working of the architectural artefact is foregrounded and explored through a series of architectural practices, both (co-)authored practices as well as ‘foreign’ practices, some of them in educational contexts. These practices all focus on notions of ‘making’, or better, on a continuous being ‘in-the-making’. The making here is material –building artefacts and encounters in public space as a research methodology–. But beyond that, the ‘making’ here is seen as connected to the aforementioned focus on what architecture is able to ‘produce’, i.e. instances of possibly conflicting thought. All of these practices underpin and constitute what Markus Miessen refers to as conflictual models of practice and conflictual models of participatory design. The notion of conflict then is seen as a generative condition. The theoretical framework around the critical and the political working of the artefact is then traced back to the underlying concept of ‘dissensus’, as it is developed in the interrelation of politics and aesthetics by Jacques Rancière.

The scale of the ‘made’ interventions accords with the scale that this research subscribes to. It is the scale of the micro-political, local and site- and context-specific intervention within the socio-spatial constructs that constitute our everyday surroundings. In the ‘made’ cases the emphasis is on interventions in the enigmatic conjunction [Urban+Interior], in which conflicts are triggered by the displacement of the interior in the urban.

What this research then foregrounds is an ‘architectural time of suspension’ rather than architectural objects. A time of the encounter that is spatially triggered by the architectural artefact, in which passionate and conflictual negotiations unfold, provoking new instances of knowledge to come into being. That architectural time of suspension is both a time of suspense, of passion, and a time of suspending, the latter resisting the logic of recognition and the definite crystallization into consensual meaning.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: AMa
Appears in Collections:Architecture, Campuses Sint-Lucas Brussels and Ghent
Department of Architecture - miscellaneous

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