Update from ARCH561 – Rethinking Architecture

We’re now a few weeks into Term 1 and with second years working through their electives it might be beneficial to share what we are up to – as much for each other as we are a little segregated in our chosen modeules as well as for first years who might be wondering what they might do next year….

So, in ARCH561 – Rethinking Architecture, we have 10 weeks of seminars with 5 different people. Each academic/guest has a two week slot. In general, the format is that in the first week they lead a lecture and introduce their area of interest with a little bit of discussion. The second week is more a round table discussion based on students doing a bit of follow up reading from the week before. There are only 7 of us in the group [3 MArch (Isla, Suzanne and Ian) & 4 MRes students] making for some interesting discussions so far.

Adam Cowley-Evans
The first two weeks were led by Adam who spoke about Occupation & Identity based around his interest in subcultures [primarily graffiti, hip-hop], and the spatial and social outcomes. From New York in the 1980s to Exeter today, subcultures permeate urban life – however is this reactionary, revolutionary, or simply a response to imposed urban conditions? Adam’s presentation considered the context from which these subcultures emerged [eg. Robert Moses’ ‘designed’ neighbourhoods as examples of authoritarian architecture] – places where a modernist, utopian way of life was assumed and imposed – and thus prompted a re-occupation and appropriation of space –  a reclaiming of territory. These events were discussed alongside Henri Lefebvres Production of Space – and in particular, the Spatial Triad – Perceived Space, Conceived Space and Lived Space. 

In the second week, entitled Formal Tropes, Spatial Action & Identity [and with participants in the group read up on Lefebvre in the intervening week], the discussion started on spatial production with consideration of where we have seen/experienced an inhabitation, appropriation, occupation [production] of space in action. This led to a dialogue around the motifs and signifiers in architecture that might reflect or react to social and urban conditions. Radical Post-Modernism, of which FAT are perhaps the most contemporary example [Rem Koolhaas and of course, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown also got a mention], and its use of motifs and signifiers to act as formal tropes in narrating a socio-cultural identity – in perhaps a way that is recognisable to the many, rather than the few, provided a lively discussion point – which pretty much concluded you either love-em or hate-em. However there is no denying that there is a sense of fun in FAT’s aesthetics [as in much post modernist architecture]. Some in the group questioned how transferrable this was [ie. across cultures, class, cities] and what if every building looked the same – although one could say this about any style of architecture – which of course echoes Jane Jacob’s insistence on the need for architectural diversity.

FAT’s The Blue House

So, the first two weeks in ARCH561 have provided much food for thought – many thanks to Adam for a fascinating topic to get us started. Of course, there was no conclusion – only more questions – and isn’t that the point?

We are currently in the midst of our two weeks with Anna Minton, author of Ground Control, and after our trip to Warsaw we will have Malcolm Miles, Sana Murrani-Cooke and Giovanna Guidicini. Stay tuned!

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