Architecture & Politics: Year Theme 2015 – 2016

This year BA Architecture’s studios ask the question: How and to what extent is architecture political? Is architecture, like Lefebvre’s space, merely the secreted by-product of a society’s politics? Or does architecture have the potential to be actively political? Or does architecture have the capacity to be critical of politics but incapable of being political in and of itself?

There are many ways we can think about these questions. Architecture, operating within contemporary economics is part and parcel of contemporary political ideologies of finance. Architecture is also subject to numerous political processes – planning approval, council review along with other laws and regulations. You might consider labour laws – is it possible to question the operation of a design practice in political terms? Other labour relations could look at the relationship between client, architect, contractor and builders (e.g. self-built as critique of this system). We can also look at space and spatial politics. This can take on the form of geographical power relationships (borders and boundaries, ownership of land, tax havens, territorial disputes).

We buy land, take it out of the public sphere and put architecture on it which in turn invites some to use it while excluding others. We could also look at whether the concept of ‘the public’ as a vital component of the polis is still viable or requires redefinition or re-conceptualisation. Spatial politics could investigate the power relations within a home, for example, examining the way spaces might be gendered. Any and every typology or program type comes with a potential to be examined politically, from gated communities, speculative office towers, iconic museum projects, housing association projects, hospitals, to schools and so on.

There is even an opportunity to take on a literal political program in the form of a new Houses of Parliament (see for example, ‘Parliamentary Renovations: Houses of Cards’ in BD, 7 May 2015 and ‘The House Moves to Move: the case for relocating Parliament’ in The Architectural Review, May 2015) or other political or public program (town halls, detention centres, border controls). Each studio will examine this theme from within their specialty and architectural methodology.

There is a growing interest in questioning architecture’s current relationship to finance, politics and society in general (see the ‘Freedom and Creativity’ symposium at the Royal Academy planned for this autumn). As a result there is a good range of contemporary literature on the subject of architecture and politics. There are also a number of debates around certain key architectural projects which involve a host of political aspects: Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge, the ‘public’ roof garden of the ‘walkie-talkie’ building, the demolition of Robin Hood Gardens and Heygate Estate.
Politics should be taken in its widest sense and can be substituted with the term(s) power, society, public vs private, or even ‘the city’ as an idea.