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ARCHITECTURE’S RED TAPE

Bureaucracy and Governmental Building Construction The example of the Swedish National Board of Public Building, 1964-1972


Abstract The research project Architecture’s Red Tape is a critical study of public architecture’s relation to bureaucratic State organizations during the 1960s and 1970s. The research is focusing on the work of the Swedish National Board of Public Building, KBS, which was a Governmental agency in charge of providing premises for Swedish State. KBS expanded its construction of new buildings during the 1960s and did extensive research and development work into finding new rational and efficient working methodologies and building systems. The development of KBS culminated in the implementation of an official architectural philosophy in 1968, the so-called “KBS structure philosophy” that at large was a pragmatic structuralist approach to building. The architectural ideas were preceded by the Government’s implementation of a new budget and planning model called Program budgeting, in which KBS’ operations were adapted to conform to a rational decision-making model that aimed at evaluating results and assessing performance. The analysis suggests that program budgeting favored economic perspectives and generally quantifiable justifications of choices over other perspectives and legitimizations. Simultaneously, it disfavored architects' traditional knowledge, skills and expertise, as these were not primarily based on rational quantification or quantitative statements but rather on problem solving through design. Program budgeting and other administrative-economic reforms were signs of approaching fundamental changes of society around and after 1970, from Keynesian welfare state to late capitalism, from Fordism to post-Fordism, from modernism to postmodernism. These changes, coupled with new working processes and procedures in the building sector, in the aggregate led to a de-professionalization of the architecture profession in Sweden that has had far-reaching consequences for Swedish architects and architecture.


INTRODUCTION Today there are increasing requests for the cutting of red tape, for the reduction of redundant bureaucratic processes and protocols. Proponents from the whole political spectrum are in favor of reducing red tape that has led to excessive bureaucracy with no purpose other than filling paperwork. Particularly critical and high voiced are free market proponents and big business leaders that say red tape is damaging businesses and economic growth. Also more populist politicians who in election campaigns promise the removing of regulations for individuals and businesses are vocal in their campaign against red tape. Within large bureaucratic organizations such as the UN and the EU, both internal and external critics point at inefficient, costly and timeconsuming procedures that waste money of its member countries. There are even rewards announced to the best ideas for cutting red tape with the underlying motif that reduction of bureaucracy and regulation would always be better. This could certainly be questioned, not the least when the reason for putting regulations or working procedures in place are (most often) to secure something of common belief, be it social or environmental protection from abuse or pollution, or national or


regional protection and regulations to favor your own country or allies. But what, really, is red tape? Red tape often means something like “excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic and hinders or prevents action or decisionmaking.”1 There are also national differences in meaning of the phrase as well as differences between various fields. In the U.K. red tape has come to mean “wasteful and inefficient processes, excessive bureaucracy, and inflexible organizational structures and professional practices” whereas in the U.S. the term is seen as “structural complexity, excessive rules, and task delays.”2 In the international community, red tape has been associated with corruption and declining trust in government. With these definitions we realize that red tape is an overwhelmingly negative term that is used to express the problems within organizations. But it was not always the case.

1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_tape, accessed on March 26, 2013. Brewer & Walker, “What you see depends on where you sit. Managerial perceptions of red tape in English local Government,” paper prepared for 2 Brewer & Walker, “What you see depends on where you sit. Managerial perceptions of red tape in English local Government,” paper prepared for the 8th Public Management Research Conference, School of Policy, Planning, and Development, University of Southern California – Los Angeles, September 29 – October 1, 2005. 2


The historical origin of the term red tape goes back to the 16th century and the courts of Spanish and English kings, 3 and their use of red tape (ribbon) to bundle the documents of the most important errands. This was to single them out from other errands – that were bound with ordinary ropes – and to speed up the handling of these important matters.4 The usage of the phrase later on came to stand for “official formality” and was subsequently popularized by 19th century British authors such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle,5 and has since then predominantly been used as a derogatory term pointing at the problems with too much regulations and bureaucracy. My intention with using the term red tape in the title of the present research project has been to question the simplified picture that inefficiency and meaningless paperwork is in direct relation to the amount of regulations and rules, and instead suggest that the worth of red tape is relative to specific professions work duties and professional expertise. The dominance of rational choice theories in determining what is meaningful and 3

Perhaps add in footnote something about the first noted use of the phrase with examples of Henry VIII and Charles V (Carlos I). See Red Tape, 1955 and Ben Kafka, The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork (New York: Zone Books, 2012). 4 Ref needed. 5 E. Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, originally published in 1898, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992).


meaningless is undermining the differences of various professions. Rationality does not mean the same thing for different fields or disciplines, and rationality is arguably dependent on ideological and scientific affiliations. And is really rationality always desirable? During recent years there has been increased criticisms of the administrative-economic organization of public work in Sweden, especially the sectors traditionally associated with welfare state services such as health and education. 6 What is often described as a system for securing cost-effectiveness of public money is primarily variations of New Public Management (NPM) models that aim at evaluating results and assessing performance. The models’ inner logics are built on rational decisionmaking in which there are choices of ways to achieve certain goals, and methods in which to decide what way would be most cost-effective and cost-beneficial to pursue. The systems arguable favor economic perspectives, and generally quantifiable justifications, over other 6 The Swedish daily paper Dagens Nyheter, DN, has featured a series of articles on public health administration during the spring of 2013, and in various papers, radio and TV, there have been major debates on the last decade’s school and health reforms and critique of defective administrative duties. See specifically, Maciej Zaremba, “Patienten och prislappen” a series of four articles in DN, published on Feb 17, Feb 25, Mar 3, Mar 5, 2013.


perspectives and legitimizations. This dominance (economism) is not new but has today reached into every part of public work and permeates most areas of citizen life. It simultaneously disfavoring professions of the public sector which professional knowledge, skills and expertise are not equally based on rational quantification, or at least, professional qualities that is not easy transferable to quantitative statements. Similarly, we find that within disciplines in the humanities and social sciences there is a never-ending frustration that politicians and university leaders insist (at least rhetorically) on “measuring� the quality of research through quantity. But in a world of evaluations and assessments that lead to scores and points, academics are forced to find ways of making research quantifiable. This has led social scientist to return to (find new ways to, or at least longing back to) more consequentialist type of research and practice after a long period of more process focused or procedural type of work. Perhaps we could describe this development simply as if the pendulum has swung back and now we react to the shortage of ideology, absence of meta-stories, and the end of history. In a longer perspective, the pendulum argument might be a simplification (or a misleading generalization) and we could possibly more


accurately assert that it has been, for a long time, a rather persisting development towards a more rational society – a society that today is obsessed by efficiency and maximization (or surplus thinking). This development has been going on more or less forceful since early modern times or at the least since the breakthrough of industrialism. We could view Max Weber’s argument that rationalization is the key characteristic of modernization as an example of this line of thought, where the development of modern society is synonymous with the development of modern capitalism in which market logics govern the society’s general development towards economic growth (economic development and surplus thinking/practices). In such a perspective, divergent economic policies and political ideologies are united in the idea of the importance of efficiency, productivity and rationalization – in a historical perspective, regardless of Soviet five-year plan, Keynesian welfare state or Thatcherism. 7 Hence, Weber’s characterization of rationalization as being the most significant feature of modernization is a crucial starting point in a study of 7

In footnote, perhaps refer to Rancière’s description of how the ideal of Western democracy was championed after the fall of the Soviet Union but that it was not the ideals of liberty and equality but rather the rules of free market capitalism that was celebrated and promoted as key characteristic of the western model of democracy.


the effects of different ideologies’ ways of rationalizing and making society more efficient. What could be said to characterize the period here in question, 1960s and 1970s, in relation to earlier periods is that economics was “freed from the dictates of politics”8 and instead, economics, as a field outside of politics, influenced politics to a larger degree than before. Another way to look at the transitional moment in the case of politics and economics is that both before and after 1970 economic policy is central to all areas of politics, but that the politicians’ position on the role of the State changed, from big State and big interventions, to small state and less political steering, or from Keynesian welfare state to post-Keynesian liberal economy. Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello are analyzing these types of changes of capitalism during the latter half of the 20th century in their book The New Spirit of Capitalism in which they show that from 1960s to the 1990s the spirit of capitalism “changed from goalcentered management to networking within undertaking; the ideal of security gave way to flexibility.”9 With their particular focus on the structural 8

Tahl Kaminer, Architecture, Crisis and Resusciation: The reproduction of post-Fordism in late-twentieth-century architecture (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2011). 9 Luc Boltanski & Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, originally published in 1999 as Le nouvel esprit du capitalism (London: Verso, 2005).


and organizational changes of organizations/businesses and the labor market – often described as going from Fordism to post-Fordism – the book is an invaluable resource when comparing the specific changes of the Swedish architecture profession to more general changes and trends of professions and the labor market in the 1960s and 1970s. Boltanski & Chiapello also argue that “capitalism included, and even absorbed, the “artistic critique” by making the ideals of autonomy, creativity, mobility and networking into directing impulses for any undertaking, leading to a new “site” or rather “site plan” (that is, the ideal world of networking and flexibility as constructed by management theorists).”10 Architecture’s Red Tape is a study of the rationalization efforts of the Swedish Government in its strive to make public work more efficient and predictable. The research is focusing on how the rationalization strive effected architecture and the role of the architect specifically through examining the building process. My interest is not in architecture or building as representation of politics or ideology, but rather, how aesthetics of ideology becomes the form of both bureaucracy and 10 Ibid. For quote on “artistic critique” see Frédéric Lebaron, “The State and the Market: the Rise of the Economic Rationale” in Contemporary European History, Vol. 0, Issue 3, 2000, pp. 463-473.


architecture. Both public administration and architecture sought to find more flexible structures that could accommodate other political and architectural ideologies than the predominant modernist view. The present project is formulated out of the conviction that it is time to anew pay attention to Swedish modern architecture’s relation to the welfare state. In particular, the recent deregulation of the governmental apparatus calls for a renewed examination of what now is dismantled. Architects and politicians were in agreement on the importance of building construction for the development of a new modern country, but were they in agreement of the aims (ends) of architecture, and in the ways (means) of achieving good? The research is focusing on the work of the Swedish National Board of Public Building, KBS, during the 1960s and 1970s, and aims at elucidating the State’s dealings with building construction in Sweden in general and more specifically with public buildings and the Government’s own construction of public buildings. A particular focus is placed on KBS’ construction of the Garnisonen office complex in Stockholm, which was one of its most significant building projects. The building was a sort of case study for KBS in its work with rationalizing construction and developing new


working procedures and building systems. The building becomes this investigation’s natural physical manifestation of KBS’ ideas and the project gives the opportunity to examine KBS’ theories in relation to built form. Without being the sole building example of this study, Garnisonen lends its construction start and end dates, 1964-1972, to this research project as these years encompass highly significant changes of KBS and of Swedish public architecture. The research is set against the light of the growing critique of the State and of public building construction, and the parallel rising critique of the architecture profession during the 1960s (and which accelerated during the 1970s). As such, the study is a contribution to the historical research of architecture’s “crisis” in the 1970s with specific emphasis on public architecture and the building programming of the State. Throughout the studied period, building construction remained an important area in the grand project of the welfare state, although politicians had different priorities and ways of working with architecture and the construction industry towards the advancement of the Swedish model. This research project is a story of the shifting political concerns with architecture as means for developing the welfare state and how architects and architecture then relate to these


matters, at large and in specific building projects. The study brings ideological and organizational aspects of architecture to the fore, and, as such, it argues that the comprehension of changes in the organization and functioning of a political-economic system are fundamental for the understanding of an architectural past.



Architecture's red tape