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Coalescence Eva K. Minoura | Architecture + Philosophy research seminar | KTH 2013

Coalescence INTRODUCTION 03




Conceptual Cluster 7 | Container Technologies

INTERFACES, AGENCIES 05 Conceptual Cluster 1 | Relations + Agency

REFERENCES 16 LOST IN ORBIT 11 Conceptual Cluster 13 | Noopolitics

ANYBODY OUT THERE? Conceptual Cluster 2 | Relationality

07 TO TEASE A FORM Conceptual Cluster 14 | New Materialisms




product, a virtual booklet, collects the blog posts I wrote for the Architecture + Philosophy Research Seminar through Resarc at KTH in the spring of 2013. The course asks, “what are the strategies and tactics that can be fruitfully employed to engage in diverse philosophies from the point of view of the discipline of architecture”?


Too late, it occurred to me that my blog posts should have a unifying theme. Or at least stem more directly from themes in my research. This could have, should have, would have been such a clean and precise compendium of structured thought rather than as now, a medley of fickle wanderings set spinning from the readings. Have I been riding the waves, with a shisensibility or seeing where my ramblings have taken me been simply tossed around (Bennett)? Once or twice in the past, I’ve grabbed a book at random off a library shelf and happened to open to a page somehow relevant to what I was thinking at the time. . .Perhaps these loose threads may be as fruitful. And strangely, in re-reading my posts, I find that there is a subtle thematic continuity. Not a ‘red thread’ stitching the texts together as I wrote them, but what might be called a coalescence. An after-the-fact merging of discrete thoughts into a whole. My research seeks to address what are the spatial underpinnings of social arenas in urban life. Specifically the social arenas of collective private space, such as yards and gardens in urban and peri-urban contexts. My hypothesis is that boundless or oversized spaces are difficult to appropriate (although we may still use these spaces fleetingly!) and that we must reconceptualize boundaries as edges where events may occur and as sites of agency not reducible to mechanisms of inclusion/exclusion alone. An open society is not best represented by fluid, open space, but rather discerned from sedimented practices (Mouffe). The challenge for urban designers and architects, as pressure on space in cities increases, is to configure space in ways that support such initiatives. Eva K. Minoura, Arkitekt SAR/MSA



or ”effecting change through the empowerment of others” is the opening up of new potentialities (Awan et al.). Interesting implications in terms of how spatial agency emerges can be spun from this definition, involving both designers and end-users in the process. Designers involved in producing space as social arenas, delimiting, inscribing, framing these spaces are in so doing sanctioning or at least signaling certain end-user agencies. Of course, there is a relational component to all this, but to deny the material entanglements risks abdicating what responsibility architects do have over space. There is cause to question an overemphasis on the relational component alone in setting up agencies. For instance, where Lefebvre claims (social) space to be a (social) product, this places the role of architect in the arena of facilitator rather than agent in their own right (cited in Awan et al.). Similarly, Latour’s Actor Network Theory (ANT) seems to ignore the that we also operate within spatial totalities by claiming that any event or object is only understood as ”embedded in a set of associations” in effect, ”buildings are not seen as determinants of society” (Awan et al). In this world-view, the architect’s role is marginal at best. The scope of action for the architect comes out of making material decisions in practice which actually can have a powerful effect on the end-user (such as a resident) and the incentive to participate in enacting change. That is not to deny that there are many aspects of spatial production architects cannot control, only that those which are to possible to control in some measure must be handled responsibly.

expressed as built form?

Interfaces, Agencies


Doina Petrescu, by way of temporary/reversible installations promoting ”re-appropriation and reinvention of collective space in the city through everyday life activities”, conceives of critical practice as challenging prescriptive ways of living (Petrescu). Looking at the zones where agency is formally sanctioned yet not asserted by those living there is an alternative way to challenge the modus operandi. For instance, in some residential estates in the Stockholm suburbs, gardening is more likely to take place at a nearby allotment garden than in the collective space earmarked and programmed for residents. Why? It would appear that some ’urban’ design approaches simply do not impart agency on the end-user or resident. Spatial agency in which the end-user invests the space with practices, presumably producing and reproducing social arenas as neighbors converge on space and negotiate it’s uses may also function well. When it does, appropriation traces are everywhere, the collective space becomes a site of personalization and ”place”. Agency here is not independent of the structure of it’s context, rather some structures impart agency more than others. The question then becomes, why (or perhaps where) is agency asserted, what patterns or logic can be discerned?

Petrescu refers to the temporary appropriation of underused spaces of the city. The image to the left shows another, more permanent appropriation of the interface. Even something as banal and informal as a flower pot placed on the (public) sidewalk or paving bricks removed to allow for plantings indicate an emergence Harvey describes the urban dream as a vehicle for capitalist surplus, citing Hilde Nafstad: ”This is a world of agency, an expression of relating to a place in a permanent way. Once these traces emerge, once agency in which the neoliberal ethic of intense possessive is taken, more actors tend to get involved and follow individualism, and its cognate of political withdrawal suit. Differences in asserted agency rely on potential from collective forms of action, becomes the template for privacy control and whether public space is fronted for human socialization” (Harvey). And yes, unfortuby formal or informal sides of buildings (fronts vs. nately, this tendency is also played out at the material backs). While the ’urban tactics’ approach advocated and configurative scale. What Ian Hodder calls mateby Petrescu has validity as a way to engender social rial entanglements can be illustrated by the interface between street-space and building. Why is it that some emergence and collective action, doesn’t the need zones at this interface are intensively appropriated and for such installations mean that the more permanent spatial production has failed in some respect? And if some invite little or no user action, such that users so, how should we address this shortcoming in future essentially withdraw from stewardship of the hybrid zone adjacent to the public realm? Is this individualism practice? /EM




tion is to manifest a withdrawal from the public realm. ciere). Mêsentente means both ”the fact of not hearing, And ground-floor apartments which used to have a lower market-value now boast private terraces, what of not understanding” and ”quarrel, disagreement”. If equity! But alas no collective open space. . .unless the the latter is captured in the concept of dissensus, the vast green areas in abundance (for now) in Swedish former might be said to be captured in the concept suburbs qualify as commons, but do they function as of complacency. If it is true that we live in apolitisuch? cal times, rather than focus on the dialectic between consensus and dissensus, how do we reinstate and Chantal Mouffe defines the social as the realm of foster dissensus rather than withdrawal, avoidance? If we take the commons as an example, what does it say ”sedimented practices”, inherently unstable since order excludes other possibilites. Thus, it is in being preabout a society when the commons has been vacated, cise, in articulating an identity that meaning and order space is left uncontested? Are these manifestations of become something which there is reason to contest. not hearing or understanding one another? Vacated public space is uncontested, thus offering difRichard Sennett attributes the withdrawal from a public ferent forms of articulation of public space is perhaps neccessary to invite/incur dissensus. If our objective role or persona (ie. protected by a formal manner) to is to occupy the public space, not by intervention as in the lack of barriers between public and private or the art, but by architecture which performs it’s task well, ”tyranny of intimacy” described by Richard Sennett. then reintroducing social arenas between the scale of This state of affairs is reflected quite literally in our the public realm and the familial ought to be considbuilt environment. If ”meaning is established collectively” as Claire Bishop argues, a look at current urban ered. A ”production of knowledge towards new pracdevelopment indicates a proliferation of ”the privatized tices of living, consuming and collective appropriation space of individual consumption”. We can see in archi- of common spaces” ie. formulating a vision for these common spaces, essentially repoliticizing the utopian tecture as in art the ”production of relationships (particularly social relationships) through our environment” (or microtopian) idea of living together is needed. (Bishop). By what means then does a collective social entity form with the ”wherewithal to create a community, however temporary or utopian this may be” (Bishop)? Lifestyle marketing in the real-estate pages of DN Bostad and Hemnet elevate the private outside terrace as amenity. An affordance for those with adequate purchasing power, but one which often comes at the expense of other, shared uses of the same space. Is this the utopia of a complacent, apolitical society? One might argue this reflects simply an individualist turn in current society, like Wittgenstein’s concept of chosen loyalties based on ’family resemblances’? It could also be that the ”perpetual open-endedness” (Bishop) transferred to urban design practice in the form of an excess of fluid, continuous and accessible publicly (perceived) open space undermines use value and denies agency, leading to confusion and disuse. The communicative potential of space is stripped away and there can be no dissensus or even consensus in a public realm that people find confusing, ambivalent, belonging to no one. No wonder then that the marketliberal solution of dealing with this urban design ques-

Anybody Out there?

quarrel is politics, according to Rancière (Ran-

Fortunately, ”politics is a local, precarious, contingent activity – an activity which is always on the point of disappearing, and thus perhaps also on the point of reappearing” (Ranciére). Can architecture enact that change? In Den Haag in the Netherlands, a communitygarden called Emmashof consists of an interior courtyard of a terrace-housing block which was reappropriated by the neighborhood as a commons in place of a run-down building housing a boxing school. The garden is a discrete space and a haven for local residents in an area with few parks and green areas. Local, grass-roots initiative showing the potential for self-governance, of taking matters into one’s own hands - citizenship and agency asserted. The garden is closed to the outside world, you enter through a gate and portal into a small oasis in the relatively dense neighborhood. Even residents living around the courtyard must enter through the same gate since walls and fences surround the garden. But anyone may enter, the gate is only closed at night. This is how a discrete space, imbued with meaning and sedimented practices can perform as social arena and site of engagement. /EM



artists Maya Lin and Andy Goldworthy both

work with landscape and a blurring of concepts of natural order versus human order in works which restructure and sculpt that found in nature. Much of the appeal of their respective work is in the tintillating prospect that even large-scale landscapes can be altered, by us. Jardine writes that there is no more nature. . .or won’t be very soon. If all is a constructed landscape, or soon will be, will the blurring of natural vs. human order still be a relevant dichotomy? This is of course nothing new as most of our lives are played out in more or less artifical worlds or capsules. In fact, there is cause to question whether natural order will mean anything to future generations to whom all is a controlled, constructed landscape. Sloterdijk explores the notion of capsule-living, caling it self-referential. Since life in it’s basic form started out as single-cell organisms, have we in capsule-living come full circle? Is retreating to the capsule a return to the womb on some level? A womb in which social media and personal electronics form the connection to the outside world. Still, many tendencies today are a reaction to self-referential encapsulation: community-gardening, walking school buses (where parents take turns gathering the nearby kids to walk to/from school), and neighborhood flea-markets. These trends have community-referential undertones. I see in this an interesting challenge for urbanism today. Cauter wonders if architecture is not a “third skin” (Cauter). I would pose then that urban form, in it’s role as delimiter of space, framer of space, locator of place, represents a “fourth skin” if you will. Exoskeletons as a defense against stimuli (and being more crucial to survival than an intake of stimuli) are thus able to be materialized at different levels of scale.

gies, is it as simple as “we don’t live in the network, we live in capsules”. Don’t we when we have a choice prefer nested capsules of overlapping social scales? We do in some sense inhabit the network as well as our capsules. At least when the preconditions are present. I’m thinking of the streets, boulevards, plazas of engaging public spaces which we choose to stay in and that for urban designers so coveted street-life which we do choose to participate in. . .or not.

A Natural Order


On an urban scale, the exoskeleton is a defense against social contact materialized. This is the consequence of an aggregate effect of many private one-world bubbles. Recent urban architecture speaks of creating meeting-places but simultaneously configures buffer zones, materializing avoidance of others’ noise and sight-lines by placing physical distance and impermeable walls between us. This architecture of avoidance is based on fear of disturbance. In essence, it applies a suburban formula for urban production. A mismatch which poorly adresses the social component of shared space, at least in terms of an exoskeletal function that might paradoxically perform a socially inclusive function. /EM

If suburbia seeks to disguise it’s own locality in an archipelago of silent spaces (Cauter paraphrased), might urbia then be the counterpoint? That is more confrontational, more present in it’s locality, fixed in a network (rather than floating in an archipelago) and ultimately an aggregation of loud spaces, i.e. a notion of antisuburbia. Cauter refers also to Fredric Jameson’s use of the concepts envelope & enclave in a discussion on heterotopian urbanism in which we are separated and turned inward unto ourselves. While we may be sedentary nomads in spite of all our mobile technolo-




Foucault claims, control societies are tak-

ing over from disciplinary societies, what is the effect of living under ”continuous assessment” where access to information is mark of one’s place in society (Deleuze)? Apparently, ”in control societies you never finish anything” and being the unfinished specimens we are, always becoming but never being, how vulnerable we are to the onslaught of consumption society! Deleuze describes the shift toward a control society as marked by ”a capitalism no longer directed toward production but toward products, that is sales or markets” (Deleuze). Another way of putting this is that the relationship between supply and demand is no longer unidirectional, today supply generates demand, assuming the marketing apparatus is effective. A good example is the proliferation of corn byproducts due to industrialized farming (in North America) where corn is used to feed livestock. For a time this generated an overabundance of corn syrup for which new products were invented to capitalize on this by-product. Hence, the explosion on the world markets of soda beverages and a number of other products using corn syrup (rather than the more expensive cane sugar) as sweetener. Thus is created an entirely constructed market niche whose express purpose is to sell a product whose ”service” is to shareholders and not society - to create revenue out of a waste byproduct. (Detailed in the book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the AllAmerican Meal, by Eric Schlosser). For the consumer in a captitalist society, it becomes increasingly clear that the ”job is to discover whose ends these [service-products] serve,” to modify Deleuze’s point somewhat. (An urban design parallell to corn syrup is an investmentdriven urban development which uses the product of housing to generate profit).

raged with persuading forces (both outright marketing as well as trends picked up in the orbits we move in). Henri Bergson’s description of the brain as not so much having thinking as its primary function, ”but that of hindering the thought from becoming lost in dream” seems an apt description of the challenge of living in today’s consumption-oriented societies (Hauptmann). How do we protect ourselves and our solitude from the onslaught? Are we free to exercise a will independent of the control channelled to us by our gizmo-oriented lifestyles? As I sit here with an Ipad, not one but two Iphones and my MacBook in front of me, I realize how willingly and whole-heartedly I have succumbed to both a cyborg-existence and to the marketing vehicle and trendy affects aimed at me. I’m reminded of a Ted Talk with so-called cyborg anthropologist Amber Case who suggests that it is when you have no external sensory input that you form that conception of self neccessary to define a persona resistant to the constant stimuli. That is, not merely responding to this and that input, but with an awareness of one’s own agenda and preferences. This, I would argue, is at the heart of agency and of defending agency in a control society full of supposed freedom but also muddled by noise. /EM

Lost in Orbit


In the cultural context of current global capitalism, the ”capacity to act and the capacity not to act” as outlined by Agamben (in Hauptmann) is cast as the power to purchase or to abstain from purchase of whatever product is being marketed at you. Hauptmann considers this desired quotient the result of intensely branded networks linking commodities in an ”attention economy” (Hauptmann). If effective branding can be likened to a dynamic transmission of (collective) memory serving to increase the desire quotient of a given product, then such an affective (rather than cognitive) transmission means that we are constantly bar-



ining the role of the ”body-in-the-world” according to the Merleau-Ponty conception of a refigured materialist theory of perception and agency (Coole & Frost). What is especially refreshing about the theoretical implications are that potentialities can be explored and studied without presuming that the interconnectedness of phenomena implies causality. It’s an acknowledgement of complexity. Especially the shi concept, as presented by Bennett sums up this point of departure – namely recognizing a ”potential that originates not in human initiative but instead results from the very disposition of things” (Bennett). For a study of the implications for social domains of the configurative and material properties of urban form, the challenge for me is now rather to bring to the question a post-humanist perspective where human social constructs do not represent the only potential. For, as Marres points out (in Bennett), ”it is often hard to grasp just what the sources of agency are that make a particular event happen” and the ”ungraspability may be an [essential] aspect of agency”. Rather, the aim is to ”read and ride” the shi of a configuration or context (including moods, trends, culture etc) (Bennett). In practice, new materialism has some interesting implications for how we (designers) deal with complex, variable behavior not only in designing with new composites, but also in adapting old technologies to the reality that it is often non-craftsmen who implement and materialize them. These days, as Katie Lloyd Thomas pointed out in her talk, the architectural specification is not an expression of the designer ’speaking’ a common language to a craftsman, but has become a liability-tinged documentation which presumes future discord. I was recently at a guided tour of the new Årsta kyrka by Johan Celsing and was uplifted by the humility and economy he showed in the face of the inevitable mishaps encountered during the construction process. The church is entirely out of brick and is constructed as an extension to an existing assembly-space used by the congregation. His approach was to incorporate the new church as a clear addition to the existing but for reasons of economy and sustainability, he opted to allow the old the meet new in a matter-of-fact way. The existing wood-panelled ceiling (cheap painted pine)

was used in the extension to produce a concrete form which generated a negative cast of the original ceiling out of concrete rather than wood. This is both subtle and tasteful in light of the immense wastefulness in the construction industry generally. It also speaks to a materialist sensibility, in which the building blocks, brick and concrete, in this case, exemplify the kind of relationship between tendencies and outcomes described by Bennett as ”porous, tenuous and indirect”. This, argues deLanda, is something which craftsmen understand from experience: ”Artisans, craftsmen, and minor scientists in general, he argues, always had a different conception of the relation between matter and form, at least implicitly; they did not impose but teased a form out of an active material, collaborating with it in the production of a final product rather than commanding it to obey and passively receive in a previously defined form” (DeLanda).

To Tease a Form

New Materialism offers a framework for reimag-

In Årsta kyrka, Celsing also uses a wrap-around corner effect in several instances to accomodate the materiality of the brick. Rather than forcing strict corners with the issues which this creates for the brick-layer, glazed and unglazed bricks meet in a kind of carpenter’s joint at corners and as a sort of base-board set into the floor where the planes of wall (or bench) meets floor. I found this to be a strikingly simple and pragmatic acknowledgement of the tolerances in the material. In another instance, a room which the mason used the wrong brick for the walls was left as it was, here the rough bricks meant for an exterior wall are a distinctly hypertactile reminder of the roughness of the brick. By incorporating mistakes into the finished architectural product (rather than pursuing a legal battle to claim one’s due), Celsing is practicing a sort of congregational agency, I would argue. One aggregating the material, the craftsman, the time element and the designer in a process underpinned by flexibility and open-endedness. /EM



construction boom as a form of ruralized urbanity, which geographer Tage Wiklund attributes partly to a particularly Scandinavian reverence for nature (Wiklund 1995). This fragmented peri-urban landscape represents some challenges to urban designers working under densification pressure today. On one hand, the prevailing low density does not generally produce the type of urban life sought by those who choose to live in cities today. Agglomeration advantages like shorter distances to and greater selection of workplaces, shops, schools and restaurants may make peri-urban areas less attractive places to live, leading to segregation over time (as those who can choose decide to live elsewhere). At the same time, Swedish suburban postwar development is appreciated by those who value the expansive, continuous green areas and the idea of the commons represented at least in theory by a built form which takes the notion of an open society and manifests it in an open, fluid urban structure. The amenity of space is in large part accessible to all. In a sense, this was a massive social experiment in eliminating the private end of the spectrum in favor of a shift toward everything being perceived as public space. However, what happens as society moves in a market-oriented direction? What one tends not to find in outside environments in for instance postwar housing estates are the intense personalization that go along with more private ownership (rather than rental-tenure) and personalization especially of the interface between private and public. I contend in my research, that what is lacking in such cases is perhaps not use of the spaces in question, but the more specific category of use defined by agency. In Cluster 1, I critique the notion of agency as a relational construct. In an empirical study of yards and courtyards, I found far more intense sense of agency of space (evidenced by user perception in a questionnaire and my own iventory of traces of use and appropriation) in certain configurations. From what I can see so far, form matters. Cluster 2 ties into this finding with what Chantal Mouffe calls “embedded practices”. If repeated use and appropriation of space can be inferred from certain spatial parameters, there is a rich material with which to theorize about what domesticated versus vacated spaces produce by way

of social outcomes. In Cluster 7, I reflect on whether like Cauter’s “archipelago of silent spaces” suburbia is a no-man’s land. By suburbia, I refer to the housing estate suburbs with a blurred private-public realm. Sociologist Sören Olsson has argued that such spaces represent a freedom from social norms, expectations and committment and were initially quite appreciated for this freeing of the individual from the collective. At least by newcomers to the city from far less anonymous contexts in the Swedish countryside. Over time, however, a lack of engagement with one’s locality has come to signify an architecture of avoidance, open spaces which feel depleted of meaning for some, like the respondent in my questionnaire who, when asked whether he used his yard, replied “my yard isn’t a yard”. Etymologically, a yard or garden is an enclosed, contained space. Interestingly, this construct was consistent with my configurative analysis: the more enclosed yards were more likely to be perceived as a yard by residents. I propose that if architecture, as Cauter proposes, is a “third skin,” then the social arena represented by shared private space represents a “fourth skin” or socially constructed exoskeleton. A theme central to my research is that boundaries are often reduced conceptually to being about inclusion/ exclusion. Within systems theory, there is a notion of boundaries as needed to regulate difference (Luhrmann). I find this useful applied to social mechanisms as well. I’d like to propose that boundaries or delimitations in architecture also are needed and represent sites of agency, while acknowledging that the challenge is to materialize these in a responsible manner.


Suburban Stockholm was planned in the postwar

In Cluster 13, a defense of solitude and privacy is ventured as neccessary for functioning in life’s onslaught of sensory perception and stimuli. The private and collective private domain are needed especially in today’s “open” societies. Social arenas such as collective space when these perform well are a forum for conflict resolution, for civic outreach and weak ties so important in social networking (Granovetter). All are assertions of agency in different forms. In Cluster 14, agency as related to material practices in explored. I can only concur that ”it is now timely to reopen the issue of matter and once again to give material factors their due in shaping society and circumscribing human prospects” (Coole & Frost). /EM



Conceptual Cluster 1 | Relations + Agency

Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture, edited by Nishat Awan, Tatjana Schneider, Jeremy Till, London: Routledge, 2011. (Excerpt). Doina Petrescu, ‘Relationscapes: Mapping Agencies of relational practice in Architecture’, in City, Culture, Society, 3, 2012, pp. 135-140 David Harvey, ‘Right to the City’, in New Left Review 53, September/October 2008, pp. 23-40.


Conceptual Cluster 2 | Disagreement + Agonism


Jacques Ranciere , ‘Introducing Disagreement’, in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2004, pp. 3-9. Chantal Mouffe, ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’, in Art and Research, vol. 1, no. 2, Summer 2007. Claire Bishop, ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’ in October, vol. 110, Autumn 2004.


Conceptual Cluster 7 | Container Technologies

Peter Sloterdijk , ‘Cell Block, Ego-Spheres, Self-Container’ in Log 10, 2007, pp. 89-108.

Lieven de Cauter, ‘The Capsule and the Network: Notes for a General Theory’ in Capsular Civilisation: On the City in the Age of Fear, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2004 Alice Jardine, ‘Of Bodies and Technologies’ in Hal Foster ed. Discussions in Contemporary Culture, New York: DIA Art Foundation, 1987.


Conceptual Cluster 13 | Noopolitics

Deborah Hauptmann, ‘Introduction: Architecture and Mind in the Age of Communication and Information’, in Deborah Hauptman, eds. Cognitive Architecture: From Biopolitics to Noopolitics, Rotterdam 010 Publishers, 2010. Maurizio Lazzarato, ‘The Concepts of Life and the Living in the Societies of Control’ in Martin Fuglsang and Bent Meier Sorensen, eds. Deleuze and the Social, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. Gilles Deleuze, ‘Societies of Control’ in Negotiations: 1972-1990, New York: Columbia University Press, 1995. Eric Schlosser, ‘Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal,’ 2001. TED Talk: Amber Case “We are all cyborgs now” (


Conceptual Cluster 14 | New Materialisms

Jane Bennett, ‘The Agency of Assemblages’, in Vibrant Matter, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010. Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, ‘Introducing the New Materialisms’, in Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, eds, New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010 Manuel DeLanda, ‘Material Complexity’ in Neil Leach, David Turnbull, Chris Williams, eds. Digital Tectonics, WileyAcademy, 2004.