[URBANTH-L]cfp: Workshop at ZiF-Bielefeld, 17-19 June 2009. Buildings: Technologies or Interactions? Exploring the Intersections between Architectural Theory and the Social Sciences

Michael Guggenheim migug at bluewin.ch
Tue Nov 18 11:38:43 EST 2008

Buildings: Technologies or Interactions? Exploring the Intersections  
between Architectural Theory and the Social Sciences

Call for papers for a Workshop on Wednesday June 17th - Friday  
June19th 2009 at the Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung (ZiF)  

Workshop organised by Michael Guggenheim, Department of Anthropology,  
University of Zürich.

Deadline for abstracts: Dec. 15th 2008

The workshop explores the role of buildings as stabilisation of  
society in theoretical and historical perspective. Many disciplines  
engaged with buildings implicitly or explicitly understand buildings  
as a kind of technology that (should) stabilize, form, direct or  
influence interactions and thus society. Whether their impact is  
attributed to the hands or thoughts of designers to enable or hinder  
people do something or whether these are the concepts of architectural  
or social theory: Buildings are not only aesthetic objects from  
different stylistic and regional environments but also objects that  
link to their users. The workshop attempts to theorize these links and  
the different traditions that brought fourth those links.

Theories of buildings can be found in a number of fields, some  
implicit, some more explicit and raising a number of questions that  
have yet to be resolved:

a) Theories of buildings as technologies can be found in social  
theory, as technologies to discipline, to hinder interactions, as for  
example in Michel Foucault’s studies of the prison and the hospital or  
in Bruno Latour’s studies of door openers.
b) They can be found in architectural sociology or psychology and in  
the tradition of „Environmental Design Research“ of the 1970ies, where  
the idea of architecture as technology was employed to create better  
architecture by studying how inhabitants use buildings and then change  
buildings accordingly. Terms such as „hard architecture“ referred to  
different grades of stabilization of different kinds of buildings.
c) In architectural anthropology buildings were understood not only as  
symbolizing key structures of society but also as structuring  
interactions. One notable outcome of these studies was that the  
buildings of pre-modern and primitive peoples more effective in  
stabilizing their interactions than modern buildings, despite the  
latter’s explicit attempts to provide such stabilization.
d) The idea of buildings as shaping interactions has been prominent in  
modern architectural theory, mostly as a normative agenda of  
architects to build houses for specific functions or uses.
e) A fifth version of such a social theory can be found in  
architectural history and theory in the basic classification of  
buildings as building types, understood as generic forms that  
generated specific use patterns.
f) In legal thought, the idea of zones and zoning links buildings with  
uses and identifies use patterns with building forms.
g) In theories of monument protection the worth of a building is often  
measured as the integrity of the building with regard to its usage.  
The underlying idea is that a building should be kept together with  
the use because without this link the building could not be understood.
h) The same idea can be found in different disciplines as themes that  
reflect their architectural foundations. For example educationalists  
are interested in the form of class rooms, theology has an interest in  
the form of churches and business management sought to optimise the  
office and factory. In all these cases the aim was to implement  
foundational values of the disciplines as technologies into buildings  
to improve interactions in those fields.

The workshop invites papers that try to relate the different elements  
to each other. Participants may use the following themes as a basis  
for their proposals:

a) Relate different theoretical positions: How do different  
theoretical and disciplinary traditions relate buildings, technologies  
and interactions? How do they borrow terminologies and theoretical  
elements from each other and to what effect? How do terms such as  
“type”, “function”, “use” or “zone” link buildings and interactions in  
different disciplines? These questions may be the objects of  
contributions in the history of these disciplines but also  
contributions that seek to explore new avenues in theorizing the  
relationship between buildings and interactions.

b) Specifically look at temporal orders of the link between buildings  
and interactions:
To claim a relationship between buildings and interactions leads to  
the question of temporal order. Do new building forms create new kinds  
of interactions or do new kinds of interactions lead to new building  
forms and types? What happens in cases of incongruence of buildings  
and interactions such as in the case of conversion of buildings? And  
how can this be adequately theorised?

c) Historically compare links between buildings and interactions:
Since many of the above quoted theories often observe different  
intensities of buildings and interactions in different environments,  
contributions may explore the empirical basis of such observations and  
their theoretical relevance. How is it possible to measure different  
levels of technicity of buildings? How do different theoretical  
traditions, be it implicitly or explicitly, measure it? Why do  
theories in different times make different claims about the powers of  

d) Compare different building types
Since many theoretical traditions have explored specific building  
types, the question arises whether those theories apply to all  
buildings or only to specific building types. Even without an explicit  
theory, it seems that many approaches assume that different building  
types have different powers, that churches for example structure  
interactions differently than prisons or offices. Contributors may  
thus explore why theoretical traditions focus on specific types and  
what the theoretical implications of such focuses are (For example  
Foucault’s focus on disciplinary buildings). Furthermore contributions  
may try to develop theories that explain different links between  
buildings and interactions of different building types.

e) Cross cultural studies
The anthropological tradition implies that in different societies  
buildings perform society in different ways. Contributions might thus  
explore such differences and attempt theoretical explanations.

A limited budget to help with travel expenses is available and  
accommodation is covered by the organisers.
10-15 papers will be accepted and distributed before the workshop. The  
workshop will be reserved for intensive discussion of papers.
Please send an abstract of 300-500 words until December 15th 2008 to gug at ethno.uzh.ch

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