A poetics of collective life: rooms+cities

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


What does society look like?

Teaching may not be the only way to change built environment thinking but it is one way. Vittorio Gregotti reckoned that the schools were best placed to challenge establishment practices with avant-garde thought.

The projective vision of architecture is always to place the individual within the infrastructural field of social, political, economic, ideological, and technological forces that define the age (Mies called it zeitgeist). In a world where our two most precious human resources – green land and the political realm – are everywhere under threat by squanderous development practices that favour junkspace typologies and an overly instrumentalised reason that rarely recognises other value in the public realm than monetary value, architecture has the capacity to imagine new forms of city and social life (social housing is not dead, it is not maintained), and new relations of cities to the land.

This paper argues that architecture’s task is to save the world by reforming social relations. It would be a mistake to think that architecture can directly determine social relations – nothing is so instrumental – but this paper sets out the terms of the debate and a way to think through the urgencies.

Rooms+Cities is a Masters level design research unit at the University of Dundee that conducts design research on the city and its region. The room is the locus of identity and desire, and the city the field that positions it. It aims to build a poetics of density that supports commerce and public life. The principal outputs of the unit are critical city projects that perform acts of reflection upon the city. We draw on the cities and city plans that have achieved canonic status in architectural thought, including the Nolli plan of Rome, Archizoom’s No Stop City, Hilberseimer’s Hochhasstadt, because they embody the collective intelligence of architecture. The work of the unit congregates around 5 points:

1. Critical Project – At a time when most urban design proposals are ordered to satisfy the private interests of the economy and have little to do with the public staging of politics, what Arendt calls the space of appearance, our only option is the critical project.

2. Perspectival thinking – We believe in the perspective vision of the author and the projective power of authorship.

3. Close reading – We use sampling and montage of plans to generate new projects that are close critical readings of canonic city plans, sites, and their regions.

4. The city canon – The collective intelligence of architecture and its historical and future consciousness is defined by the canon of great cities.

5. Territorial thinking – the city is an artefact to which we apply the formal and spatial thinking of architecture.
Period13 Aug 2018
Event titleThe European Association for Urban History (EAUH): Urban Renewal and Resilience
Event typeConference
LocationRomeShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational