Architecture and Labour: Space and the Production of Subjectivity

Architectural Association, Londonsejima2

Architecture and Labour
Space and the Production of Subjectivity

A Symposium organised by ‘The City as a Project’ Research Collective and the PhD programme ‘City/Architecture’

Friday 13 November
10.00am – 6.00pm

We must start speaking about workers again, with programmes and projects that concern them directly, existentially.
Mario Tronti, ‘Politics at Work’, 2008

In her book The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt distinguishes labour from work. While work is the production of things that may be more enduring than the life of its producer (like a pot or a poem), labour is the sheer unending business of life reproduction: cooking, cleaning, giving birth, raising kids, taking care of the household. According to Arendt, labour is merely a performative activity confined within the space of the house that does not leave anything material behind. With the rise of industrialisation and the increasing division of labour, the distinction between labour and work does not exist anymore and the subjectivity of animal laborans becomes the fundamental datum of modern society. Within modernity labour no longer addresses a specific sphere of the human condition but the totality of life, since under capitalism it is life as bios that is put to work and made productive. As Karl Marx wrote in a crucial passage of Das Kapital ‘labour power is the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in the physical form, the living personality, of a human being’. This means that what is at stake in the concept of labour is not the production of things, but the production of the most crucial commodity within a capitalistic economy: subjectivity. Production of subjectivity becomes the fundamental goal of a capitalistic economy.

In this sense it is impossible to define the modern city and its architecture without understanding it through the lens of labour. And yet until today, with very few notable exceptions, very little has been written on the relationship between labour and architecture. While issues such as public space, politics, capitalism, neoliberalism and the commodification of the built environment are widely discussed, labour has rarely been confronted by the culture of architecture. The reason for this lack of discussion may be the ubiquity of labour itself as both spatial and social condition of our life. The symposium gathers for the first time a group of researchers who will attempt to read the relationship between labour and architecture in different contexts, from the intimacy of domestic space to the abstraction of post-industrial forms of production, to the role of the architect as producer. Rather than offering a comprehensive historical mapping, the symposium will offer critical insights towards a new understanding of architecture through the concept of labour.

Pier Vittorio Aureli

10.20 – 11.00
Pier Vittorio Aureli (Architectural Association, Dogma, The City as a Project)

Labour and Architecture: Notes in the Form of an Introduction

This paper will tentatively define a relationship between labour and architecture in which labour is not simply the ‘content’ of architecture, but the condition within which both architectural form and architecture as profession have been historically structured. With the rise of labour as both the driving economic force and the source of political conflicts within the city, architecture becomes an assemblage of elements whose goal is no longer to represent power, but to effect power by framing, enabling, eliciting, making accessible or excluding. Moreover it is precisely by confronting the conflictual ethos of the labour force that architecture as specialised profession was born as a way to politically sabotage the guilds’ influence on the city government. Departing from Marx and Hannah Arendt’s definition of the category of labour, I will discuss exemplary case studies in which architecture both as labouring process and as built or designed form reflects both the organisation of productive and reproductive labour and the conflicts this organisation has triggered within the history of capitalism. As coda to my intervention I will introduce the contributions to the symposium as attempts to ponder the condition of labour from the factory to the home, from the construction industry to the organisation of one’s own life.

11.00 – 11.40
Francesco Marullo (Rotterdam Academy of Architecture, Behemoth Press, The City as a Project)

The Measure of Emptiness: Notes on the Architecture of the Factory and the Logistic Order

The factory could be defined as the very first architecture of the ‘whole’. More than a building, it embodies a complex system of spatial and labour relations extending far beyond the limits of its enclosure. The factory is able to convey the wide reality of production in all its distinct phases into a present and tangible form, from the extraction of materials kilometres away to the assembling of products and their final distribution across foreign lands.
Its architecture is entirely derived from the necessities of production rather than from formal composition: the very notion of plan in the factory is replaced by a purely technical scheme – or layout – organising the logistic chain of operations and combining spaces with movements for an efficient management of workers and machinery. Yet, the logistic order of the factory did not only pertain to manufacture, but gradually penetrated every field of production – from heavy industry to domestic architecture, from office buildings to universities – transforming assembly lines into ‘think-belts’, smoothing functional and sequential arrangements into open spaces and flexible plans, disguising coercion as neutral free competition or cooperation.
This short presentation will go through a series of plans, investigating old and present day ‘factories’, their forms of exploitation and subjection of labour-power vis-à-vis the unavoidable genericness of the architecture of production.

11.40 – 12.20
Maria S Giudici (Architectural Association, Black Square, The City as a Project)

Familles, je vous hais! On Architecture and Reproductive Labour

Far from being a haven of tranquility, the house is not only the battlefield of social and personal conflicts of class, gender and ethnicity, but is also arguably the most important workplace. However, while in the pre-modern era the productive vocation of the home was not qualified, the refined division of labour that is a hallmark of early capitalism expelled the production of goods from the home, leaving behind the unwaged and unseen toil of women. The institutionalisation of reproductive labour, that is to say the sum of the efforts needed to generate, maintain, educate and care for the workforce, is perhaps the single most effective act of primitive accumulation we can imagine; in this process, half of the population is dispossessed of any control of their work which becomes a simple, natural destiny sweetened by the trappings of domesticity and familial love. The home of the middle and working classes, which had hardly been a concern for European architects until the late Renaissance, is invented precisely as a tool to optimise this process.
The presentation will use projects and writings developed in France from Sebastiano Serlio to Charles Briseux, the Grands Ensembles, and Lacaton and Vassal to retrace the way domestic space has been choreographed first as a mechanism to separate production and reproduction, and later as a disciplinary microcosm of which the housewife is both victim and villain. Such a critique is all the more urgent today as the last decades have seen the ambiguous blurring of reproductive labour into the ungendered, micro-entrepreneurial field of ‘affective labour’. It is perhaps in such a conjuncture that architecture should claim the responsibility it refused to assume before, and rethink housing within and against the realm of labour.

Round table discussion

13.00 – 13.40
Lunch Break

Fabrizio Ballabio (Architectural Association, AYR)

The Palace, the Pulpit and the Plant. Labour, Subjectivity and the Architecture of the Albergo dei Poveri in Naples

This paper explores the complex history behind one of the largest architectural endeavours of eighteenth-century Europe: Ferdinando Fuga’s ‘Albergo Reale dei Poveri’ in Naples. Commissioned by Charles of Bourbon in 1749 to address the unsettling threat that mendicity represented to both the spiritual and economic integrity of the newly formed kingdom, the project of the Albergo inscribes itself within that moment in modern history in which labour understood as ‘the condition of human life’ came to be an increasingly architectural matter. At once a poorhouse, a palace, a prison and a factory, this peculiar enterprise distinguishes itself from analogous European experiments by the distinct role played by ecclesiastical bodies in the formation of its subjects, ie, ‘the poor’. In point of fact, herein, secular and religious practices stand in almost daunting proximity, and it is precisely in the Albergo’s typological hybridity that one can gauge the mixed circumstances leading to capitalism’s actualisation. If as Giorgio Agamben maintains, the emphasis on labour through the lens of productivity has long prevented us from accessing the ‘central mysteries’ behind contemporary forms of government, the architecture of the Albergo offers an effective instance towards alternative renditions.

14.40 – 15.20
Andreas Rumpfhuber (Staatlichen Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart, Expanded Design, Vienna)

Remote Control Space: The Architecture of the Edufactory

This paper focuses on the transformations within knowledge production in the 1960s and 1970s that ultimately led to what today is discussed as the Edufactory. My argument will be twofold: (1) I will be discussing the very shift and alteration of knowledge production by analysing the late 1960s vision of the then future university through four significant projects: Hans Hollein’s University Extension (1966), The Open University in the UK (1969) and Archizoom’s and Superstudio’s contribution to the University of Florence competition (1970). (2) I will be asking about the status of the practice of architecture to actively intervene in processes of society, about the possibility of a critique of the system.

15. 20 – 16.00
Fabrizio Gallanti (Université de Montréal, McGill University, Fig Projects)

‘Arquitectura e trabalho libre’. The use of concrete in the Escola Paulista and the reorganisation of labour in Brazil

‘Arquitectura e trabalho libre’ is the title of an anthology of texts by the Brazilian architect Sergio Ferro. Member of the Escola Paulista, Ferro explored the relationship between architectural design, industrial production and labour. The use of concrete as the characteristic material of the architects of Sao Paulo, Vilanova Artigas and Mendes de Rocha among others, was the result of a political stance, leading to unexpected consequences for the organisation of work and the employment of unskilled migrants from rural Brazil in the production process, substituting experienced masons and carpenters. The paper will argue that design choices at the level of architectural detail are influenced by economic and political conditions and therefore participate in the control and organisation of labour.

16.00 – 16.40
Peer Ilner (University of Copenhagen)

Writing Conditions – Labour, Luxury and Life

This paper investigates the radically different relations to built space and labour of Martin Heidegger and the Jewish-Italian writer Primo Levi. It juxtaposes Heidegger’s composed and disciplined writing in his hut in the Black Forest with Levi’s frantic and frenetic writing upon his return to Italy from Auschwitz. While Heidegger, a tenured university professor, retreated from Freiburg to his hut in Todtnauberg to write his treatises on being, time and space, Levi, who had a full-time job at a Turin chemical plant, was working nights to write the memoirs of his year spent in Auschwitz. Theorising these opposed labour practices in relation to ‘freedom’ on the one hand and ‘necessity’ on the other, the talk delineates the contours of a resistant form of labour.

16.40 – 17.20
Peggy Deamer (Yale University, The Architecture Lobby, Peggy Deamer Architects)

Architecture, Labour and Subjectivity

This paper will argue that architectural theory, from the 80s through to the present, has consistently failed to link a discourse on ‘subjectivity’ with one on ‘labour’. While both are scarce topics within architecture, the cultural theory pertinent to and produced by architecture has touched on both topics only to swerve away from thinking of these together. This elision is done differently in the three main periods of contemporary architectural theory – critical theory, post-critical theory, and post-post-criticality (or entrepreneurialism) – but persists throughout.
The paper hopes that a description of these three modes of critical avoidance can illuminate architecture’s particular disciplinary heart, even as it assumes that this ‘heart’ is shaped by an ideology that, upon exposure, can rethink its place in today’s political economy.

17.20 – 18.00
Round Table Debate