Origins, Shelters, and Traps

A Seminar with Adrian Lahoud, Dean of the School of Architecture, Royal College of Art, London 

Organized by the City/Architecture PhD Programme

Wednesdsay 25 October, 6.30 pm. 33 Bedford Square, First Floor, Back Room.

Protection from the natural environment is a fundamental human need. Architecture’s primary role is to satisfy this need. Or so a certain story goes. Almost every important treatise on architecture will re-enact a primordial scene: humans gather, their culture is still very primitive but certain innate requirements are already present, the most basic of which is the need for protection. Architecture emerges in order to fulfil it.

The concept of shelter seems to still be at the very core of what architecture means, it is what remains and what will always remain after everything else has been removed. Shelter’s conceptual legacy is everywhere, in the way that we think about housing, in the way that we conceive of the environment, natural disaster, conflict, and ultimately architecture’s instrumentality.

Traps on the other hand can’t shield the body from wind or rain or cold – they cannot even fulfil a buildings’ most seemingly rudimentary requirement – inhabitation. No matter how primitive and protean, urforms like huts, tents and caves resemble buildings – traps however, do not even look like anything remotely architectural. Their relevance to debates on architecture would therefore seem to be hopelessly limited. But are they?

Drawing primarily on anthropological research from the perspective of pre-capitalist and pre-industrial societies, this presentation will examine the idea of shelter, which it will compare to another idea, that of the trap specifically as elaborated by British Anthropologist, Alfred Gell. It will attempt to use this comparison to question the role that shelter plays within the architectural imagination, suggesting that the trap might offer a useful alternative framework.