16 June 2008

AGENCY: 5th International Conference of the Architectural Humanities Research Association

AGENCY, the 5th International Conference of the Architectural Humanities Research Association, asks for a more active relationship between the humanities, the
architectural profession, and society. The conference will attempt to energise these relationships by addressing issues of agency, and will specifically address the role of
architectural humanities research as an agency of transformation.

While the potential of agency is most frequently taken to be the power and freedom to act for oneself, for the architectural and architectural research community this also involves the power and responsibility to act as intermediaries on behalf of others. There are a number of factors that affect how well this potential can be realised.

AGENCY accepts that the conditions for effective action are both contingent on individual circumstances and constantly changing. Nevertheless, the conference sets
out to explore how humanities research can better contribute towards understanding current architectural needs, possibilities and capacities for action. It will explore what is meant by ‘action’ in this context, what kinds of activities and conditions are relevant, what prevents the effective exercise of agency, and how the consideration of
such prevention might indicate effective points of, and tactics for, alternative action.

Research in the architectural humanities has tended to be too inward looking, avoiding these kinds of questions and leaving important aspects of architecture’s role
dramatically under-theorised. AGENCY will investigate active and outward looking approaches to humanities research, attempting to connect to a number of key political and social issues. The conference thus moves away from a concentration on the immediate objects and processes of architectural production towards an investigation of their wider context and possibilities.

It is proposed to focus the conference on two key areas where questions concerning the relationships between architecture and agency are particularly significant: the
particular possibilities of ARCHITECTURAL PRAXIS, and the big social and political questions of our age concerning the SURVIVAL OF THE ENVIRONMENT. In each case the intention is that such questions will be addressed through humanities research approaches, allowing our field of research to invigorate these neglected areas.


05 June 2008


Edited by Tim Anstey, Katja Grillner and Rolf Hughes. London: Black Dog Publishing. 2007

We have by now become accustomed to the fact that Richard Rogers and Frank Gehry enjoy celebrity status as household names, while every great modern building is, by necessity, attributed to the hand of an identifiable ‘master’ or office. The status of the architect, and the authority of their role, relies in no small part on this cult of personality whose influence can be seen as a symptom of the absence, for better or worse, of commonly held architectural values and principles. Of course this state of affairs is not a prerequisite to the creation of worthwhile architecture. From the sphinx to the Parthenon, the authorship of the vast majority of the monuments of the ancient world was not celebrated by their respective societies and remains unknown to us. In the twentieth century, a number of architectural theorists attempted to refocus the attention of the architectural profession and society at large away from individual authorship, most notably through Bernard Rudofsky’s study of ‘architecture without architects’ (first published in 1964), Leslie Martin’s work on the universal logic of specific forms, and Colin Rowe’s emphasis on the role of collage and the work of multiple hands.

In this engaging book, the editors attempt to answer the key question as to how the developing concept of authorship has shaped the modern architectural profession. Comprising 16 essays on such diverse case studies as the Renaissance theorist Leon Battista Alberti’s definition of rhetoric and its lasting influence on the latter-day architect’s role, to the notion of architectural creativity in Lewis Carroll’s writing, the book examines both novel and familiar material from a fresh perspective. Indeed, although Andrew Saint in his book of 1983 studied the architectural profession’s evolving status and public image from the eighteenth century to the present, this remains a neglected yet vital topic. The advent of digital media has once again called into question the role of the architect in the production of buildings and spaces, with the emergence of industrial-style construction processes which resemble car manufacture whose designers are largely unknown. Whether or not this will lead to the death of the celebrity architect and even a new era of architectural anonymity only time will tell.

Dilbert "The Consultant"

Here the traditional sophist's argument for buying lessons in rhetoric ("You should buy my lessons so that you can evaluate my argument that you should buy my lessons") is reworked, revealing the infinite regress implicit in recursive consultation (and reasoning – see Witgenstein).