Organised by Douglas Spencer & Nadir Lahiji

The (Dis)enchanted Subject of Architecture: Between Neoliberalism and Neobaroque

Series: Symposium and Book Launch
Date: Friday 25 November 2016
Time: 10:00
Venue: AA Lecture Hall
Running time: 343 mins

Contemporary architecture stages the re-enchantment of the subject. Its recent turns toward the charms of the market, self-organization, complexity, and affect seek to discredit and devalue the radical act of disenchantment achieved by critical thought. In place of reason we are supposed to be dazzled by the new phantasmagoria, to ditch our critical faculties so as to enjoy the sensory pleasures of formal innovation and environmental immersion. Two recent publications, Nadir Lahiji’s Adventures with the Theory of the Baroque and French Philosophy and Douglas Spencer’s The Architecture of Neoliberalism, each analyse and challenge this scenario. Addressing the conception and experience of architecture from the perspective of subjectivity, Lahiji and Spencer revive the supposedly outmoded concepts of power and ideology in order to critique Neobaroque and neoliberal practices in architecture. Addressing, in particular, the instrumentalization of philosophy to valorize these practices, they also seek out ways in which critical theory and philosophy might instead be recovered in order to contest them.

To mark the publication of these titles, Lahiji and Spencer invite others, from within and outside of the discipline of architecture, to join them in this symposium to further explore and develop their concerns and arguments. Addressing radical philosophies of the subject, architecture’s fetishization of circulation, critiques of autonomy, the politics of affect, the thought of Badiou, Tafuri, Lacan, Kracauer, Benjamin and Adorno, and other themes, this event seeks out ways to conceive of and critique the politics of a turn in architecture that supposes itself to have transcended such concerns.

The day will culminate in the South Jury Room with the launch of two titles: The Architecture of Neoliberalism: How Contemporary Architecture Became an Instrument of Control and Compliance by Douglas Spencer, and Adventures with the Theory of the Baroque and French Philosophy by Nadir Lahiji. 

Speakers: Ivonne Santoyo-Orozco, David Cunningham, Nadir Lahiji, Marina Lathouri, Joan Ockman, Will Orr, Nina Power, Douglas Spencer.

Friday November 25, 2016

10.00 Introduction
10.10 First reflections: Marina Lathouri
10.30 Nina Power: The Collective Political Subject: Some Contemporary Ideas
11.15 -11.30 Break
11.30 David Cunningham: “Islands of rationality”: Architecture, Autonomy and Neoliberalism
12.15 Ivonne Santoyo-Orozco: L’Impresario: The Enchantment of Disenchantment
1.00 - 2.00 Lunch
2.00 Will Orr: Actuality of the Condition: Politics and Building
2.40 Douglas Spencer: Requiem for a Dreamworld
3.20 Nadir Lahiji: Neobaroque and the Crisis of Reason
4.00-4.15: Break
4.15 Joan Ockman: Culture of Circulation
5.00 Second reflections: Marina Lathouri (chair), Nina Power, David Cunningham, Ivonne Santoyo-Orozco, Will Orr, Douglas Spencer, Nadir Lahiji, Joan Ockman
5.30 Close
6:30 Book Launch in the South Jury Room with a drinks reception

“Islands of rationality”: Architecture, Autonomy and Neoliberalism

Central to all debates surrounding the nature of “neoliberalism” is the relation between the “political” and “economic” at stake within its historical formation. This paper considers some of the implications of such debates for the practices and discourses of architecture by tracing, critically, their connection to a series of disputes around the city, rationalism and the idea of “autonomy” that begins with the likes of Mario Tronti, Also Rossi, Manfredo Tafuri and Massimo Cacciari in the late 1960s and stretches through to the work of Pier Vittorio Aureli and others today.

David Cunningham is Deputy Director of the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture at the University of Westminster, and a longstanding member of the Radical Philosophy editorial collective. He has published widely on architectural and urban theory, including, most recently, two contributions to the collection Can Architecture Be An Emancipatory Project? Dialogues on Architecture and the Left (Zero Books 2016), edited by Nadir Lahiji.

Culture of Circulation

Once upon a time, in the days when modern architecture was young, circulation through a building was primarily a functional problem. By the mid-twentieth century, when the monument building morphed into the spectacle-building, the circulation system began to take on aesthetic implications of its own and to become a central feature of a building’s architectural identity. Think of Wright’s Guggenheim Museum or Saarinen’s TWA Terminal. Of course, Baroque architects already appreciated the expressive potential of dynamic scenography four centuries ago. But today the mania for circulation spaces manifest in cutting-edge architecture goes well beyond formal virtuosity. Escalators, ramps, elevators, stairs, bridges, catwalks—these privileged elements of contemporary buildings not only belong to a form-making culture that at all costs (figuratively and literally) wishes to avoid the appearance of fixity, but emanate from the very structure of the neocapitalist imaginary. In this talk we attempt an allegorical reading of architecture’s “culture of circulation.” What are the implications of an architecture that is about circulation?

Joan Ockman is Distinguished Senior Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and Visiting Professor at Cooper Union School of Architecture. She is currently completing a collection of essays titled Architecture Among Other Things, to be published next year by Actar.  

Neobaroque and the Critique of Aesthetic Reason

The matrix of the universality of the Enlightenment Reason is its internal division. Kant, who as the thinker of the Enlightenment turned its project upside down at its very inception, showed that reason is not a master even in its own house. This is our legacy. But, from the Kantian position it is not appropriate to criticize the universal claims of the Enlightenment project; we rather have to accept its split. Hence the persistence of the ‘crisis of reason’ after the Kantian turn. Aesthetics plays a major role in this crisis in our time. Kant spoke of the Universal Judgment of Taste that should be tied to ethical standards of the Categorical Imperative. Its maxim goes as follows: ‘I should never act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law’. The contemporary Neobaroque is a signifier of regression from this Kantian moral Law and its aesthetic reason. Contemporary Neobaroque culture represents the obverse-obscene underside of the Historical Baroque, the regression of its Sublimation to ‘repressive desublimation’, to use Herbert Marcuse’s term. Architecture has allowed itself to descend to this regressive state, ironically accompanied by a euphoric hubris. This paper critiques the totality of contemporary architectural culture under the term Neobaroque.

Nadir Lahiji is an architect, educator and critical theorist. He is the author of Adventures with the Theory of the Baroque and French Philosophy (Bloomsbury 2016) and has edited the The Missed Encounter of Radical Philosophy with Architecture (Bloomsbury 2014, 2015) and the most recent, Can Architecture Be An Emancipatory Project (Zero Books, 2016). 

The Collective Political Subject: Some Contemporary Ideas

This talk will look at various recent attempts to conceptualise mass or group subjects in the wake of the supposed disappearance of the working class. It will look at the ideas of Hardt & Negri, Badiou and others, and the concept of work in particular as the site for thinking about what collectives might emerge today. It will also examine concepts of collectivity in the work of Federici as a constructed retort to the theorists discussed in the first part.

Nina Power teaches Philosophy at the University of Roehampton and Critical Writing in Art & Design at the Royal College of Art.

L’Impresario: The Enchantment of Disenchantment

This paper attempts to understand the relationship between architectural affects and power historically, by approaching the question of enchantment and disenchantment in a way that challenges the apparent opposition of these terms. I turn to Baroque Rome to examine the notion of 'wonder' as it was portrayed in Bernini’s only surviving play, L’Impresario. In the play the audience is confronted not only with the theatrical mechanics of persuasion but also with the very mechanisms that reorient them as papal subjects. The theatre served as a testing ground to experiment with the capacity of the audience to be seduced and enchanted in a new relation of affective power. By understanding wonder historically, I will suggest that the act of enchantment always-already presupposes the disenchanted subject as its very object and condition of possibility. The condition of disenchantment is, in other words, incorporated in the very mechanism of modern enchantment.

As an architect, Ivonne Santoyo-Orozco has worked in Mexico City for Fernando Romero, in Maastricht for Wiel Arets and in London first for Foster and Partners and then for Arup Integrated Urbanism. As an educator, she has held teaching posts at Iowa State University, Central Saint Martins, University of Creative Arts and the Architectural Association. Her work has been exhibited internationally from the Venice Biennale to Storefront for Art and Architecture, published in several journals and discussed in international conferences. She is completing her doctoral dissertation at the Architectural Association in London where she investigates the historical role architecture has played in the cultivation of an affective dimension of power.


Image: ’New York Movie’ by Edward Hopper, 1939.

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Welcome to 2019-20

Dear School Community,

The Architectural Association is a place where we forget our labels as architects, as artists, as economists, as writers, as poets, and we become citizens of the world – a world that we believe we can change, transform into something other, more interesting, more radical, more free, more equal, more us. The new academic year brings a series of important conversations to the forefront of architectural education and contemporary culture through new and familiar voices and projects. There are urgent tasks at hand. Our programmes throughout the school have accepted the challenge to address issues of climate and ethics. As architects we always speak on behalf of the other, but we also need to constantly ask ourselves, who has the right to speak, and on behalf of whom? How am I affecting the environment with my actions? How can I care more about others? 

This year I invite us all to practice radical empathy, to care about the planet, the other and the future. To listen, to ask, to share, to discuss, to debate, but ultimately to care. 

Like every year, new appointments and initiatives will expand both our academic and institutional horizons. Academic voices joining us are: filmmakers Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine, whose work focuses on experimental narratives and cinematographic forms in relation to contemporary architecture and the urban environment; Berlin-based architect Sam Chermayeff (AA Alumni), founder of the practice June 14; Didier Fiúza Faustino (AA Tutor 2010-16), an architect and artist working on the relationship between the body and space; Gabu Heindl, an architect and urban planner who is the head of GABU Heindl Architektur in Vienna, an interdisciplinary studio specialising in public interventions, cultural and social buildings; David Kohn, London-based architect and founder of David Kohn Architects working internationally on arts, education and residential projects; Viviana Muscettola, an associate director at Zaha Hadid Architects and an executive member of the Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat; OMMX, a London-based practice led by Hikaru Nissanke and Jon Lopez; OFIS, an international architecture office based in Ljubljana and led by Špela Videčnik and Rok Oman (both AA Alumni); Superpool, an international research-based architecture practice located in Istanbul and led by Selva Gürdoğan and Gregers Tang Thomsen; and Bostjan Vuga (AA Alumni), architect and founder of SADAR+VUGA. Other people joining us include Eleanor Dodman, Liza Fior, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Lizy Huyghe, Guan Lee,  Melodie Leung, Gili Merin, Ivan Morrison, Anna Muzychak, Bushra Mohamed, Jonathan Robinson, Alvaro Velasco Perez and James Westcott. This diversity of new voices, will add to the units and programmes and will continue the multiplicity of agendas that the AA is known for. 

Every course, programme and unit throughout the school operates under a highly specific and idiosyncratic methodology, which offers every student a myriad of options and possibilities. More about the overall academic offerings can be found here. More about Experimental Programme units and staff can be found here; Diploma Programme units and staff can be found here and information about the unit selection process can be found here.

After more than a decade at the helm of the PhD Programme, Simos Yannas has stepped away to focus on the Sustainability and Environmental Design (SED) Programme that he leads at the school. The new Head of the PhD Programme, Pier Vittorio Aureli will shape the programme in the years to come. Elif Erdine will be the new Head of Emergent Technologies and Design (EmTech) after Mike Weinstock stepped down; however, he will continue to teach within the programme as Founding Director. 

Print Studio is transforming with a new Head of Publications, Maria S. Giudici who will – in addition to being the editor of AA Files – oversee new publications that continue to position the AA at the forefront of critical discussions through printed matter. Ryan Dillon is our new Head of Academic Communications, and will edit the annual AA Book, lead the relaunch of the AA Radio/Podcast, and oversee the content of the new website amongst other platforms to enable and facilitate all imaginable forms of communication and engagement within the AA School Community. In addition, Rory Sherlock, is joining us as Assistant Editor. 

These new voices join our renowned academic and administrative staff, who together, will surely provide for relevant discussions and debates throughout the entire school as we continue our journey into the future. As part of this, and our continued commitment to achieving Taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) (a final decision on our application is expected this autumn), we have gone through a process of internal validation, adjusting nomenclature to reflect who we are and what we do, and to make sure our programmes maintain their identity. Former Complementary Studies is now Core Studies; Technical Studies is now Environmental and Technical Studies (ETS), Media Studies is now Communication and Media Studies (CMS), First Year and Intermediate School (years 2-3) is now the Experimental Programme, and Diploma School (years 4-5) is now the Diploma Programme.

The AA is committed to experimental methods in teaching and learning and this can be seen in the many initiatives being launched. In Term 3 , a series of interdisciplinary seminars over five weeks, will present courses on politics, law, philosophy, ethics, art history, poetry, dance, gastronomy, social technology and microbiology. Other topics and courses will be added from proposals put forward by students in an Open Forum to be held in Term 1. These courses will introduce new areas of expertise and methodologies to our collective culture.

A four-day symposium titled Experimental Methods will bring our community together for a discussion and debate on what experimentation is and can be at the AA, which will take place during Open Week in both Terms 1 and 2. Tutors from across the school will lecture on their particular academic  approach as well as their own professional practice and research. Each day will end with a keynote speaker and a round table discussion, and the week will culminate with an Open Jury in which students can present their work to a panel of invited critics. 

For the first time in the history of the school, Diploma students and Postgraduate students will be able to take joint classes as part of an expanded pool of Electives. These advanced seminars will be provided by our ten Postgraduate Programmes in areas of technology, criticism, sustainability, material culture, computation and more, allowing us to push the boundaries of architectural education and to have more dialogue across all parts of the school.  

This year we will continue with the Open Seminars; on Mondays, Plan the Planet, brings together experts across different disciplines to discuss the current ecological crisis in order to articulate new strategies, policies, relationships and spaces; on Tuesdays, Evidentiary Aesthetics investigates the technologies and politics of the body; and on Wednesdays, we will be able to study the Origins of Capitalist Urban Space.

Throughout the year, the Directions Series offers an open forum for conversations between AA Students, Academic and Administrative Staff and the AA Director. These events offer a platform to communicate and discuss the direction of the school. The first event of the Directions Series will take place on Monday 30 September at 7pm in the Lecture Hall when we can start raising questions and propose new agendas as we all work towards our future and jointly develop the AA 2020-25 Strategic Plan.

To broaden and strengthen our academic resources additional initiatives have been set up. The new Writing Centre aims to assist students with their essays and written work; the Student Care Centre is to provide mental health support; and the Student Affairs Office will provide students with logistical support during their time here at the AA, and advice in career placement and work opportunities in London and around the world for their year out and after graduation. 

To conclude the academic year we aim to introduce a new way of transmitting and disseminating the work of our fifth year students at the AA Forum/Final Presentation. Over two days after tables, all graduating students will present their project in an open format to a wide group of tutors, guest jurors, curators, press, friends and colleagues, making their last presentation at the AA a real moment for celebration and dialogue. The AA Forum/Final Presentation will be open to all students to attend, and will take place in any imaginable space throughout the school. 

This autumn we launch the AA Residence, a cultural platform exploring and studying new ideas and forms of practice at the intersection of architecture, art, technology, policy and design. It is composed of a series of independent labs that consist of an interdisciplinary cohort of resident fellows including architects, artists, policy makers, engineers, scientists and creative entrepreneurs that are all researching and producing experimental work. The AA Residence will work as an incubator in a shared workspace and professional development programme, providing architects and entrepreneurs the tools required to build new practices and initiate projects that impact, promote and amplify culture, and contribute to the re-imagination of the future. The 2019-20  labs will be announced in October. 

Last year’s Projects Review 2019 was produced with the goal to achieve zero waste, and has left us with some new pieces of furniture that we hope to enjoy throughout the year. As part of this exhibition, the first edition of the Press and Practices Preview took place the day before the opening, and proved to be a success. Fifth year students and those with scholarships and bursaries had the opportunity to explain their unit agendas and project aims to invited guests. They did this alongside volunteers who provided an introduction to the sometimes complex issues that the school and its programmes address. Thank you to all tutors, students and volunteers that committed time to this effort. The Projects Review exhibition received great press coverage and many positive responses. To continue this momentum the AA Book, together with a series of podcasts with staff and students, will be launched in the autumn.

Over the last year we have recognised and celebrated the amazing diversity of the Architectural Association, that consists of students and staff from 81 different nationalities. In an attempt to build on this great cultural resource we will launch Architecture in Translation, a project that celebrates the wealth embedded in the use of different languages as part of the production and dissemination of ideas, discourse and debate about architecture. This project will work across many areas within the school. Within HTS, Mark Cousins has produced a series of seminars that will explore the theoretical questions and opportunities of translation in architecture. In addition to this, juries in different languages will take place throughout the year and will be used to identify terms, concepts and values inherent to different linguistic and cultural contexts in order to produce a ‘multilingual dictionary of architectural terms’ for the twenty-first century. 

Last but not least, to start the year, a different kind of tradition is being introduced entitled, Plant a Tree, which will take place during Introduction Week and invites all new students and staff to Hooke Park, the AA rural campus in Dorset. While on-site, we will learn about the facilities and then ceremonially, each and every one of the 300 new voices joining the school, will plant a tree to contribute to the forest, offset carbon emissions, and take part in a dialogue of ideas about the future as responsible members of the AA and of this planet. Plant a Tree is more than a symbolic act, it is the commitment to a future that is ours to build.

As new and returning students and staff wander throughout the school, its spaces and places and within the corridors that build our intellectual home, you will find on the walls images of projects that each of the 779 students of the last academic year produced. With these drawings up on the walls, now is the time for identifying new debates and engagements. For those knocking on my door, and I encourage all of you to do so, you will see next to the Expanding Horizons poster – in a circular frame – what I suspect will be the most important image for many of you this year: this is of course an invitation to visit and share some of your ideas. 

I am looking forward to seeing all of you during Introduction Week and throughout the year ahead to discuss in detail the initiatives outlined above, and the ones that we will create together.



Eva Franch i Gilabert
AA School of Architecture