James Westcott

Elements of Domestication

Series: Evening Seminar, organised by the City/Architecture PhD programme
Date: Wednesday 21 November 2018
Time: 18:30
Venue: 37 First Floor Front
Running time: 0 mins

“a major modification of the human organism, namely its ability to pay attention, occurred when a major cultural innovation, domestication, was adopted. … the house … should be viewed as a technical and cognitive instrument, a tool for thought as well as a technology of shelter.”
Peter J. Wilson, The Domestication of the Human Species (Yale, 1988).

This evening seminar takes Elements of Architecture, a new book by Rem Koolhaas and edited by James Westcott and Stephan Petermann, as a launch pad for a consideration of architecture as a subtle, millennia-long program of domestication. The book, developed over six years with students from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and an array of contributors from industry and academia, amounts to a 2,600-page encyclopedia (or paranoiac’s scrapbook) looking at the lost histories of architecture’s most humble but essential elements: floor, wall, ceiling, roof, door, window, facade, balcony, corridor, fireplace, toilet, stair, escalator, elevator, ramp. 

Focusing on the mundane, microscopic ingredients of architecture and steadfastly ignoring the sum of their parts turns out to be an efficient revelation of the house – per Wilson – as primarily a driver of behavior, rather than a rational program of shelter. Courtesy of the elements, architecture does something to us, rather than just for us: evolving us into homo domesticus. The seminar will explore how the functional components of the house accrue outsize psychic and symbolic clout while constantly developing technologically and aesthetically as a solution to the bedeviling problems that come along with living in enclosed worlds.

When our species domesticated itself – started living in permanent dwellings rather than temporary encampments – architecture remade our sensory world in a revolution never seen before or since. In Wilson’s study of what we did to ourselves, he argues that domestication cut off our visual horizon, focusing our attention on small, bounded spaces, particular tasks, and particular people at the expense of others, triggering new social burdens as well as possibilities for “creating and expanding.” Architecture was a deeply mysterious, all consuming pursuit, Wilson says, which completely reconfigured our species and society “[w]ithout people necessarily knowing what has happened.” 

The seminar looks at a few elements from their emergence in the Neolithic to their recruitment by the Internet of Things. Whereas elements formerly emanated centuries of knowledge, the house today is becoming hell-bent on gathering data from its inhabitants, simultaneously expanding their domesticated comfort and their obligations to a global economic system.

All lectures are open to members of the public, staff and students unless otherwise stated.

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The Architectural Association receives Taught Degree Awarding Powers by the Lords of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council.

The Architectural Association (AA), the oldest independent school of architecture in the United Kingdom, is pleased to announce that it has been granted the power to award its own degrees. As of 1 October 2019, the AA has the right to establish new academic programmes and degree awards and is working to create some of the world’s most pioneering courses in architecture to shape and build the future.

Taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) give UK higher education institutions the right to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Prospective students worldwide can apply to the AA Foundation Course (Foundation Diploma), Experimental Programme BA(Hons), Diploma Programme (MArch), and nine taught postgraduate programmes encompassing History and Critical Thinking in Architecture (MA), Projective Cities (Taught MPhil) and Sustainable Environmental Design (MSc/MArch), amongst others.

AA Director, Eva Franch said, ‘since our founding in 1847 we have never ceased to create new horizons, institutionally and academically. This is a significant milestone for the AA and demonstrates how we have grown and progressed as an institution that has always valued independence. Receiving TDAP marks a new era for our institution; these are exciting times for the AA. The process has required considerable work from all members of staff and students. I would like to take this opportunity to credit them for this major achievement’.

President of the AA Council, Victoria Thornton added, ‘the TDAP process has recognised our strong governance, academic standards, scholarship and teaching as well as the environment supporting the delivery of taught higher education programmes’.

The School’s application for Taught Degree Awarding Powers was supported by the Architects Registration Board, the Royal Institute of British Architects and The Open University.