01 Maps: instruments of architectural (dis)orientation

Wed, December 9th @16.30h

︎︎︎Zoom link

Surrounded by a fog of virtual images, how do we orient ourselves? How do we work with the dynamic assemblages of actual and virtual entities, of living and non-living things that constitute our environment? How do we organize the multiplicity of agencies and emerging potentialities in order to set new spatial processes in motion? How do we make present the plural temporalities defining this collective production? In our first ALICE Research Seminar we seek to address these questions by considering the role of maps and their (dis)orienting qualities in contemporary architectural and spatial practices.
While maps have often been considered precise and objective representations of the world, the fascination and disquiet they produce in us lies in their endless potential to hint new orders, new relations, new narratives and actions. While conceived to hold the world within them in a precise image, maps are actually always fuzzy, rattling with potentialities and the movement of the living. They reveal to us how to every movement of orientation and ordering there is a parallel one of disorientation just as from every unsettling action on the existing frameworks and references, new organizing and referencing impulses emerge. Acknowledging this back and forth motion as key to our architectural practice requires a transformation of our tools and strategies.

When architecture goes beyond representation and starts mapping, it gains, among its techniques and practices, the ability to work with processes and fields instead of fixed states or objects; to work with an expanding field of material agencies and care to attend to the multilayered balances of the environment; to work with histories and plural temporalities to fully and justly relate to the complexity of our present. With our guest speakers, Frédérique Ait-Touati, historian and author of Terra Forma, and Roger Paez, architect and author of Operative Mapping, we will dive further into these active and activating instruments.

Guest Speakers:

Roger Paez. Architect ETSAB, Barcelona (Hons.); MS AAD Columbia University, New York (GSAPP Honor Award for Excellence in Design); PhD UPC, Barcelona (Excellent Cum Laude). His Doctoral Dissertation “Operative Cartography. Mapping Agency in Architectural Design, 1982-2012”, directed by Jaime Coll (ETSAB UPC) and Iñaki Abalos (Harvard GSD), was awarded the highest distinction. Following professional experience in the studios of Alison+Peter Smithson (London) and Enric Miralles (Barcelona), he founded A i B (www.aib.cat), a studio devoted to contemporary architectural practice with a critical edge, based in Barcelona. He has designed the Marine Zoo of Barcelona, the Hospital Clínic extension, and the Mas d’Enric Penitentiary, selected for the FAD Prize 2013 and finalist to Catalunya Construcció 2013 Award.

Frédérique Aït-Touati is a historian of literature and modern science, a seventeenth century specialist, and a theatre director. She is a research fellow at the CNRS and a member of the Centre de Recherches sur les Arts et le Langage at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. She works on the uses of fiction and narrative in astronomy in the seventeenth century, as well as the history of images and scientific instruments; more recently, her research has focused on the narratives and aesthetics of the Anthropocene, particularly in theatre. Her books include Fictions of the Cosmos (2011), Histoires et savoirs (2012), Le Monde en images (2015), Terra Forma (2019).

02 Haunted bodies and ghostly spatialities 

Julien Lafontaine Carboni in conversation w/
Gabriele Schwab & Avery Gordon

Wed, January 20th @15.00h

︎︎︎Zoom link

Ghosts and hauntings are familiar with architecture. Das Unheimliche, the essay of Freud, resonated all along the XXth century into architectural theory. Unhomeliness has been first thought of as a bourgeois aesthetic experience referring to estranged homes to their inhabitants and leading to the haunted house's figure. Secondly, the development of psychoanalysis in architectural methods and theories to address the fundamental unlivable conditions of the modern city shifted the relations between bodies and architecture, site and structure, and paved the way to deconstructivism's dismembered bodies and below language aesthetics.

However, a third way remains unaddressed in the architectural field. Ghosts appear asking for reparations. Traces of institutionalized violence and silencing, their phenomenal existence is an effective, shared, and lived reality. As a particular figure of plural temporalities defining affective landscapes, ghosts inhabit, dwell, and thus, shape and influence our spatialities. Not our past, our commons, ghosts are a particular texture of living memories with whom we are sharing our lands, practices, and becoming.

For this second session of the seminar Surrounded by a fog of virtual images, we aim at addressing architectural histories of haunting, as much as the spatial dimensions and agencies of ghosts. Starting from different perspectives (sociology, architectural, and critical theory), this discussion aims at opening common grounds for critical, intersectional, and reparative architectural (hi)stories. 

We will do it in collaboration with Avery Gordon, whose intervention will address subversive historical alternatives  with the aim of returning to the ghost a certain agency with which the living might make common cause. Meanwhile, Gabriel Schwab will ask how “ghostly spatialities” affect the texture of traumatic memories. Under the title Memory Crypts, she will use several examples from her hometown in order to analyze these haunting memories, including the erasure of traces of Jewish life, a spatial memory of Roma life, and a memory of the discovery of an Aleman burial ground.

Guest Speakers:

Gabriele M. Schwab is Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine. She holds appointments in the departments of Comparative Literature, Anthropology, English and European Languages and Studies. She received her Ph.D. in literary studies and critical theory at the University of Constance in 1976 and a Ph.D. in Psychoanalysis from the New Center for Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles in 2009. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Heisenberg Fellowship, her research interests range across critical theory, psychoanalysis, trauma studies, literature and anthropology, and 20th- and 21st century comparative literatures. Among her published books we would distinguish Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma (2010); Imaginary Ethnographies: Literature, Subjectivity, Culture (2012) and Radioactive Ghosts (2020).

Avery F. Gordon was a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara for thirty years and is currently a Visiting Professor at Birkbeck School ofLaw University of London. Her most recent books are The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins, The Workhouse: The Breitenau Room (with Ines Schaber), Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination and Keeping Good Time: Reflections on Knowledge, Power and People. Her work focuses on radical thought and practice and she writes about captivity, enslavement, war and other forms of dispossession and how to eliminate them. She has been the co-host of No Alibis, a weekly public affairs radio program on KCSB FM Santa Barbara since 1997.

Denise Bertschi, artist and PhD candidate at EPFL/HEAD will participate as a guest discutant.

03 Landscape as affective image (and the instruments of experience) 

Lucía Jalón Oyarzun in conversation w/
Matthew Gandy & Elise Misao Hunchuck

Wed, February 17th @15.00h

︎︎︎Zoom link

In his Ethics, the philosopher Spinoza defined the image as “those affections of the human body, the ideas of which represent to us external bodies as if they were present, although they do not actually reproduce the forms of the things”. In this third seminar, we want to explore how this image allows us to overcome landscape’s enclosure within the pictorial or figurative and point to new practical and conceptual tools for landscape, architecture and urban planning. Spinoza’s “affective image” sends us from the 17th century paintings at the beginning of so many landscape histories to the older definition of landschaft as a form of commons emerging out of shared practices, customary law and the inherent dynamism of the land. By thinking of landscape as the common entanglement of nature, material practices and meanings, a form of commons organizing and supporting the spatiality of more-than-human communities, we seek to find new instruments to make this affective image operative within our architectural practice.

Landscape and architectural representation have been substituted by objectifiable and/or quantifiable description. Locations are reduced to coordinates while the botanical richness of our world becomes photoshopped greenery. Meanwhile, in magazines and Instagram feeds architectural and landscape images become asignifying snapshots thrown at a passive user. Against this situation, the affective image operates in the realm of fuzziness and ambiguity, always requiring an active engagement from its embodied beholder. Do the idea of an affective image and the expanded sensorium it brings about offer an opportunity to open up the architectural toolbox once more to the entanglements between the affective, the symbolic and the political? Drawings and traces, narrations and performances, atlases and figurations… are they capable of unlocking the noticeable dead-end of current architectural representation? What imaginal, perceptual and experimental instruments do the affective atmospheres of our living environments demand?

Imagination is a form of collective unconscious, an immanent repertoire of virtual images feeding agency and engaging us politically with(in) the world. Landscape understood and operationalized as the common affect threading and giving ground to dynamic nature cultures, can help us unfold material practices capable of working with the ambiguous and the indeterminate while acknowledging the socioecological challenges of our time.

Guest Speakers:

Matthew Gandy is a cultural, urban, and environmental geographer with particular interests in landscape, infrastructure, and more recently bio-diversity. He is Professor of Geography and Fellow of King’s College at the University of Cambridge.  He previously taught at University College London, where he was the founder and director of the UCL Urban Laboratory from 2005 to 2011. He has published several books: Concrete and Clay: Reworking Nature in New York City (2002), The Fabric of Space Water, Modernity, and the Urban Imagination (2014) or The Botanical City (with Sandra Jasper, 2020)His next book Natura Urbana is forthcoming from The MIT Press and will explore spontaneous forms of urban nature in an international context. He is the Principal Investigator for the ERC Advanced Grant Rethinking urban nature.

Elise Hunchuck is a Berlin based researcher and designer with degrees in landscape architecture, philosophy, and geography whose work focuses on bringing together fieldwork and design through collaborative practices of observation, care, and coordination. Facilitating multidisciplinary exchanges between teaching and representational methods as a way to further develop landscape-oriented research methodologies at multiple scales, her research develops cartographic, photographic, and text-based practices to explore and communicate the agency of disasters through the continual configuring and reconfiguring of infrastructures of risk, including memorials, monuments, and coastal defense structures.

04 Architecture, law, capability 

Nagy Makhlouf in conversation w/
Patrick Bouchain & Charlotte Malterre-Barthes

(extraordinarily, this event will be held in French)

Wed, May 5th @18.00h

︎︎︎Zoom link

The theory of evolution defines the living as the interaction between an organism and a milieu that conditions its activity. For the philosopher John Dewey, the human species transforms its milieu according to its needs and desires through the construction of a collective intelligence, by which it experiments and deliberates on its ends and means. This definition provides the basis for a renewed democracy, as an organising principle of collective life that is inseparably biological, spatial and social, where architecture and law are experimental and participatory practices.

The relationship between architecture and law conditions our capability, that is to say the whole of what we can do with the material milieu in which we live, with our means of living. Law exists through architecture: it materialises a boundary and defines the limit of a property, whether it is for use, land, profit, real estate or movable property. Law must support experimentation and confront the evolution of ways of living. It must make the organisation of the milieu - extraction, design, construction, use, re-use, demolition - a practice essential to democratic living, supporting our participation and responsibility, from the scale of the home to that of the infrastructure.

Today, neoliberal politics organise the milieu as a condition for a world-wide economy, posited as the indisputable end of biological evolution, and materialised in post-colonial extraction and construction practices. It transforms law into technical regulation, imposes an authoritarian division between 'expert' architects and a 'mass' of inhabitants to be managed, and whose participation is denied. In this context, it is necessary to build a framework of action through which to grasp the power of architecture and law, to act on the causes and effects of the democratic and ecological catastrophe we are going through, and to invent another politics of life and the living.

Guest Speakers:

Patrick Bouchain does not define himself as an architect - he never joined the French Order of Architects out of rejection of corporatism. As a builder, repairer, urban planner and scenographer, he has been practicing with the office Construire since 1986. He is a pioneer in the reconfiguration of industrial sites into cultural spaces, and in the appropriation of law in project strategies that fully involve inhabitants and users. He notably founded the École nationale supérieure de Création Industrielle in 1982, and is currently working on "La preuve par 7", a project based on key principles such as the “déjà-là” (already-there) and the “architectural permanence”.

Charlotte Malterre-Barthes is an architect, scholar, urban designer, and feminist. She currently teaches urban design at Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she has been notably leading “critical thinking seminars” that seek to build operational and critical frameworks for an emancipating architectural practice. She holds a Ph.D. in architecture from ETH Zürich, which dealt with the political economy of food systems and its effects on the built environment. Charlotte’s “strategic practice” adresses the variegated dimensions that inform architecture, the mechanisms of domination it supports, and the manners through which they can be alleviated through fostering collective and individual agency.

05 Choreo-spatial politics

Aurélie Dupuis in conversation w/
Beth Weinstein & Karen Kurczynski

Wed, May 12th @18.00h 

︎︎︎Zoom link

The performance theorist André Lepecki distinguishes two ways in which movement can be activated aesthetically and politically: kineticactivation, which is the one promoted by industrialization, capitalization and militarization, and intensive activation -- which other authors will describe as kinaesthetic -- privileging micro-assemblies and including all kinds of physical, artistic or political practices that dissociate mobility from the imperative of displacement. In this second category, it is not about individualities that move each one for itself: movement is an already there, operating between bodies and through them, that these practices possibly make felt and intensify.

Architectural practice and research have not escaped the growing predominance of the figure of movement, which they have approached in many ways throughout the 20th century. But attempts to consider this mobile reality, to address the kinetic and rhythmic nature of our living environments and their formation have frequently been limited to a reading, tracing and designing of its flows. Not only does this approach run the risk of reducing all movement to consensual mobility, but it also ignores a whole aspect, that of intensive movement, which, by proposing a specific alternative to the couple subject/freedom of movement as pre-established entities, makes it possible to approach the notions of movement and ‘freedom’ in a radically different way.

The 'choreo-spatial' work of the architect suggested here involves experimentation and engagement with this much more precarious type of movement, with the exercise of movement as freedom: a movement that is learned, repeated, experimented with, practiced, transformed through a certain design practice or intervention, inviting to actively pay attention to more complicities and mutual interferences. In this process, the techniques and instruments of architecture themselves, notably drawing, allow for the setting up of a 'soft choreography' supporting the unfolding of the political through choreo-spatial experimentation.

In this last session of the SBAFOVI series, we will receive two researchers in whose work these notions are addressed in a very tangible way: their accounts from the fields of contemporary art drawing and performance, respectively, will outline specific mediation processes included in a both sensual and political practice that addresses urgent questions without sweeping away the 'not yet' that remains to be explored.

Guest Speakers:

Karen Kurczynski is a critic and historian of contemporary visual art and currently an Associate Professor of Art History at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has published an introduction to the Danish artist Asger Jorn’s work in English called The Art and Politics of Asger Jorn: The Avant-Garde Won’t Give Up (2014) and a new evaluation of the Cobra movement, The Cobra Movement in Postwar Europe: Reanimating Art (2020). Her research interests include the relationship of art to politics and activism, feminist and critical theory and the legacy of early-20th-century cultural encounters in contemporary discourses of identity and globalization. Her next book project, Drawing in color, discusses the rise of drawing as a major medium or “anti-medium” in the contemporary period. It examines practices of whiteness and blackness in recent drawings, investigating why drawing is uniquely able to comment on those today.

Beth Weinstein is an architect and Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Arizona. Her research and practice move between the architectural and the performative and across scales from drawing to performance-installations to urban interventions, investigating spatial manifestations and invisibilities of political, environmental and labor issues. Her practice-based doctoral research explored how performances of spatial labor, employing architecture’s instruments (text, drawings and models), can render ‘sensible’ (in)visibilities around architectures of internment. She continues to ask what forms of architecture, and associated invisibilities, are produced through executive order and under states of exception. She is currently writing a book titled Architecture + Choreography: Collaborations in Dance, Space and Time (2022).

To care and nurture for the richness and diversity of our architectural practice(s) we need to go beyond the definition of space as an inert background or a merely abstract dimension. We seek instead to attend to the emerging processes and forms of spatiality threading the living environment around us, with us, through us… For this to become more than mere words, we require new theories, know-hows, instruments and strategies. This extended repertoire will allow us to work with a broader spatial enactment of materiality where the minor realities threading our everyday are heard and operationalized for a meaningful, negotiated and inclusive transformation of our world.

Surrounded by a fog of virtual images is a series of online Research Seminars organized by ALICE (Atelier de la Conception de l’Espace) at the ENAC / EPFL to explore and operationalize these questions through a series of talks with international guest speakers led by its grad and post-grad researchers around key topics of their work.

Echoing the fog of virtual images used by Gilles Deleuze to describe how our surroundings cannot be understood without taking into consideration those minor existences circling around them, hinting and prompting the emergence of new dispositions, we invite everyone interested to meet us in the fog for a series of virtual discussions and critical questionings. As the Zoom rooms’ natives we have become, we live surrounded by a constant flow of high-resolution virtual images made out of ones and zeroes. Consequently we want to make the most of the current Covid-19 situation by joining these two virtualities. Together, we will introduce some conceptual fuzziness and much-needed sensoriality into our screens to draw up new forms of architectural practice determined to work with those material potentialities and plural temporalities so often short-circuited by our new media environment and/or forgotten by our discipline.

Organized by Lucía Jalón Oyarzun, Julien Lafontaine Carboni, Nagy Makhlouf, Aurélie Dupuis and Dieter Dietz.