Industries of Architecture
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Industries of Architecture

Katie Lloyd Thomas, Tilo Amhoff, Nick Beech, Katie Lloyd Thomas, Tilo Amhoff, Nick Beech

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eBook - ePub

Industries of Architecture

Katie Lloyd Thomas, Tilo Amhoff, Nick Beech, Katie Lloyd Thomas, Tilo Amhoff, Nick Beech

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At a time when the technologies and techniques of producing the built environment are undergoing significant change, this book makes central architecture's relationship to industry. Contributors turn to historical and theoretical questions, as well as to key contemporary developments, taking a humanities approach to the Industries of Architecture that will be of interest to practitioners and industry professionals, as much as to academic researchers, teachers and students. How has modern architecture responded to mass production? How do we understand the necessarily social nature of production in the architectural office and on the building site? And how is architecture entwined within wider fields of production and reproduction—finance capital, the spaces of regulation, and management techniques? What are the particular effects of techniques and technologies (and above all their inter-relations) on those who labour in architecture, the buildings they produce, and the discursive frameworks we mobilise to understand them?

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Chapter 1
Industries of architecture
Tilo Amhoff, Nick Beech and Katie Lloyd Thomas
Since 1945, perhaps under American influence, industry has again been generalized, along the line from effort, to organized effort, to an institution. It is common now to hear of the holiday industry, the leisure industry, the entertainment industry and, in a reversal of what was once a distinction, the agricultural industry. This reflects the increasing capitalization, organization and mechanization of what were formerly thought of as non-industrial kinds of service and work.1
‘Industry’, Raymond Williams tells us in his 1976 introduction to Keywords, was one of five words that, along with class, art, democracy and culture, he could ‘feel’ connected together ‘as a kind of structure’ of his immediate world.2 His account of the changing meanings of the word ‘industry’ and its uses by authors from Adam Smith to Friedrich Engels is revelatory. According to Williams, the meaning of ‘industry’ was once simply the human quality of diligence or effort (its first application was to distinguish ‘cultivated’ fruits from ‘natural’), before it gradually came to mean the ‘organised effort’ of industrial production, and finally extended to include a much wider arena of work activity.
It is Williams’s expansive sense of ‘industry’ – specific, yet polyvalent, historically contingent, and ambivalent – that we follow in our own selection of the term for the title of this collection and emphasise through its pluralisation. Williams destabilises any singular a-historical meaning of the term and indicates directions that are central to the aims of this book. First, ‘industry’ should not be understood simply in terms of mechanisation or limited to the ‘factory mode of production’. In early political economy the shift to modern industry was characterised by the organisation of machinery into a system, but also by the cooperation of wage-labourers towards a common aim under the leadership of an entrepreneur. It was the organisation of machines in the factory system together with the labour process that was identified as transforming manufacture into industrial production. ‘Industry’ is never just a matter of technology, but always also a matter of social organisation and social relations.
Second, we cannot assume that ‘industry’ identifies any one particular form of technical and social organisation. For example, whilst industry and the ‘industrial revolution’ emerged under capitalism, Williams reminds us that industrialisation was also central to twentieth-century socialist projects. And, as Michael Ball has insisted, the formations of capitalism vary according to specific contexts, and hence also ‘industry’ is always already localised.3
Third, industry is understood as dynamic – what constitutes industry has undergone enormous change. At least in our own local context in the UK we might characterise this as a transition from a factory mode of production (identified by the entrepreneurial, laissez-faire model of the nineteenth century) to a corporate and state mode of production (supported by state institutional bureaucratic and technocratic planning), and now to a mode of production that is global, decentralised and responsive to financial capital requirements, when ‘industry’ is no longer concentrated in specific building typologies or processes of production but has to be considered as more spatially dispersed across institutions and techniques.
The shift towards a corporate mode is tacit in Williams’s definition – in so far as he identifies the increasing ‘industrialisation’ and interconnection of activities previously considered non-industrial (such as knowledge or education). While we recognise that architects and historians responded to the factory mode in the first half of the twentieth century, and also to the state and corporate modes of the mid-twentieth century, it is the need to better understand architecture in the mode of production today and to identify key questions and appropriate methods of enquiry by returning to earlier formulations, transforming them and proposing new frameworks of understanding, that drives the presentation of essays here.
The scale and nature of contemporary transformation has only proliferated since the publication of Keywords, and these changes are particularly significant in the sphere of architectural production. They include the now-ubiquitous adoption of ‘building information modelling’ (BIM), new techniques of digital fabrication and materials’ design, the performance-led design and evaluation of buildings as well as the ever-extending frameworks of regulation that are themselves performance-based and as such increasingly shift responsibility from the state to industry. Moreover, these changes have implications for the planning, realisation, and occupation of buildings. They necessarily alter the ways in which architects design and the kinds of parameters that inform their approaches. They may – and it is our contention for this volume that they do – also influence the conceptual frameworks through which architects understand and approach design.
A fourth aim of this volume, then, is to bring issues from ‘professional practice’, ‘project management’, or the ‘merely technical’ realms, where debates are usually more to do with pragmatics and efficiency, into the architectural humanities – to history and theory, and to design – for the possibility of a more critical engagement. For example, digital design and fabrication has profoundly altered the day-to-day practices of architects and their relationship to production processes, and at the same time, informed architectural theory. Following Jon McKenzie’s argument with respect to performance studies, we would also ask to what extent the embracing of ‘performativity’ in architectural discourse is in fact informed by the very conditions of production that the use of the concept seeks to undermine.4 To what extent is the re-conception of the design of objects in terms of actors (human and non-human), goals and relations, no less informed by the new performance paradigm in corporate and contractual organisation, materials specification and regulation? The theoretical tools – the basic concepts, categories and procedures of knowledge formation – that are deployed in this volume and elsewhere are, we argue, not just productive of our subject, but are produced by that subject.
Researching the industries of architecture
Our own intellectual positions are varied but our common concern is that the industries of architecture are too often passed over in silence or, when confronted, treated as if external to the architectural humanities. The collaborative project that has become this book (and also a companion publication)5 began with our shared interest in architecture’s technical literatures. In Tilo Amhoff’s case, these were eighteenth- and nineteenth-century specifications in London, and also a wide range of plans for the building of the city, for the factory (see Amhoff, Chapter 24), and for the economy, towards historical projects that aim to understand exchanges between architecture and other practices and institutions. Nick Beech examined building contracts of the 1940s for demolition work at the South Bank that demonstrate how relationships between public and private institutions, technologies and wider social relations were transforming in the post-war period in Britain. Katie Lloyd Thomas looked at architectural specifications from the seventeenth century to the present day, which exhibited profound differences in their modes of description of building materials. She argued that they should be understood as concepts emerging from industry with significant theoretical purchase. We convened a first very lively symposium, ‘Further Reading Required: Building specifications, contracts and technical literature’ (UCL, 2011), with a small group of researchers and practitioners also concerned with these texts from as diverse disciplines as literature and law, and it resulted in a special issue of Architectural Research Quarterly on the topic.6 This book includes new contributions to this field: some authors make use of technical literatures for the development of their research (see Mhairi McVicar, Chapter 5; Tijana Stevanović, Chapter 15; Stefan White, Chapter 23; and Amhoff, Chapter 24) while others argue they need to be considered as subjects in their own right (see Robert Carvais, Chapter 20; Ricardo Agarez, Chapter 21; Liam Ross, Chapter 22; and Sarah Wigglesworth, Chapter 32).
The ostensibly narrow focus of this first project necessarily implies a much broader engagement with the industries of architecture. The forms that technical literatures take, and the profound effects they have on what is built and how building is constituted, executed and evaluated, can only be understood by taking into account developments in the industry and in practice. Our concerns developed alongside a growing interest in this area since ‘Further Reading Required’, reflected in the composition of recent international conferences7 and a rapid expansion in Ph.D. research in these areas. Substantial new monographs and edited collections8 have appeared as well as a number of journal special issues on related themes such as ‘Money’, ‘Workspace’ and ‘The shape of the law’.9 Researchers return to modernist themes, but also to the more political debates of the 1960s and 1970s; to the Venice School’s engagement with the workers of the Porto Marghera factory complex, to discussions about the relationship between theory and practice in Germany and Switzerland, the conditions and effects of private sector housing production, the architect as salaried employer (see Jörn Janssen, Chapter 17), to Utopie in France and to Arquitetura Nova in Brazil. Importantly this book presents an essay (Chapter 9) from the Brazilian theorist, activist, painter and architect SĂ©rgio Ferro, whose work (appearing here in English for the first time) offers a substantive and highly original Marxist critique of the production of architecture that is both theoretically sophisticated and innovative in its historical research methodologies (see Felipe Contier, Chapter 8). Two contributions in this volume take up Ferro’s work in their own arguments (see JoĂŁo Marcos de Almeida Lopes, Chapter 10; and Silke Kapp, Chapter 12) and we hope that this publication will provoke more interest in Ferro’s work beyond Brazil and France where he has lived and worked since 1973.
Just as we follow Williams in that there is no one meaning of ‘industry’ we have wanted to demonstrate through the range of our contributors’ subjects and positions that there is no single way to understand the relations between architecture and industry. Instead we identify some common approaches to this relationship that structure this volume. In asking – as Walter Gropius and Sigfried Giedion did in the early part of the twentieth century – how architecture should respond to industry, a clear distinction between architecture and industry is assumed. This separation is maintained in Part I, which looks at representations of industry, and in Part II where essays explore responses to industrialisation from the small scale of the components, systems and construction techniques newly introduced to the architect’s vocabulary, to the large scale of the buildings and infrastructures produced.
But if industry also refers to the organisation of work and social relations, both on the construction site which is explored in Part III (and see Nick Beech, Linda Clarke and Christine Wall, Chapter 28), and in the office as a site of work in Part IV, then we need to consider architecture as an industry itself – an industry in which architects and constructors (amongst many others) labour. Although the essays in the second half of the book by no means share a common position, they are clear that architecture is not outside industry but within or even under industry (see Chapter 8 for Contier’s discussion of the construction site under design in Ferro’s work). The essays in Part V foreground the economy and the effects of financialisation on architecture, while Part VII looks at technologies and techniques of management and architecture that are so clearly for industry and in the service of capitalism. In Part VI contributors look at law and regulation, some recognising the possibility of a more generative relationship for architecture with industry, which comes to the fore finally in Part VIII, when contributors from contemporary practice look at the current transformations in the industries of architecture that the architectural humanities should be taking into consideration in order that they inform practice.
Architecture and industry: responding to industrialisation
The built environment that emerges from industry – whether the maritime environment of logistics, shipping, and ports of contemporary globalisation (see Gail Day, Chapter 2) or the monumental grain silos of early twentieth-century industrial agriculture (see Catalina Mejía Moreno, Chapter 3) – has long been the subject of aesthetic enquiry and production. Architecture has, first, powerful representational potential – as Gail Day explores with respect to ...