A Museum of Architecture: Challenging Representation(s)
Location SOAS Senate House - S110
Date and Start Time 01 Jun, 2018 at 11:30
Sessions 3


  • Rachel Harkness (University of Edinburgh) email
  • Ester Gisbert Alemany (Universidad de Alicante) email
  • Camille Sineau (University of Aberdeen) email

Mail All Convenors

Short abstract

This alternative format panel invites contributors to share how their work with or on architecture, building, dwelling and designing might make manifest an experimental 'Museum of Architecture'.

Long abstract

The premise for this alternative format panel is a Museum of Architecture: an exhibition temporarily created to discuss anthropological-architectural engagements, through material things, artworks and artefacts.

The exhibition will be a platform for sharing research processes, insights and generating debate on the performative character of architecture-in-practice, its attachment to concrete places, the dwelling experience and the participation of the more-than-human in it. The format will question whether architecture can be brought inside the museum to be interrogated. Thus it is open to contributions that think critically about existing forms of architectural representation (including those within Anthropology). We also wish to consider the temporal and material aspect of architecture. Architectural 'moments' offer one way to think about this: found within building (such as when people throw their weight together to raise a wooden beam) and beyond architecture (such as when people gather to weave large willow forms) wherever the object exceeds the human scale and the entire body and/or multiple bodies are called to share in a common activity (Rendell 2010, Appadurai 2013, Lefevbre 2014, Ingold and Hallam 2014).

The things or artefacts themselves of this Museum may be performative and or visual/audio as well as material. Reflections on their display should be central to each contributor's 'paper' proposal. The sessions will allow time for each person to speak to their contribution and for thinking together, inclusively, about how the room will act as an open exhibition throughout the rest of the conference.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Designing as weaving: potted landscapes of the 'Costa Blanca'

Author: Ester Gisbert Alemany (Universidad de Alicante) email

Short abstract

The potted landscapes exhibited emerge from the sympathy between different things and organims as they grow. They try to challenge the way we undertsand and represent the urban patterns derived from the forces of urbanization related to tourism in the 'Costa Blanca', in Mediterranean Spain.

Long abstract

The name 'potted landscapes' is a reference to the series of models Kimura Tosen made in 1847 that represented the famous 53 stations of the Tokaido route in Japan. These ones emerged from a small architectural project we did as architects. At the beginning there was an uninteresting stone wall that needed reinforcement. We started a long process of experimentation, of studying the edges of its stones, of working along the joints, again and again, in each pass, a bit more rigid: cardboard, tape, foam, iron. Unable to come inside the wall, we take other stones, and literally weave them, we study the ivy, we draw the plants that grow inside a brick wall and break it, the braided ropes that give friction for a beam to be plastered. We are kept outside, but we don't feel outside any more. The weaved reinforcement takes shape in between, we bring it and ourselves together in a transdimensional material abstraction. The clients considered it done, but the material experience goes on. We are drawing now, we keep growing plants, watering them, weaving their roots, following their growing in water, in soil, without water, in sand, we build structures for them. The stone wall started a process of inquiry that has opened for us a new way of knowing and representing patterns of growth that goes further that small scale. Now we are experimenting with stones, plants and different materials from several spots in the coast, we model small worlds with them and draw fictions of possibles lives from them.

A Material Intervention: MANIFEST

Author: Gina Leith (Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh University) email

Short abstract

An interactive display of material understanding, made manifest, through a collection of individually constructed material portraits, which represent distinct yet interwoven voices: material as metaphor - material as action, to be layered over a host - seen as a marked canvas.

Long abstract

This research attempts to define a dialogue around the material landscape of Interior Design, questioning the process and understanding of material specification, representation and use.

As a creator of our built environment our selection process relies on an innate understanding of the products and materials we choose, alongside an intuitive response to the fabric of existing buildings.

This exhibit will represent the complex layering of materials within Interior construction; articulating definitions conceived to demonstrate our material understanding and use. How we use materials is in part, based on how we perceive them, and the choices we make are based on not only the physical properties and capabilities, but also their symbolic meanings and social dimensions.

Each set of linguistic samples acts as a portrait of a given material to analyse and critique the obvious, perceived, and coincidental properties of each individual (construction) material.

These samples are positioned upon a base layer. Our 'marked canvas' as the host, itself, a multi-layered material reality, can be a representation of an existing place or space

A set of new materials, are 'installed' onto the canvas. Split into two groups - Material as Action / Material as Metaphor, each chosen material is represented by two sets of eight samples. The first set describes aspects of the physical properties, and pragmatic considerations such as aesthetics, costs, construction, and durability.

The second metaphorical set, articulates our perception and beliefs, speaking of folklore, history, origin, harvest, life and afterlife.

Together they construct a visual analysis of material understanding.

From Paper to the Ground: Architecture and Dwelling in 'the' New Town of fascism.

Authors: Paolo Gruppuso (University of Aberdeen) email
Pietro Cefaly (Casa dell'Architettura) email

Short abstract

An architect and an anthropologist find a map, dated 1929, with a hand-drawn line representing the boundary of a town that did not yet exist. Based on this find, this contribution aims to reflect on the performative power of drawing in architecture and the meaning of a city.

Long abstract

This contribution to the Museum of Architecture is the result of an ongoing conversation between an anthropologist and an architect discussing the theoretical and social implications of a line, hand-drawn with a red pencil on a map, by an unknown designer. The map, dated 1929, represents the Pontine Marshes in Italy, reclaimed few years later by the fascist regime. The red line marks the boundaries of the New Town Littoria, founded in 1932 on the ashes of the reclaimed Marshes.

Drawing a line on the map, the unknown designer, like a demiurge, accomplished the task of giving shape and bringing civilisation into the perceived chaotic and formless environment of the Marshes. He divided the continuum of nature into discrete objects, identifying and naming what eventually became Littoria, 'the' New Town, a monument, rather than a city, built from scratch to celebrate the conquest and colonisation of the Pontine Marshes.

Our 'piece' displays the map and a number of architectural drawings and aerial photographs concerning the foundation and development of Littoria, renamed Latina after the fall of the fascism. Based on the discovery of this map and its inscription, this contribution addresses questions concerning the performative power of drawing in architecture and the experience of living in a city that, like a monument, was literally drawn on paper before of being built on the solid ground. Our aim is to raise questions that challenge our most fundamental assumptions about architecture, dwelling, and the meaning of a city.

On the Porousness of Architectural Borders— Plastic Boats and Marine Lifeforms

Authors: Simon Peres (University of Aberdeen) email
Carole Papion (Glasgow School of Art) email

Short abstract

Through the display of material samples and photographs from fieldwork in Aberdeenshire, we will use the modern composite boat as a paradigm of and possible site for the resolution of the descriptive difficulties faced by process-oriented architectural anthropology.

Long abstract

A recurrent problem faced by the anthropology of architecture is the appeal of the finished, closed-off building. Theoretical proclamations notwithstanding, it seems difficult in practice to fully represent architectural phenomena as processes, both temporally (as ever-evolving, living structures that, through wear and tear, never finish being built) and environmentally (as highly interactive entities whose borders are, after all, quite uncertain).

We aim to reflect on the sources of this difficulty and its possible solutions by examining the case of boats, especially their hulls. Most modern leisure embarcations are constructed by the accumulation of layers: a plastic base structure is covered with fiberglass, before adding a coat of plastic resin. Finally, the user applies antifouling, a biocide paint that temporarily protects the hull from the accumulation of crustaceans. Here, every layer exists to protect the others while being supported by them. There is a tension between, on the one hand, this strong drive towards resistance and isolation, reinforced by common (pejorative) perceptions of plastic as lifeless, uniform matter, and on the other hand, the manifest mobility of a boat and its propension to fusing with its environment— gliding into the sea while slowly being colonized by multitudinous lifeforms. We will explore it by displaying material samples as well as photographs taken during fieldwork in an Aberdeenshire port. This will be the base for a discussion of the analytical issues we encountered, enabling us to critically examine the organicist and immunological metaphors that are often tempting.

A Magic Map: in the Studio of Rita Alaoui

Author: Edward Hollis (Edinburgh College of Art) email

Short abstract

A book of stories concealing a hidden drawing, that represents the studio of an artist, this exhibit experiments with the representation and exhibition of an architecture that is lived in, rather than represented and exhibited.

Long abstract

A 'map' of the studio of the artist Rita Alaoui in Casablanca, this exhibit for the museum of architecture can be read and unfolded to encounter the practices, objects, arrangements, that make an architectural space an occupied interior, and a portrait of the artist herself.

There is nothing new in the interior portrait, either in Benjamin's trace, or Colomina's architectures of representation. The anthropologist Danny Miller's The Comfort of Things is composed as series of interior portraits.

Architectural representation and the anthropological gaze share similar problematics. In both, something lived (in) is transformed into something looked at. In the architectural museum and the anthropological study, buildings, and the lives they contain, are suspended in time, removed from use, diminished in scale, and removed from context.

Creatures displayed in a vitrine, they have been removed from life; and this exhibit represents the experimental conjuring of a resurrection of sorts: using the reading of stories and the unfolding of architectural drawings to turn an object looked at into a space lived in; an absent place and person into something present.

It is an experiment in interior representation. Such ephemeral phenomena often evade schemata of architectural representation developed to depict and instruct the construction of solid, durable, bounded objects. How, can we draw, or write, such phenomena?

And what creative opportunities do their representation provide? This exhibit is designed to re-create an absent room, to provoke a discussion among its imagined inhabitants, to open up possibilities for the representation of living architecture.

Playing with wood: an anthropological study of dens

Author: Jo Vergunst (University of Aberdeen) email

Short abstract

Making dens in forests or woods is both a practice of architecture and an encounter with the landscape. In this session participants are invited to model their own dens and join a conversation about vernacular architecture, materials and landscape.

Long abstract

Exploring architecture carried out by people who are not architects, and who have no training in design or building, may nonetheless offer some reflections on architecture. This contribution is about dens that are made mostly by children in forests and woods. The research explores the significance of practical involvement with woods along with the ways of knowing that both underpin and emerge from it. Den-making provides an alternative to the sanitised and commodified rural landscapes that young people often encounter. As a form of vernacular architecture dens also help us imagine a close relationship between the materials that comprise our environment and those that we use for our dwellings. In Scotland, a recent interest in dens as artistic projects suggests a radical agenda that connects with land ownership, human-animal relations, and environmental aesthetics. For this panel I will host a conversation about these themes through a small den-making exercise. Participants will be provided with twigs and other materials and asked to try some model den building using photos from my research and other guides. The purpose will be to explore the qualities of the materials through building with them and to share stories on dens, woods and landscape. We will conclude by considering the ways in which our dens might or might not be understood as architecture.

Between limestone and chalk, quarry and barrow

Authors: Lesley McFadyen (Birkbeck) email
Rose Ferraby (University of Cambridge) email

Short abstract

Our curated piece is two-part: a cabinet of curiosity including tools and fragments of limestone and chalk, and a film of the processes involved in quarry excavations and barrow building. The exhibition animates the material life of quarrying and construction in contemporary and Neolithic Dorset.

Long abstract

Archaeological drawing conventions for architectural recording follow a formulaic and standardized approach across different sites, landscapes and periods of time. Plan and section drawings focus on a static structure, but miss the nuances of process and material interactions. These drawings miss the sound and smell of making, the weight of materials, the feel of things on hand and body, and the other human interactions intermingled with them.

Our curated piece in A Museum of Architecture will be two-part: a cabinet of curiosity including tools and fragments of limestone and chalk materials, and a film of the processes involved in quarry excavations and barrow building. How will an understanding of architecture change if we lead with the sensory? The exhibition animates the material life of quarrying and construction practices in contemporary and Neolithic Dorset.

Mediating through technologies. The re-presentation of contemporary art, architecture, domesticities and materialities

Author: Enrique Nieto (University of Alicante) email

Short abstract

How could the construction process of a videoart center mediate through local communities and global trends? How could a methacrylate bird cage represent local communities, contemporary art, derelict memories and the paradoxes of political ecology?

Long abstract

This paper discusses the role of representation in the material transformations conducted to convert two derelict low-income houses located in a small Mediterranean village, Blanca, into a contemporary videoart museum. The aim of the project was to give life to a new museum, seen as an activity detached from Blanca's daily routines, but also, the arrival of video art in Blanca must be understood as an opportunity to alter, through the use of technologies, the meanings of popular dwellings, contemporary art, local communities and domesticities.

The intervention consists of small gestures that overlap with the existing atmosphere, activating a desirable complicity between the visitor, the building and the works of video art. The small material changes result from adapting the new program to generate ambiguity and to destabilize the predictable. Colours, cracks, odours, damage, facilities... all are possibilities that act in a positive and affirmative way. We tried to think of seduction as a break in the foreseeable logic to generate attraction, complicity and acceptance. Thus we displayed methacrylate artifacts produced by digital manufacturing and assembled on IKEA structures, electrical wires mounted on fluorescent insulators, fluorescent tattoos painted on walls and ceilings that extend the configuration of existing flooring, 'esparto' furniture produced by the 'esparto' women workers, etc. As a result, the works of art are inserted in spaces mediated by technologies that refer the viewer to complex sensitive experiences, where the combination of parody, memory, play and sound pushes the user to the limits of clear understanding of works of art.

Object - Cheating the Game: Wayfinding in the Museum

Author: Leonidas Koutsoumpos (National Technical University of Athens) email

Short abstract

The object relates to the way that people find their way in an architectural environment (the Acropolis Museum), by cheating the rules of the architectural game that was set up by the architect.

Long abstract

Humans usually experience and appreciate architecture while accomplishing their mundane everyday tasks like cooking, playing, reading a book, chatting over a cup of coffee. In this sense, experiencing architecture is an act that requires much more than just looking at buildings (not to mention the usual mere looking at photographs of buildings).

This paper argues that despite the uniqueness of every human's experience of architecture there is some common ground that unites these experiences and makes them relevant for others. Architects can contribute greatly in understanding this common ground by looking at the way that people experience architecture.

In order to illustrate the argument presented in this paper I will offer a case study: the New Acropolis Museum (an award winning building designed by Bernard Tscumi). Video evidence will be provided to show that visitors follow very different routes than the one suggested by architectural design of the building and the museological storytelling of the exhibits (that here coincide).

An assimilation will be made with the board games that follow certain kinds of rules in the movement space. Why do people cheat the rules? The building was conceived to function through a 'clear' loop. Why is this not followed? Why do they ignore the functionality of the building? 'Cheating' the rule of the game should not be seen as a matter of individual taste and particular inclinations, but it is based on a common ground related to the perception of space that is shared between the visitors of the museum.

Object - Wasshoi, Wasshoi: Soundscapes of Sanja Matsuri

Author: Raymond Lucas (University of Manchester) email

Short abstract

This work is a soundscape of the Sanja Matsuri festival in Tokyo, drawing on the long tradition of soundscape work from R Murray Schafer to Augoyard & Torgue, the work is inspired by filmmaker, editor and sound designer Walter Murch.

Long abstract

This work is a soundscape of the Sanja Matsuri festival in Tokyo, drawing on the long tradition of soundscape work from R Murray Schafer to Augoyard & Torgue, the work is inspired by filmmaker, editor and sound designer Walter Murch.

Murch is responsible for many innovations in cinematic sound, from mainstream technologies such as the effective use of Dolby Stereo in Apocalypse Now (1979) to more experimental sound montage in Coppola's The Conversation (1974) and Lucas's THX1138 (1971).

One of Murch's techniques involves sounds being collected and recorded from a range of sources; these are subsequently re-recorded in another space to add colour and grain to the recordings: a bundle of environmental cues which are subliminally perceptible, but noticeable when absent. This sound installation asks several questions about how we perceive architectural space with all of our senses working in concert with one another, what can we understand about a space from its sounds alone?

Rebuilding as therapy

Authors: Paolo Robazza (University of Strathclyde) email
Enrico Marcorè (University of Aberdeen) email

Short abstract

Our aim is to perform an architectural experience by building something together. The fundamental point is to pay attention to the process rather than to the final product. Then, by means of the case study presentation, we will collectively talk about building as a more general healing experience.

Long abstract

This proposal is the result of collaboration that began few years ago between an anthropologist and an architect. We want to show our outcomes from different disciplines perspectives both confronted to post-quake reconstruction. After few years of fieldwork investigation (anthropologist work) and practical building experience (architect work) my colleague and I we arrived to the same conclusion: rebuilding is a therapeutic experience for people hit by earthquakes.

By the example of an Ecovillage remade from scratch after the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake, we argue that the resilient reaction to the quake - understood as a life's traumatic event - is about remaking new relations with the environment through new kind of architectural sharing. During the Ecovillage building process, the quake's victims built at the same time a supportive community of practice and five straw bales houses by means of manual work, shared knowledge, skills and life experiences. Building this ephemeral place was fundamental in order to give to the victims' the possibility to rescue themselves by rescuing their upset environment. Manual work in the E.V.A. permits not only to be mentally occupied in practical operations in order to forget the quake but also to rediscover body's specific abilities and environmental affordances.

As a collective healing experience rebuilding after quakes could be considered as a process of newly becoming entangled with the world. In this panel/workshop we try to give a taste of this entangled process.

Love, Delay and Care or, the Anarchic Share: Steps Towards Responsible Worlding

Author: Alberto Altes Arlandis (TU Delft) email

Short abstract

Responsible worlding practices need to contribute to increasing the sheer amount of care and love in/on the planet: non-cynical love and care are our tools and energies, intensities and attentions, to resist cynicism and toxic irresponsibility.

Long abstract

As architects, artists, designers and thinkers, as inhabitants and makers of the worlds we live in, we need responsible practices that make us aware of the things we care about and the ways in which such care matters: the impact it has in the mattering of the world. Maria Puig de la Bellacasa explains how “care joins together an affective state, a material vital doing, and an ethico-political obligation”. Speaking of matters of care – beyond matters of concern and matters of fact –, can be useful in helping us understand material obligations and responsibilities, while remaining critical to moralism(s) and humanist explanations.

This contribution will approach responsibility and matters of care in spatial practices, exploring architectures of encounter, attention and care. Responsible worlding practices need to contribute to increasing the sheer amount of care and love in/on the planet: non-cynical love and care are our tools and energies, intensities and attentions, to resist cynicism and toxic irresponsibility. Combining dwelling and performative perspectives, I will address the interplays of matter/care, as nouns and verbs, understanding care as a doing, as a situated ethics and as a politics of architecture, to explore the fragile power of the anarchic share: an active listening, a generous gifting, an open encounter based on accepting we are not single beings, and carefully enduring the waiting of becoming-with others in/through an amphibian, constituting practice.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.