Architecture’s Bodies: Agency and Biopolitics

The aim of this seminar is to think carefully about how bodies engage with architecture and the built environment. In examining the relationships between ideological constructions of the modern “subject” and the physical constructions that house those subjects, we will explore how architecture mediates between body and politic. Topics will include rights and rights discourse, citizenship, theories of race and gender, and technologies of life and death.

In an explicit departure from architectural discourses that have perhaps framed the human experience as homogeneous, we will begin from the premise that bodies are not singular. A particular aim of this course will be to attend to the ways in which differences in race, gender, class, and ability affect access to, and the experience of, the built environment. Through theoretical and historical texts, we will consider the lived-experience of subjects and the ways in which subjects are governed and guided by their world. The semester will be structured around a series of spaces in the built environment of varying scales. These will include: the ramp/elevator, the screen, the hold; the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen; the street, the plantation, the factory; the examination room, the field, the office campus, the courtroom. Throughout, we will aim to think about these spaces and their associations with bodies in multiple ways. We will ask: what role has architecture played in the transformations of biological bodies into political bodies? And, concurrently, by what means does the built environment allow for, encourage, or preclude individual agency?

This is a reading seminar, focused on in-class discussions of assigned texts. Assignments will be structured as short progressive writing exercises culminating in a final research paper or annotated bibliography. Readings will include theoretical work from authors such as Sara Ahmed, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, bell hooks, Tanya Titchkosky, and Alexander Wehileye; and historians such as Adrienne Brown, Aimi Hamraie, Walter Johnson, Reinhold Martin, and Mabel O. Wilson. Our historical focus will cohere around select episodes in the Atlantic world from the 18th to 21st centuries.