Mapping the Political Economy of Space

“The ability to think critically involves three things: (1) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one’s experiences, (2) knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and (3) some skill in applying those methods. Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends. It also generally requires ability to recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems, to gather and marshal pertinent information, to recognize unstated assumptions and values, to comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discrimination, to interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments, to recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions, to draw warranted conclusions and generalizations, to put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives, to reconstruct one’s patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience, and to render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life.” Edward M. Glaser, An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking, Teacher’s College, Columbia University, 1941. 

There is no such thing as neutral space. Topography and soil history, land use and tenure chronicle, housing demands and construction costs, public policies, plot subdivision and zoning, access to water and electricity networks and other public infrastructure, negotiations and financing schemes, urban codes and insurance policies, location and surrounding context, project design and materiality choices, excavation works, execution and construction settings, labor force and machinery, completion and real estate mechanisms, occupancy, use and expansion, decay and destruction: at every turn, several agents and forces act upon space. The production of architecture and urban form is grounded in power structures, and articulating a possible political economy of space uncovers how the house, the neighborhood, the city, and the territory partake in the violent and unjust spatiality of power.

This seminar is set on understanding what forces shape the built environment and in what ways by uncovering the social, economic, or political forces that impact and generate the physical and technological features of our world. The aim is to enhance our capacity to reflect on spatial conditions in a critical way, and use representation tools available to designers to do so.

First by discussing specific projects and theories, we shall get familiar with methods to organize, clarify, formulate, question, and discuss our process of thinking in relation to the built environment, and to reflect critically on the production of space, and the various concepts necessary to critical thinking (i.e. Henri Lefebvre, Keller Easterling, Neil Smith, Isabelle Stengers). Mappings and graphic representations shall be produced in order to untangle the actors and forces acting upon space, to investigate and uncover the relationship between social, economic, and political processes and spatial form. Ultimately, the aim is to articulate a definition of what a possible political economy of space could entail, and how to use it as a critical thinking tool within design and research practices.

Note: the instructor will offer live course presentations on 08/31, and/or 09/01. To access the detailed schedule and Zoom links, please visit the Live Course Presentations Website.

Due to no classes being offered on Labor Day and course selections being due on Wednesday, September 9, this course has scheduled a first irregular meeting on Monday, August 31, 4:35-6.00 pm EDT. Please make sure to check the Canvas site of the course for the meeting Zoom links.