Most generously, property can be understood as a relational term. A property defines that which is characteristic, or unique, to a given thing vis-à-vis another. Etymologically at its core, it is also a spatial term (pro, prae) – ‘in front of’, ‘what stands before’; or, more divisive, perhaps, ‘that which separates me from you.’ And of course, modern capitalist property regimes rest on the often-violent separation between those that wield power, and those that are subject to it. This seminar course will explore the intersections of architecture and property, with a particular attention to how they come together in law. Not only will we ask who wields properties’ power, and to what end? But also how is that power put into play, what tools (however banal) are necessary to enact it, and how can it be resisted or practiced differently?
The semester is structured in two parts. In the first four sessions, we will explore major themes in contemporary property theory, with special attention to how these themes relate (however loosely) to architectural form. In the second half of the semester, these themes will be expanded through specific topics that allow a deep dive into the relationship between law and architecture. Each week a legal case is paired with secondary texts that help contextualize that week’s topic. We will spend class time unpacking the legal case together, with the aim of understanding how architectural knowledge, either implicitly or explicitly, is at play in the construction of its arguments. The legal cases here are chosen with specific attention to the ways in which they conjure up questions about the relationship between architectural form and social form. Some are landmark decisions (Lawrence v. Texas), some are very much not (Stambovsky v. Ackley). All speak to how architecture and law, together, have historically structured concepts of property and ownership that underlie the modern political world.