The Architect as Producer

In 2020, the interconnected crisis of racist violence, environmental collapse, and the global pandemic prompted profound changes in how we understand what architecture is and what it does. These and other events from the past few years have brought to the foreground the role of architecture in the rise of wealth inequality, racism, patriarchy, land dispossession, labor struggle, and environmental disaster. In this course we examine how architects further these processes and how they might contribute to counter them by turning to the role of architecture within the relations of production.

In his essay “L’Architecture dans le boudoir,” architectural historian Manfredo Tafuri concludes by wondering what might happen were we to shift the focus from what architecture wishes to be or say, to the role the discipline plays within the capitalist system. Citing Walter Benjamin's essay “The Author as Producer,” Tafuri proposes that instead of asking about the attitude of a work to the relations of production, we should ask: what is its position within them? By keeping this central question in mind, he concludes, many of the so-called masterpieces of modern architecture come to take on a secondary or even marginal importance, and many debates are relegated to peripheral considerations.

The course responds to Tafuri’s challenge by considering architecture’s position within the relations of production through four interrelated topics: land, materials, labor, and knowledge. We start by questioning where architecture happens, the land we stand on, the ways in which this land is transformed into real estate and architecture’s role in this process. We then move on to the materials, resources, and objects that architecture is made of, as well as the processes of extraction they are imbricated in. We address the bodies that participate in the making of architecture, from building labor to the role of the architect as worker. We conclude by reflecting on the motivations that animate the discipline and its teaching, and the ways in which it is being unlearned and reimagined.

Students will be evaluated on class participation, discussion facilitation, short writing assignments, and a research project.