narratives of love & loathing

Download full discussion paper (with separately bound appendix 4). For AHRC abridged report please see the AHRC website.

The enduring phallic grandeur of the World Trade Towers united a community of people in their resistance to the expansion of western capital and its values. Images of their demise became a rallying point for a geopolitical community that sought to defend those values. Even before they were built, the Towers galvanised local residents, politicians, and architects in opposition to their development, because they were to displace a thriving ethnic community and its cottage industries. Recent development plans in lower Manhattan have demonstrated that they remain the site for the articulation of community identities and geopolitics. Buildings bind symbolic communities to their identities and are party to their formation and dissolution. Although it is almost never mentioned in public debate, individually and collectively we develop powerful affective relations to places: we love them or hate them - especially if we live there - and this is a major driver to the sense of community. The building procurement process - brief-writing, finance, design, construction - can become a lightening rod to these powerful sentiments. 

AmsterdamWTC950.jpgCC some rights reserved Pat Bianculli from Brooklyn, NY, United States                                                                       CC some rights reserved Attribution: Debot

Given its salient position as the form-giver and image-maker of our social environment, architecture is rarely discussed in debates about communities, their identities and the ties that hold them together. Walter Benjamin argued that we receive architecture - unlike painting - in a state of distraction. We never notice our ambient environment until it starts to change. Architecture is under-represented in academic strategic research funding frameworks. And there is a lack of investment in architectural input to decision-making at the policy level. There is a gap, a disconnect, a lacuna in the discourse of communities and that lacuna is architecture.

This AHRC funded project, in the Connected Communities program, aims to substantiate the claims made herein about architecture's importance to community discourse, and illuminate this lacuna in the discourse, by reviewing the literature on architecture and communities in every discipline of the humanities except architecture.

Stage 1 studies the literature on the role of architecture as symbol, identity, and process, and will be guided by reference to the great social theorists (e.g., Simmel, Benjamin, Foucault, Lefebvre, Fredric Jameson, et al.) that look at the impact of cities and their institutions on social formations. It will focus on discussions of buildings and key places in the public eye (icons like the World Trade Towers, Scottish Parliament, St. Paul's, Highbury & Islington, Elephant & Castle, Edinburgh New Town).

Stage 2 studies post-war neighbourhoods as 'worked examples' of community connectivity and relations. These large scale developments are quasi-independent new environments, as opposed to additions to existing ones. Recent developments that have received particular attention in the arts and social science literature due to their ambition, and which have been planned by interdisciplinary teams of social scientists, economists, planners, artists, and architects, include IJburg (a new suburb of Amsterdam which took 18th C Edinburgh New Town as one of its models), and Bijlmermeer (neighbourhood in Amsterdam Zuidoost, rebuilt a number of times), chosen because they are benchmark projects that represent a spread of statistical features and approaches to project governance. 

ahrclogo.JPG Arts and Humanities Research Council