The range of actions deployed by design professions have seldom entered the debate regarding the relationship between city, rights, and powers. The legitimacy of design actions, though, undergoes the same fragmentation that, in a complementary fashion, questions both the credibility of physical limits in defining what a city is (for instance walls, urban morphology, the district) as well as the universal validity of the rights that are spatially defined by such units.
The project of architecture is often the carrier of a “tyranny of values” (Schmitt, 1966), as it breeds paradigms centered on form, on function or even on consensus, that, for instance, have indirectly reinforced the High-Tech trend, the naturalization of technology and of ecology in the project, as well as the various declinations of participatory action. Perhaps design can still offer itself as a complex dialogical form intended as the sum of technical and relational knowledge sets, and maintain its “discursive” role: nonetheless, the development of such a discursive potential implies the opening of a dialogue with the juridical (Butler, 2012) and historical disciplines (in light of the fact that even the hard sciences have been by now historicized) as well as with geography and the human sciences that deal with the urban dimension.
On these premises, this call for papers proposes three main lines of reasoning.
[The project as apparatus for the transfer and translation of values and rights]
The principle of authority as answer to growing complexity allowed for the affirmation of a priori legitimized positions within international debate, from a form of creativity which coincides with star-architects and their signature, to scientifically tested – and thus guaranteed – systems of technical knowledge (Blau, 1976). Today, architecture and – in part- design, answer not only to simplified representations of reality (Smart, Green, Sustainable architecture and city…), but also to systems of values and rights which are external to their own possibilities for negotiation and decision, and often decontextualized from the places in which they produce effects. In this situation, architectural design reads like a technical discipline relying on set ideologies, which cannot be the result of transactions and exchanges constructed along the way. Is this disciplinary marginality a given, or can it be improved upon?
[The project as strategy for the statement and construction of rights]
The political foundation of space has been constructed, ever since antiquity, on the definition of boundary (Barbera, 2017; Gaeta, 2004; Hansen, 1999). Today, the coincidence between physical and juridical boundary appears to blur, while, on the contrary, the web of rights that have stratified over space have multiplied in representations and self-referentiality. How can the transformation of space through the tool of architectural projects facilitate the construction of new rights (of access, of ownership, of citizenship, of use, of cultural and symbolic representation) and guarantee their stability?
This same constitutive bond governing space has succeeded, since V-Century Athens, in tying together narrative, democracy, rights and design (Loraux, 1997). Today, these concepts seem to indicate self-referential threads, working towards separate objectives: storytelling, electoral consensus, normativity of procedures, technical and economical efficacy, etc. Is this specialization of competence sets necessary and inevitable, or is it still possible to recompose these seemingly separate dimensions through the design of physical space?
[The project as map for a space of fragmented rights]
On the one hand, rights answer to a system of values and norms that were made autonomous from space, and rather functional to other dimensions (for instance, the financial sphere or even the World Wide Web). On the other, clusters of rights that are increasingly fragmented and hidden can define other types of spatial boundaries, for which neither ideologies of sprawl nor jeux d’échelles (Revel, 1996) seem to offer effective interpretive strategies. Megalopolises like Mexico City, São Paulo, Mumbai, Guangzhou, rely on boundaries governed by property legislations, on increasingly stronger physical barriers, on a model of city that works through closed sub-communities – gated communities- and through research clusters inaccessible to new ‘strangers in the city’ (as it happens, for instance, in the case of Google, Amazon, or Facebook in California). These are socially impenetrable enclaves, not only because the communities living there abide to informal rules that are much more rigid than formal ones (thus replicating forms of self-segregation like the ones regulating the favelas or those districts founded on religious exclusiveness), but also because those rules are legitimized and recognized by outside society as well, thus maintaining and reinforcing their conditions of separation.
Today, the boundaries that politically shape space, which is often seen as globalized and abstract, are marked by rights that are increasingly “corporative” and often made invisible – as in the case of Asian smart cities designs. Which are the implications of this? In such conditions, where the separation of space coincides with a segregation of rights, which design action can be of use? Can the project of architecture critically confront conditions such as the ones described?
This call for papers addresses scholars that variously deal with the spatial, social and political dimension of urban transformations, and that through the proposition of theoretical argumentations, case studies, and field work, attempt to answer one or more of the following questions:
- Can the project of architecture transfer a system of general values and rights within a specific action of spatial transformation? And if so, through which scientific alliances, and, even more importantly, with which outcomes?
- Does the project of architecture have the power of dialoguing with the juridical foundation of space? If so, through which tools can this power be effective?
- Can the design of space still be the tool through which to reframe narratives, democracy and rights?
- Is it possible to unhinge the segregated system of rights through the action of the project, or should we give in to the clustered structure of contemporary urban space?