26 August 2010

Space Agents

Wow, it’s been a while since my last post. If and when I do retire this space, I dream of converting it into more of a database of ideas than a reverse-chronological history of my random walks.

For instance, I like what’s happening at spatialagency.net, a database of architectural practices engaged with social and political concerns. The last few years have seen growing number of projects cataloging design and architecture for good, but I think this one has a nice historical breadth and expansive perspective of what constitutes a design practice. I’m not totally down with the “acting on behalf of-” line, but I like the emphasis on context:

Spatial Agency is an ongoing research project that aims to shift the of focus of architectural discourse from one that is centred around the design (= building) and making (= technology) of buildings to one where architecture is understood as a situated and embedded praxis conscious of and working with its social, economic and political context.

In the spirit of Cedric Price the project started with the belief that a building is not necessarily the best solution to an architectural problem. Architecture, and it is easy to forget this, is about a lot more than just objects in space. The project attempts to uncover a second history of architecture, one that looks at other ways that people have operated beyond the building, working on behalf of others as spatial agents. Buildings are of course not excluded, but the project expands its reach to cover all aspects of spatial production - from publications to pedagogy, activism to enabling.

The project therefore aims to re-focus attention on those episodes of architectural and spatial practice where architects take a pro-active role in helping to shape the production of the built environment. These instances are often stories of architects initiating rather than just reacting, of architects taking action rather than merely responding, of architects co-formulating issues rather than just replying to a given set of problems.

Clearly, this shift of emphasis and involvement has repercussions on the role of the architect within the processes of production. Allowing others into the process of design and making necessarily means that negotiation and deliberation, but also inconsistency and conflict, become key components of every project. Rather than seeing these terms as pejorative, Spatial Agency sees these terms as a signal for genuine advance in inquiry.

Through this different reading of architecture, Spatial Agency attempts to develop a new perspective and point of reference for understanding architecture. Our aim is to gather an inspiring set of examples of how spatial intelligence has been applied to a variety of international contexts. The examples of individuals, groups and projects collated in this database all show a desire to critically interrogate the status quo. They show architecture's capacity for transformative action and, even more importantly, how the role of the architect can be extended to take into account the consequences of architecture as much as the objects of architecture. In this we hope to point people towards ways in which architects and other designers may address a broader field than previously defined, and so give a new scope, even hope, to the profession.


A book will be published by Routledge in 2011. The format combines an encyclopaedia of 150 entries with a set of extended essays. It will investigate the limits of standard architectural approaches, which tend to focus on the production of the building as aesthetic and technical object. It introduces the idea of ‘spatial agency’-or how architects and others might operate as agents with others in the production of social space. It will argue that the role of the architect can be extended to take into account the consequences of architecture as much as the objects of architecture.

The encyclopaedia of spatial agency will cover practitioners, key terms, important texts, countries, and exemplary projects. Each entry will be illustrated and cross-referred to others in order to allow the reader to move around the book in multiple ways. The book should be a useful guide to students and younger architects who are increasingly looking for alternative ways of working.