11th International Bauhaus-Colloquium 2009 - Call for Papers

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    Weimar, April 01 – 04, 2009

    Architecture in the Age of Empire | Die Architektur der neuen Weltordung

    19.-22. April 2007

    An acephalous power has superseded imperialism, if we can believe Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. This new world order that they call ‘Empire’ transgresses all the inherited divisions of political thought, such as state and society, war and peace, control and freedom, core and periphery. It is a diffuse Foucauldian network of economic, military, political, cultural and social power, “in a permanent state of emergency and exception justified by the appeal to essential values [...].” The decentered and deterritorializing Empire rules through biopolitics, a form of power that regulates social life from within, directly affecting the minds and bodies of the citizens via media, machines and social practices.

    The 11th International Bauhaus Colloquium in April 2009 in Weimar asks how architecture responds to the Empire.

    The Bauhaus Colloquia are the oldest and most esteemed conferences on architectural theory in the German speaking world. The last five meetings – Power (1993), Technofiction (1996), Global Village (1999), Medium Architecture (2003) and The Reality of the Imaginary (2007) – have focused on the effect of changing social and technological conditions on the practice of architecture. The next colloquium will take on the political challenges of our world.

    In the globalized world of today, star architects get their most spectacular commissions from states and leaders who need not consult democratic committees or heed to planning regulations. “The more centralized the power, the less compromises need to be made in architecture,” explains Peter Eisenman. Somewhat incongruously, then, progressive architecture flourishes in countries with repressive regimes and questionable records on human rights.

    Still, economic, political, social and moral issues that pervade any globalized architectural practice tend to be ignored by contemporary critics, Focusing instead on aesthetic aspects of design, such as ornaments, atmospheres and moods, they openly refuse any political or moral responsibility and disclaim the very possibility of resistance to economic or political power.

    Of course, this is not a new attitude. In the early 1920s, realizing that the time of critical, expressionist practice was over, Walter Gropius declared that what is needed is “a resolute affirmation” of the new conditions, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe demanded: “let us accept the changed economic and social conditions as a fact. All these things go their way guided by destiny and blind to values.”

    Certainly, theory can function as ideology but can it also assume a more constructive, projective role of influencing future practice? This is just one of the questions examined by the 11th Bauhaus Colloquium in 2009.

    It will feature about twenty invited speakers and, as a platform to create a lively debate engaging emerging scholars and distinguished experts, a number of workshops with four to six peer-reviewed paper presentations each. The topics of the workshop can be briefly described as follows:

    1. Architecture and Economy – a New Unity?

    Although the Bauhaus was founded in 1919 in the spirit of utopian expressionism, most people today associate the school with rationalist functionalism, the emergence of which was heralded by the great exhibition in 1923. This workshop focuses on that significant year when the Bauhaus changed direction and embraced art and technology as the new unity. What political, economic and social factors contributed to the demise of expressionism and the birth of the functionalist Bauhaus?

    Generalizing from the history of modernism, what is it that controls the evolution of architecture? Was Sigfried Giedion right when he called iron construction the unconscious of modern architecture? Or is it politics, rather than technology, that decides where architecture goes? Should we accept Patrik Schumacher’s claim that the evolution of architecture is autonomous, even autopoietic?


    2. A Junkspace Odyssey

    Given the factors that influence the development of architecture, can architects assume a position of autonomy that would make a critical stance possible, or is architecture by necessity conservative, as Rem Koolhaas, one of the most global architects in the world, suggests?

    The effects of globalization on architectural production are clear: large architectural practices operate across the globe, coordinating networks of planners, consultants and experts that deal with increasingly complex tasks. But how are architecture and urbanism affected by globalization? According to Koolhaas, the new economy breeds generic cities, Junkspace, brands and spectacles. Indeed, in place of the modernist skyscraper with its typical plan, contemporary architects constantly try to reinvent the tower in order to create an unforgettable landmark. While the supple, multicultural aesthetic of Empire would seemingly deactivate the revolutionary potential in globalization, there remains the possibility that the tradition of hybrid identities and expanding frontiers that characterizes Empire also give rise to architectural multiplicities. Does the increasing importance of immaterial labor, such as design, in high value-added sectors of the economy also heighten the powers of subversion? Beyond aesthetic homogenization, what characterizes the global cities of the future?

    3. Sense or Sensuality?

    If architecture is powerless as a form of cultural critique, what is then its proper domain and what are its tools? Recent critics have described a new attitude they call “projective practice” which refrains from cultural criticism, as practiced by the traditional avantgarde, and instead embraces an ethics of instrumentality and an aesthetics of atmospheres.

    Picking up where Nietzsche left off his struggle against the spirit of gravity, Peter Sloterdijk claims that today “the ‘essential’ dwells in lightness, in the air, in the atmosphere.” The concept of atmosphere is central also to projective practice as it provides a non-dialectic device to sustain a particular mood.

    Mood, atmosphere and ornament are a-signifying and apolitical sources of visual pleasure or jouissance, in contrast to the postmodern and deconstructive obsession with meaning. In general, the theory of projective practice is focused on emotional effects, on public space as dramaturgy and on the aesthetization of everyday life, in the phrase of Walter Benjamin. Revisiting another Benjaminian topos, Jeff Kipnis explains that architecture colors life the way a soundtrack colors our experience of a film. How important is aesthetics to the discussion of the built environment, and to what extent should we see architecture as the organization of social relationships, as opposed to an artistic or aesthetic practice?

    4. Intelligent Design

    If architecture escapes literary transcriptions and semiotic analyses because it operates with atmospheres, ambiences and other a-signifying devices, how can the purely architectural be grasped, mapped, or diagrammed as expertise, design intelligence, or architectural knowledge?

    Can such an expertise be explicated, or must it remain non-verbal, tacit – even covert? If this intelligence is strategic, what is the ultimate goal it serves? What is the power that belongs together with the specifically architectural knowledge? How is this expertise transferred through education and how should it be modified in the face of current technological and economic developments?

    Can architectural knowledge be developed as an open source system? Or was Pierre Bourdieu right in suggesting that there is no cognitive expertise (beyond technical matters) that architects would possess and that the alleged specifically architectural knowledge is merely a necessarily antagonistic distinction strategy of small subcultures? Does architectural expertise necessarily involve local knowledge? If so, is it possible to export architectural expertise globally?

    Apply by January 15, 2009

    More information regarding the lectures and presentations is available on www.bauhaus-kolloquium.de. To apply for a presentation, please submit your abstract of max. 300 words, with a brief c.v. to bauhaus-kolloquium[at]uni-weimar.de by January 15, 2009.

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