Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A Research Proposal

I'm sure some of you have wondered what the hell most of what I discuss has to do with architecture or, or indeed how I can reconcile the architectural thinking with this nonsense. Well...here we go...

The following is a report on what I hope to accomplish. More in depth material to follow.

Introduction - Context

The question ‘What is Architecture’ has never really been adequately answered, at least not in the contemporary era. The answer ‘Architecture is a social art’ comes pretty close in my opinion. This phrase, however, raises yet more questions, asking us to delve into what the word ‘social’ really means. It was this line of thinking which lead me to write ‘The Destruction of Architecture’ as my MArch dissertation, bringing me into contact with the work of Martin Heidegger and the new field of Social Neuroscience.

This gathering of ideas has allowed me to interrogate my own feelings and intentions as a designer. Being able to interrogate the sociology of the client or prospective users of the design enables the production of a more precise design brief. Additionally, having an awareness of my  own attitudes towards a client or possible user allows me to adjust these feelings should they be unbalanced. 

It is my intention to develop these ideas into a cohesive multi-disciplinary model which can be used to critique acts-of-design. As it has enabled me to become more aware of my motivations and prejudices (latent or otherwise) I believe it could be used to investigate the motivations and prejudices of other designers. In short, I would like to develop a model of ‘reflexive design.’

When I began to expand the model I realised that the smaller the piece of deign the more nuanced it’s social properties. On the other hand, the larger the piece of design, and the more diverse social groups who use/interact with it, the more explicit the social effects should become. It was this, along with a pre-existing interest, which lead me to a critique of urban planning in the city of Belfast. 

As a city which can be perceived as divided, conciliated, ripe for regeneration, or a cultural battleground, Belfast is a city of multiple spatial interpretations and should therefore provide a fascinating testing ground for this new sociological model.

Methodology (Aims and Objectives)

Develop Model
The model is still in a relatively basic form. In order to develop it further I propose an extensive lit. review and interpretation of ideas. There is a significant amount of literature on sociology and philosophy and it’s application to architecture/urbanism, not to mention the emerging field of Social Neuroscience which few design theorists have considered.

Apply Model - Belfast’s Planning ‘Habitus’
Once the model has been further developed I then propose to investigate planning in Belfast. These issues have interested me for several years now, first being brought to my attention when taking part in the first Forum for Alternative Belfast summer school. It became clear to me then that Belfast’s urban and social problems haven’t all been caused by ‘The Troubles.’

The model could be used to interrogate the intentions of Belfast’s planners, both past and present. I propose a literature review on Belfast's planning history which could then be developed into a speculative ‘Reflexive history.’ I then propose to carry out a series of interviews and critiques of planning maps to delve into Belfast’s ‘Planning Habitus.’

Test Model - Belfast Urban Analysis
I should now be able to define a series of study areas based on planning decisions and intentions past and present. Once defined I can  select an ‘Alternative Habitus’ within these areas, one which is embedded in the lived experience of the area.

A methodology for interrogating this Habitus will need to be developed based upon the context of the Habitus itself. This mapping of the ‘Alternative Habitus’ can then be compared with the ‘Planning Habitus’ and conclusions can be drawn. I will then return to the theoretical model and appraise it based on these conclusions.

The Model So Far

This model is based upon the rejection of post-enlightenment metaphysics and the idea that the subjectivity of the mind conforms to the objectivity of reality. It suggests that we can never be said to know objective reality, but that we conform to a socialised interpretation of it. The following terms are key to the model.

Value can be attributed to anything which stimulates the human senses; a product of human homeostasis.

Use-value can be attributed to anything that directs our action on the world; an awareness of a human want or need.

Phenomena possesses both value and use-value.

Projects comprise of linked together phenomena and are aimed toward the satisfaction of the identified want or need.

Exchange-value is a communicable use-value; something which identifies the want or need of more than one person.

Commodities possess value, use-vale and exchange-value. They are socialised phenomena.

Habitus is comprised of commodified sets of projects, the Platonic way-of-being of a collection of people achieved through an agreement reached using social discourse.

Cultural-capital is achieved by subscribers to a Habitus who perform or act within the Habitual guidelines in an exemplary fashion.

Political discourse occurs when two or more Habitual constructs occupy the same space enabling more than one way-of-being to exist simultaneously utilising conflict or compromise.

Recent research into the philosophical underpinnings of mapping reinforces the reflexive model outlined above. Long regarded as the objective representation of space, the underlying philosophy and sociology of cartography has been challenged by the interdisciplinary field of social geography over the past decade and mapping is now acknowledged as being closely related to the metaphysical conception of space and territoriality.

Maps, in the traditional Cartesian view, are accurate representations of objective reality. To use Heidegger’s description of the enlightenment model, if our relationship with the world is similar to that of water being inside the glass then mapping attempts to describe the glass which contains us. However, using our reflexive model we can now describe the production of a map as the commodification of a spatial understanding. In the introduction to the volume ‘Mappings,’ Denis Cosgrove describes this as the move from an objective view of mapping to “an opaque view...which takes account of the selections, omissions, additions and inescapable contextual influences which shape the outcome of such transfers.”

Maps, then, can be described as a representation of the spatiality of the Habitus to which the cartographer acts as agent.

Mapping and Territory
One of the primary reasons for maps appears to be demarcation of territory, often achieved through an agreement resulting from political discourse between two or more Habitual constructs. Demarcation of territory also manifests as a dominant Habitus exerting power over another Habitus and enforcing a particular conception of spatiality. The mystification of mapping as an objective representation of space has meant that most of the time this enforcement goes unchallenged.

This territoriality, agreed or enforced, is then represented on the map. In the lived experience of the space, however, territoriality appears more fluid. Boundaries are often arranged around commodified elements of landscape which have a use-value and exchange-value related to material or strategic resources. These social and political values are rarely manifested in physical space. We may be able to perceive a hill, river or vein of precious metal, but unless we are privy to specific social, political or economic languages we cannot relate the physical world to the social construct of the boundary, and different Habitual constructs will imbue these elements with different values.

Mapping only refers to the politicisation of territory. This negotiation is carried out on a daily basis within the city as people, as agents of a given Habitus, build and dwell in the Heideggerian sense. Belfast, as a conflicted city, forces this more nuanced social discourse into political discourse manifesting itself in tribal symbolism to signify territories not represented on any official map of the city. This language of symbols can be viewed as a sort of 1:1 mapping of the city, a representation of the city overlaid onto the city itself.

This sectarian manifestation of territoriality is an extreme example, however. The city is awash with Habitual symbols and indicators. No one person is voiced in them all, but the languages are writ-large in the city fabric for those who can read them.

Mapping allows us to re-present (as opposed to represent) the city, but as active agents within the space of the city we are constantly doing this ourselves as we build and dwell as part of Habitual groups. The re-presentation of the city has as much an effect on the space as the space has on it.

1 comment:

  1. excellent given that you are probably the only researcher in a university aware of these issues and imho it is absolutely vital that your work succeeds since you are again imho the only one doing this work in a uni. get to conferences although most conferences are in need of your work, so use them for support, there are some who are inclined to follow your lead, but rarely if ever in the uk. the main danger is to allow yourself to fall into the narcissistic obtusity of the Kantian model that most mappers fall into which is to even imagine that the marks on paper that they call maps are representative of real energy rather than of mapping energy! they hide social paradigms that are based on money and language rather than on human beings. go back to Hegel, and perhaps Zizek, although he is a showman rather than a shaman, and see that understanding has first to be based on human behaviour, of the body as an agent of itself. of course this is not easy!