design philosophy papers

I published my first peer-reviewed article this week in design philosophy papers. The article is called "democratic social architecture or experimentation on the poor? ethnographic snapshots." The article presents "social architecture," the Bruce Nussbaum debate, ethnographic snapshots from the Rural Studio, Architecture for Humanity, and the Alley Flat Initiative, and my suggestion that architects forge deeper alliances with social movements such as the Right to the City Alliance (or now, perhaps, the Occupy Wall Street movement). The article can be found by clicking here and the introduction is below...


Education as the battle between ideas...

I recently reflected upon my education for Marlboro College's "After Marlboro: Stories of Recent Graduates Off the Hill." Text below...

To me, interdisciplinary study supports the battle between ideas. The skirmish of my Plan of Concentration at Marlboro College was between disciplines with writing, film and community architecture. I have gone on to study in an “interdisciplinary” architecture masters program based out of Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus, Germany, called Architektur.Studium.Generale. But now I realize that interdisciplinary study does not translate easily between different institutions. Not all schools support the ideological battleground.


my abstract for "architecture and the political" conference

I will be presenting a paper at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon, at a conference called "Architecture and the Political: The Fourth International Symposium on Architectural Theory."

Below is the abstract that I submitted to the conference. The final paper will vary somewhat from the below..


on a donkey's trail

I am on a student's journey. Years ago I traveled across the US, and over the last year I have traveled through Europe: Germany, Estonia, Portugal, Poland, Austria, and Spain. My body has moved through space. I am in a graduate program that takes me to these countries, working with faculty in different cities, and producing many architectural projects.

My mind too has gone on a kind of journey. This journey may have not been as visually observable or prescribed by the graduate program. However, my mind has taken highways, flights, trains, and paths. I have explored many directions. I have tested ideas. I have met new philosophies. 


Resisting Shock Urbanization

We must reconsider the role of the architect today because society has serious climatic, political, and economic crises. Climate change has exacerbated hurricanes tearing apart cities and droughts driving people off their farmlands — resulting in the largest human migration in history. Cities urgently need to be built and rebuilt.


Call for Papers — September 2011

Below is a list of Call for Papers that I have put together that I think look interesting. Feel free to post related CFPs below.

August 31st, 2011

West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Conference Founders: Curry Malott, John Elmore, and Brad Porfilio
Date: November 18th and 19th 2011

Proposals for papers, panels, performances, workshops, and other multimedia presentations should include title(s) and names and contact information for presenter(s). The deadline for sending prooposals is August 31, 2011. The Steering Committee will email acceptance or rejection notices by September 8, 2011. The proposal formats available to the presenters are as follows:


Architecture as Process and The Urban-Think Tank

I recently read an article by the Urban Think-Tank (UTT) called "SOUTHERN EXPOSURES" in an old archithese magazine from March 2010 that advocates for "social responsibility in architecture and architectural education."


The Zero Degree of Political Space



Keywords: The Project of Autonomy, Stop City, Pier Vittorio Aureli, nonfigurative architecture, Jacques Rancière, capitalism, the political

This paper traces a history of political thought and its impact on Italian architects Aldo Rossi and Archizoom – in which the architectural project became an autonomous reaction to capitalism – and on Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara’s Stop City, which continues the nonfigurative architectural tradition and confronts biopower. I will develop my own nonfigurative political architecture with Jacques Rancière’s distinction between the police order and politics to intertwine a political-architectural strategy for the part with no part in architectural language. Rancière critiques the forms of politics – beginning with Plato and Aristotle – that have manipulated and created a fair appearance to control the people. Rancière redefines politics – not as a set of institutions or distribution of “equal lots” – but as the continuous ideological battle between the police logic and the egalitarian logic. Rancière’s politics in based in recognizing that all people contain an equal intelligence, whereas political philosophy has created forms that inhibit people through ways of being, ways of feeling, and ways of thinking. The zero degree space of politics is the public square, which is all that can be master planned for the interaction between worlds. The first step of political architecture is only to create a stage for disagreement, a place where individuals build their own forms, engage in their own discussion, and construct their own society. The only way for the architect to rekindle the revolutionary subject is through providing the stage for the people to rekindle their own subjectivity by physically building their self-defined society.

1. A City From Zero
Our project is to conduct a radical rethinking of the city to confront great problems of our era. In trying to create the city to solve all problems one must try to locate the essential flaw in the contemporary city. I will argue that the essential flaw of the city is the misconception of the political. I will trace a certain political history of architecture in Italy, as presented by Pier Vittorio Aureli’s The Project of Autonomy, Aureli and Martino Tattara’s Stop City, and I will then redefine politics with Jacques Rancière’s Disagreement.
Our project is to design a city from zero. In Cities From Zero, a book based on a symposium at the Architectural Association in 2006, authors challenge the rush to master plan cities in China and the Gulf Empire of Dubai with very Western-biased models of planning. Pier Vittorio Aureli examines the zero level of planning in the west and the east, the Greek polis and the Chinese city of walls, one of public involvement and one of public control.[1] My project will start from a similar zero level: I will try to come to terms with a history of architecture and the political; I will analyze how Aureli and Tattara attempt to create a new political architecture; I will integrate a new version of how to define politics; and I will develop a political architectural strategy from the city’s degree zero and the zero degree of the political.

2. Framing the Political Climate
I will begin my project by framing two misconceptions about our current socio-economic system – globalization and neoliberal capitalism – to establish a critical grounding for my historical and theoretical architectural attempt at resolving the injustices of the city. Today people broadly believe that globalization has connected the entire world, both physically with transportation and verbally with internet technologies, which is providing new opportunities for the previously excluded people to move up the social and economic latter. The free market in its neoliberal phase – which attempts to privatize everything – has been championed as the final stage in economic evolution to provide the most equality, opportunity, and freedom. Gabriel Rockhill challenges the preconception of globalization and neoliberal capitalism in his paper “A Specter is Haunting Globalization.”[2] He begins by asking a series of questions that challenge the assumptions that the world is becoming smaller, more connected, and more accessible to everyone. Rockhill recognizes a number of inconsistencies in the supposed “leveling of the playing field” because so-called globalization disproportionally connecting the richest countries.

Can we really talk about a global information and communication system when less than 30 per cent of the world's population has regular access to Internet outside of North America, Australia, and Europe? Can a rhizomatic system of air transportation mostly connecting major economic centers, airport hubs, and tourist attractions really be considered a global system of transportation, especially considering all of the necessary documents (passports, visas, and so forth) and the substantial financial resources required to use it? ... And lastly, how can we talk about the unification of the world when 'international' organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF are at least partially responsible for redistributing wealth from the poorest countries to the riches ones?[3]

Socialism Historicism = Capitalist Historicism. [4]

Rockhill centers his discussion on the difference between the “word” globalization and the “thing” globalization. Rockhill argues that the “word” has been defined in the rich world as their world becomes more connected, whereas the “thing” of globalization is not so equally distributed throughout the world. Rockhill goes on to relate the linguistic problem to economic systems, in which the failures and assumptions of what he calls “vulgar Marxism” are now quite similar “popular capitalism.”
Rockhill develops an intriguing relationship between the supposedly flawed characteristics of Marxism (which he prefaces to label “vular Marxism” or a Marxism not necessarily meant by Marx, but a misinterpretation or false-intellectualization of his work) and the “triumphant” capitalism. Rockhill identifies “vulgar Marxism” was refuted because (1) the supposed techno-economic determinism did not result in all capitalist societies having communist revolutions, (2) the communist revolutions did not create elgalitarian societies, but totalitarian regimes, and (3) the inevitable evolution of history encountered significant resistance.[5] Therefore, in our modern minds, while Marxism failed for the above reasons – it is assumed that neoliberal capitalism is unquestionably the best of possible economic systems.
However, Rockhill points out how “popular capitalism” has reproduced the same historical assumptions that “vulgar Marxism” produced for self-legitimation. Capitalism has developed (1) a reductive technio-economic determinism in which the Market imposes historically accurate laws, (2) the linear trajectory of economic progress toward a single end of the absolute freedom of trade, and (3) the inevitable structure of history as unavoidable and the supposedly natural spread of modern technology and the politico-economic system of neoliberalism.[6] Now neoliberal capitalism is supposedly a self-realizing prophecy, which unfortunately creates the same kind of “citizen passivity” that the socialist societies created.[7] After razor sharp analysis of the assumptions and outcomes of both vulgar Marxism and capitalism – Rockhill advocates for people to recognize that “history is not destiny.”[8]

3. A History of Political Architecture or The Project of Autonomy
If there is no destiny then we must challenge all previous assumptions. As Pier Vittorio Aureli advocated for in a lecture at the Architectural Association in March, “We all have to learn Greek.”[9] Therefore, I want to start my inquiry in the history of political architecture – the project of autonomy.[10] Architecture is a fascinating discipline and practice because its outcome is built form. The architect’s task is not only to build those forms, but to read the history of form, write about form, theorize about form, to draw form, and perhaps only then to try and build form. Architecture then becomes the intriguing task of realizing form – entering reality – the way a poem may never do as it is sung in a crowd or collects dust on the shelf. Inquiring into politics and architecture, I am chiefly concerned with realizing structures for justice.
Pier Vittorio Aureli has mapped the evolution of a particular political thought in Italy and its impact on architects. The project roots the architectural methodology in a historically and theoretically rigorous conception of the political “alternative to the one imposed by capitalist reality,” which also challenged the very practices of the architect.[11]
Aureli begins the political history in Italy with Raniero Panzieri who critiqued the vulgar Marxist forms of state socialism and economic determinism. Panzieri suggested focusing on the autonomy of the political subject – separating them from their workplace of production – to free them from the layers of technological and cultural controls, which Aureli suggests is a theoretical anticipation of what Foucualt called biopower. Next, Mario Tonti integrated  “negative thought,” which meant the autonomous subject must recognize the two-sided relationship between “friend/enemy” or proletariat/bourgeoisie. The negative aspect of politics is recognizing struggle. Negative thinking was expanded upon by the Italian journal Contropiano:

a counterplan could not simply be conceived as a political intervention, but also, and especially, as a cultural and theoretical reflection. It was in this content that the journal was forwarded its editorial line through broad theoretical considerations on such different fields as philosophy, architecture, and urbanism, and through vast genealogical projects of reconstruction aimed at an alternative history of bourgeois thought.[12]

Negative thought developed the idea to challenge the society from within by developing an antagonistic orientation towards the systems of control and power in bourgeois capitalism. Contropiano broadened negative thought – which anticipates the terminology of “the political” – beyond the boundaries of philosophy to include architecture and urbanism.
Aureli then traced these currents in political philosophy to Aldo Rossi (who was a member of the Italian socialist party for many years) and Archizoom because they conceptualized and rooted their work in the political. Rossi had done extensive ethnographic research and writing on architecture, which he recognized as “the will of the bourgeoisie to assert and represent itself.”[14] For Rossi, the political architecture as a project of autonomy did not mean open-ended projects that were popular mystifications, but to make visible what was invisible, to construct a building as a “locus” of opposition to the neocapitalist city.
Archizoom also developed an architectural strategy that was rigorously grounded in the Italian political critique of capitalism – in which they also attempted to expose bourgeoisie life – to inspire the revolutionary subject through its horror.[15] No-Stop City is a nonfigurative (or abstract) architectural project that x-rayed of the city to observe “architecture stripped of all qualities and reduced to a rigorous representation of the system prepared for a new use.”[16] Here, the architect examined the capitalist city, provided a manual for citizen appropriation, and conducted this analysis through the disciplinary nature of architecture – with drawings. The project rejected “iconic exuberance” of other groups such as Archigram that were celebrating technology. Instead, No-Stop City was a useless plan until made useful through appropriation by the user.

Archizoom floor plan. (click for source)

The Project of Autonomy provides a good lesson on the method of grappling with political theory and translating it into the disciplinary methodologies of architecture. Aureli recognizes "it was one of the most rigorous efforts ever attempted to theorize a grand narrative of the political, challenging the very premises of capitalism."[17] Unfortunately, the discipline of architecture itself destroyed what was most valuable and unique about the project – the integration of political thinking into the architectural process – when the project was exhibited by Emilio Ambasza at MOMA in 1972 under the title of “Radical Architecture.” The project’s political legacy was virtually entirely lost as a result of artists and architects celebrating the aesthetics of the project. This trend continues to this day. Political architectural projects that receive recognition are those with an aesthetic appeal to the broader architectural community, which the broader culture then appropriates and reproduces in its regime of publications that sheds projects of political relevance to celebrate aesthetics.[18]

Political architecture projects have been celebrated for their aesthetic achievements and shed of their political awareness.[19]

4. Stop City
Aureli and Martino Tattara develop a new nonfigurative architecture with their project called Stop City.[20] They begin their political critique with biopower: “In Europe economic power extends its possibilities of management and reproduction within the most progressive forms of "bottom-up" creativity, participation and reproduction.”[21]

What if “bottom-up” creativity is the new biopolitical control mechanism? Image source: [21]
Aureli and Tattara search for an architecture that can confront “the whole spectrum of social activities as the ones related to culture, media, and education and all the bio-political means of (re)production.”[23] Their project attempts to return architecture to providing order. Aureli and Tattara argue that order is relevant to confront the endless spread of biopower and biopolitics. Therefore, they suggest limiting the spread of biopower with city form. The city’s form must have a limit: as the “physical space of limit … stoppage to the endless growth of the city,” and to the “conceptual clarity and formal exemplarity.”[24]

Aureli and Tattara argue that his Stop City is the “absolute architecture” of the city. Where the city itself is an absolute architecture of eight slabs that are mixed use, each slab a “city within a city.”[25] Stop City is:

an architecture without attributes – in other words an architecture that is freed from image, from style, from the obligation to extravagance, from the useless invention of new forms. Stop City is architecture freed from itself; it is the form of the city. [26]
Aureli and Tattara are responding directly to No-Stop City and to Ildefanso Cerda’s plan for Barcelona, each plan of which he signified as being endless to the growth and an attempt to manage biopolitical production. Aureli and Tattara criticize the plans as being reformist because they contained “their political subjectivity” – the projects did not attempt to liberate the people for themselves, but attempted to provide solutions. [27]

Stop City builds on top of Archizoom’s No-Stop City by “following the idea that the working class is strongest only at the level of its utmost level of alientation.” (6) Therefore, Stop City is essentially an awkward balance between utopian and dystopian, or better put, a concept in which the revolutionary subject can only be awoken through a dystopian urban horror: limit and pure form. The city is a critique against “sociologists, artists, and architects [that] effortlessly map, analyze and celebrate as the triumph of diversity and of difference” – which is heavily related to Rockhill’s conception of globalization we highlighted earlier – as a mystification:

behind the superficial praise (and facile image of) for multiplicity, the mystification concerns the fact that the pervasiveness of work within the entire spectrum of social relationships implies an ethos made of increasing generic, uprootedness and abstraction with which contemporary forms of production actualize their processes within society. Urban theories and social analysis that overlook this reality produce the same kind of rhetoric rehearsed by images of the city as a site of value-free congestion, leisure, spectacle, and consumption. [29]

Stop City  (click for image source) [29] 
Aureli and Tattara’s Stop City is the “political, and aesthetic surplus” for “stimulating a new class consciousness that may introduce stoppages – i.e. a limit – within the continuous space of urbanization.” [31] The project is proposed at the scale of the entire city to confront the scale of the city. Attempting to recreate the revolutionary subject, Aureli and Tattara write that “political subjects are made of the balance of powers at stake,” which is the concept of the “political” inherited from the Operaists and will be expanded upon by Rancière in the next section.[32]

This excessive subjectivity cannot be proposed through architecture, but architecture can provoke this subjectivity to emerge and take a position. It is precisely in this framework that Stop City introduces the issue of limit as its main theme. Architecture no longer as what implies growth, extension, multiplication, flexibility, but as the practice that limits such possibility.  According to this logic, architecture does not become the design of everything, but becomes what releases everything from being designed. [33]

Aureli and Tattara’s vision provides insight into a method of strategizing a political architecture that beings from ideas and reconfigures those ideas into an “absolute form of the architectural project.” [34]

5. Jacques Rancière’s Disagreement
Jacques Rancière will provide a more detailed and contemporary theorization of developing the revolutionary subject in the context of the Foucaultian biopolitical world – or what is now being referred to as a post-political or post-demicratic stage of late capitalism. If we are attempting to design a new city – and I have chosen to focus on the history of a political architecture so as to find some guidance in this project – I must also start at the “zero level” of the political before proposing some city from zero.

(click for image source)  [34]

Rancière begins his political analysis from the zero degree. He begins by asking the essential question: “Is there any such thing as political philosophy?” Rancière wants to begin from the beginning – from the Greeks – to establish what is meant by politics. Rancière describes how both Plato and Aristotle recognized that the reason for inventing politics is to try to mediate between the universal conflict in society between the rich and the poor, those who have and those who have not, or as later Rancière will define – those who are counted and those who are not counted, or those who have voice and those who have no voice.
(image: Is there any such thing as political philosophy?)

Rancière breaks down the system of politics established by Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s party politics through a complex set of analysis and descriptions. Plato sought to resolve the division between the rich and the poor through what Rancière calls “archipolitics,” the logical solution in which a "hierarchical order of the city where the head rules the stomach" – the philosopher kings or the educated, over the less good.[36] The Republic is governed by divine people who establish laws that are meant not to be restrictive, but to seduce the people with a story for “spiritual nourishment” that creates city order. [37] The story is a performance that manipulates the assumed “vegetative existence” of the people – it is the resolution to solve democracy’s paradox – how to give part to those with no part – "by performing an imitation of politics in negating it."[38] The philosopher kings distribute “ways of being and ways of doing, ways of feeling and ways of thinking, with nothing left over."[39] The republican project is the “complete psychologizing and sociologizing of the elements of the political apparatus."[40]

Rancière also examines what he refers to as Aristotle’s “metapolitics,” in which the city is no longer run by the philosopher kings or the most educated, but becomes the institutionalization of conflict between two parties, which Rancière argues is a rearrangement of “the components of the democratic apparatus (the appearance…) in the forms of rationality of the good government.”[41] However, what is fundamental to “metapolitics” – Rancière argues – is that it is based on a lie in which participation or an “equal lot” for each person becomes the most politics can do. Political parties act as “oligarch for oligarchs, democracy for demos,” and politics becomes theatrical or spectacle. Rancière describes this as a  “game of forms (vindication of rights, the battle for representation, etc.), the petty circulation debate between parties and self legitimating functions that keep the real community of the “uncounted” at a distance from themselves.[42]

Rancière casts a grim representation and interpretation of Plato and Aristotle’s approach to politics for one fundamental reason. Rancière argues that Plato and Aristotle understood the reason for politics – to mediate between the rich and the poor and to strive for equality. However, Rancière argues that both archipolitical and metapolitical structures betrayed the attempt to create actual equality by instead developing political systems of manipulation. Rancière will confront the false-progress of political philosophy because of the political paradoxes produced by Plato and Aristotle. However, first, we will trace the development over time of this false political philosophy and practice of politics.

I will now distinguish linguistically between a few things before moving forward. After establishing the failed attempt to create a politics of equality by Plato and Aristotle, Rancière discusses those systems in our modern world that are considered “politics” and redefines them as the “police.” Therefore, from here in the paper forward, the institution of politics known predominantly in the Western world will be considered the police, the police order, or the police logic. Here Rancière does not mean the “petty police” described by Foucault – the people in uniform that maintain order (although they are the most vulgar version of the police order). Instead, by police order, Rancière means the institutionalization and distribution of systems of language, systems of hierarchy, and systems of behavior, that are constantly self-legitimating entities of the state order.

The police order is based on stability, as a spectacle that manipulates the people, not because of the aestheticization of politics, but because “politics is aesthetic in principle.”[43] This myth of order is the order by the “good police,” which however “good” they are – they are in their very nature not political because it presupposes those who do and do not deserve to be listened to or counted. Therefore, the police logic establishes what Rancière calls the “partition of the perceptible,” or the accepted modes of being, acting, or speaking.

The partition of the perceptible distributes a language that is the only accepted tongue. The police cannot hear dissenting opinions, but only register official voices of parties, political groups, opinion polls, or the disagreeing experts. When people voice their opinion in great crowds, the police only consider this an inarticulate noise that needs controlling. Rancière describes that the people whose voice is not recognized in the police language, they are the part of no part.

While Rancière criticizes parliamentary representation, he goes on to analyze the seemingly progressive “consensus democracy” by writing that “before becoming the reasonable virtue of individuals and groups who agree to discuss their problems and build up their interests, [it] is a determined regime of the perceptible.” Before a topic is open for discussion, it is closed to the police speak and logic. “Before problems can be settled by well-behaved social partners, the rule of conduct of the dispute has to be settled, as a specific structure of community."[44] The police order is then postdemocratic and constituted of pretuned instruments of governance – such as expert knowledges and the science of opinion – to impose discipline of the people which in police language is called law and order. While the police order has continued to reduce the community “to the sum of its parts with nothing left over,” this contradicts the very nature of what we will define as politics.[45] 

 “Politics must then yield before massacre, thought bow before the unthinkable.”[46]

Rancière identifies the essential aspect of the “police order” is to control the part of those with no part, or the people that have no part of controlling the community. For Rancière, this is the broadest definition of the people, the proletariat, or the revolutionary subject. For Rancière, the police order always makes a subject of those who are not involved in the rule and process making – therefore, they are the part of society with no part in the process of society – the part of no part.

Therefore, to clarify why Rancière has used the term “police” to signify what might usually be considered “politics” – it is because Rancière believes that "politics exists when the natural order of domination is interrupted by the institution of a part of those who have no part."[47] "There is politics when there is a part of those who have no part, a part of party for the poor." [48] "Beyond this set-up there is no politics. There is only the order of domination or the disorder of revolt."[49]

"There are those who play the game of forms (the vindication of rights, the battle for representation, etc.) and those who direct the actions designed to eradicate this play of forms."[50] The political act is about revealing the scandal of the police order, whereas democracy then is not political, for “democracy only offers the theatrics of dispute.” [51]

The fundamental premise of politics is that the part of no part has equality of thinking and therefore should demand equality in governing – through the political act. Politics is the meeting of police logic with egalitarian logic. Politics is precisely the act of demanding equality, not about the distribution of equal lots by a governmental body. Whereas it is assumed that the ideal democracy is the democracy of the police, politics – for Rancière – is the juncture of “relationships between worlds" – which is the fundamental occurrence of disagreement.[52] Politics becomes politics to be. What is the disagreement between ideological worlds of tomorrow?

Whereas the police logic has established a partition of the perceptible – the modes of thinking, acting, living, etc – the properly political act will bring about a short circuiting of this logic of “organization of bodies as a community and the management of places, powers, and functions.” [53] Politics exists when the part with no part locally confront the police in the act of interruptions and fractures. "The movement of production and that of the class struggle then become the true movement that should, through its achievement, dispel the appearances of political citizenship in favor of the reality of productive man."[54]

The political act occurs when the part with no part can argue and make metaphors. Language demonstrates that there is a common world between the police logic and the egalitarian logic, and the intertwining of argument (so as to convince) with the poetic metaphor provide vivid understandings essential to demonstrating the ability to speak. When the part with no part speak the police language, the partition of the perceptible will not want to accept dissenting voice, for the egalitarian language will clash with the self-legitimating legal terminology of the police. The police will consider the utterances as only noise, that of non-speaking bodies – masses, mobs, or undesirables. The people must demonstrate that they are “reasonable speaking beings” that are demonstrating their equality in thinking and demanding an equality in involvement on their own terms. This language of the political act is that of asserting a common world exists between the police logic and the egalitarian logic, which can confront the order of saying, the order of doing, and the order of being – to reconfigure the partition of the perceptible.

Just as the police’s control is compared to a stage of theatrics – the political acts on a stage too. However, the stage of disagreement is in the public and makes visible, makes heard, and makes understandable the “singularity of the wrong” – that there is a gap in society. The political stage is where "sharing of what is not given as being in-common: between the visible and the invisible, the near and the far, the present and the absent.”[55] The political act on the stage for all to see is always local and it is very uncommon, and there is no science to map its future.

6. The Zero Degree Space of the Political
Jacques Rancière warns: "We should make sure that the modesty of philosophy is not also modesty at something else's expense."[56] We must recognize our position in history, our relation between systems of power, and our ability to take action – as intellectuals and architects. While we must retain ambivalence toward our societal role and ability to make change within our disciplinary specificity – we ultimately must strive to balance between what Bruno Latour highlights in his “Critical Proximity or Critical Distance.”[57] Latour’s dialogue exposes the strengths and weaknesses of critical proximity (or academic disciplinary production) versus critical distance (or the consciousness of systems of power).  I would like to use the metaphor of the microscope and the telescope. The microscope can pick apart tiny details, however it does not remain conscious of its room of observation. Whereas the telescope can observe disasters (asteroids) far before they reach earth, however the telescope loses grasp of what is on the ground. I think we must integrate a hybrid between proximity or distance, between microscopes and telescopes.

I will attempt to forge a zero degree or starting place of political architecture. The zero degree of political architecture – alongside the nonfigurative tradition – is the public square: 50 meters by 50 meters, meant for the city of 5,000. The public square is all that can be master planed in the political city. It stays honest to politics, in a way that Plato and Aristotle only resolved with tricks of appearance. The public square establishes an openness that allows appropriation, it allows conflicting opinions, and it allows itself to be redefined.

Photograph of Site

In a biopolitical world, we must return to the task of trying to awaken the revolutionary subject. And the people must be awoken – as the Operaist’s analyzed – at the place of production by the hand of the creative worker. But the place of production has shifted from the factory to everywhere. Now the political act occurs at any decentralized junction of production and creation. Therefore, the political act is to construct the city, to construct all existence, to build from the political zero degree space a society for disagreement – dispute between differing worlds of ideologies.

The people will intertwine negative thinking of the rich/poor to converge in dialogue, which is similar to Rancière’s fresh definition of politics or the political act that confronts all aspects of the police society. This zero degree of space allows the political to live on. Any political architecture of the city, just as any political process, cannot become the distribution of equal lots or a scientifically calculated resolution. Such a process would fail to bridge the paradox of police order. Instead, political architecture must establish space for the political act only at its absolute minimum.

The city built from the political zero space will be autonomous to the geopolitical battlefield. The form and growth will be continuously disputed, but the zero degree of the political space – the public square – will continuously serve as Rossi’s “locus” in the fabric of differing opinions and differing worlds. The city is not overturning the capitalist order into a socialist regime, community consensus logic, or a set of multicultural values. The zero degree space is unknown, confrontational, and indescribable. The “locus” is not an architectural form to contrast the opposing structures, but the battleground for worlds to come together and clash ideologies, opinions, and perhaps lives.

The public square becomes the original gathering space. People come to the city and begin to construct their houses around the square and community bonding happens. If injustice arises then the people return to the square to dispute inequality. People will use the weapon of the political space to demand justice.

The public square is not a project celebrating open programming as a new strategy, but the city begins only with the public square and is open because that is human nature – to not be controlled – because of we have equality in thinking. Like Archizoom’s No-Stop City, the public square is absolutely useless on its own. But in uselessness, it is harmless. When the people build their city, use their intelligence, and demand equality – the square and city will be maximized in use.

All political architecture projects have to grapple with how to inspire the people to make revolution. Aureli and Tattara’s Stop City develops the concept of the absolute form of the city to limit urban growth and biopolitical production. Aureli and Tattara argue that the limit and formal clarity will “stimulat[e] a new class consciousness.”[58] However, I think we should reverse Stop City’s logic to distribute the absolute form of the city. Instead, we should plan the absolute bare minimum to establish the universality of political action – public dispute in public space.
The people that are confronted with the public square will have an opportunity to develop their own spirit of growth, personal engagement, change, awareness – maintaining the square for the continuous growth while remaining fundamentally open for the essential political task – disagreement. The political architecture must have no preconceived outcomes, only that of establishing the basic relationship or starting place for the city’s growth. While Aureli and Tattara argue, “absolute form will release design,” the zero degree of political space will create a literal release from design, form, or structure – those functions that control and inhibit the user.
People can only be awakened or encouraged to change their world through slow labor. They enter a hole to dig themselves out. This can happen in the zero degree of political space, which is sharp contrast to an aesthetic project awakening consciousness. In fact, the public square is not aesthetic at all. Following Rancière, we cannot assume an aesthetic to transform sleeping people into revolutionary intellectuals.

There is no reason why the sensory strangeness produced by the clash of heterogeneous elements should bring about the understanding of the state of the world, no reason why the comprehension of the state of the world should bring about the decision to change it. There is no straight way from looking at a spectacle to understanding the state of the world, no straight way from intellectual awareness to political action. What occurs is much more the shift from a given sensory world to another sensory world which defines other capacities and incapacities, other forms of tolerance and intolerance. What works out are processes of dissociation: the break in a relation between sense and sense - between what is seen and what is thought, what is thought and what is felt. Such breaks can happen anywhere at any time. But they can never be calculated.[59]

To paraphrase Rancière – architecture is only architecture and the spectator is only the spectator.[60] The political subject cannot be awoken to a linear consciousness in which the tables are turned. The people can only learn to dig, learn to build houses, learn to articulate argument, learn to sing metaphor – learn to confront each other without recreating the policing regimes, laws, and distributions of order. The part of no part will run the city, will maintain its control, and will dig themselves out of the hole they have put themselves in – to escape the consumer, spectacle, passive society. This is the only possibility for a city to be political.

The homemade tools and open economic exchanges become the foundation to build a society that is autonomous from and critical of the injustices of neoliberal capitalist society. The city is open to growth or shrinkage, and the universal equality of voice and disagreement is considered healthy. The problem of the political cannot be solved through form. Forms imposed upon society provide physical barriers, disjunctions, and inhibitions. Instead, the absolute openness and zero degree provides a platform for disagreement – the fundamental principle and origin of what is pure politics – the mediation between our animal instincts. Just as language imposes forms, philosopher kings impose forms, political parties impose forms – each form imposes a logic, a single perspective of disagreement. The zero degree is the nonform so that continuous reiterations of form and the battle between forms can take place forever – to prevent any fixed form. The square establishes politics to be.

[1] Pier Vittorio Aureli, “City’s Degree Zero: Polis vs Planning, or City-making in the West and East,” (Ed. Schumon Basar), Cities From Zero, London: AA Publications, 2007.
[2] Gabriel Rockhill, "A Specter is Haunting Globalization," Cognitive Architecture: From Biolopolitcs to Noopolitics. Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information, ed. Deborah Hauptmann and Warren Neidich, 471-487.
[3] Rockhill, 472.
[4] Image source: http://www.the7thfire.com/images/$kulls.gif.
[5] Rockhill, 476.
[6] Rockhill, 476.
[7] Rockhill, 478.
[8] Rockhill, 487.
[9] Peir Vittorio Aureli, “Lecture and Book Launch: What about Architecture Itself?” 17.03.11, about his book The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, http://www.aaschool.ac.uk/VIDEO/lecture.php?ID=1447.
[10] Pier Vittorio Aureli, The Project of Autonomy: Within and Against Capitalism, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008.  
[11] Aureli, 21.
[12] Aureli, 46.
[13] Image source: http://rolu.terapad.com/index.cfm?fa=contentNews.newsDetails&newsID=207731&from=list
[14] Aureli, 57.
[15] Archizoom was founded by Andrea Branzi, Gilberto Corretti, Paolo Deganello, Massimo Morozzi, Dario Bartolini and Lucia Bartolini.
[16] Aureli, 73.
[17] Aureli, 83.
[18] Areli, 81. I have developed these themes in other papers. However, I suggest reading Quilian Riano’s review of MOMA’s recent exhibit of political architecture projects called “Small Scale Big Change.” Riano’s review was published by Design Observer.
[19] Image source: http://www.modernism101.com/italy_domestic_landscape.php and http://www.amazon.com/Small-Scale-Change-Andres-Lepik/dp/0870707841. Quilian Riano’s article -- “Relearning the Social: Architecture and Change” – asks why Small Scale Big Change did not ask address architectural change “from what” to what, missing political specificity: http://places.designobserver.com/feature/relearning-the-social-architecture-and-change/19128/.
[20] Stop City, Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara, http://www.gizmoweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/stop-city_dogma.pdf.
[21] Aureli and Tattara, 1.
[22] Image source: http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/2008/09/22/watching-you-watch-me/; http://blog.lib.umn.edu/will2456/architecture/; http://www.nesh.org.au/NS/participation.aspx.
[23] Ibid, 7.
[24] Ibid, 2.
[25] Ibid, 3.
[26] Ibid, 3.
[27] Ibid, 5.
[28] Image source: http://www.perfecttravelblog.com/2010/06/barcelona_the_city_of_ildefons.html.
[29] Ibid, 7.
[30] Image souce: http://socks-studio.com/2011/07/10/stop-city-by-dogma-2007-08/.
[31] Ibid, 7.
[32] Ibid, 7.
[33] Ibid, 7.
[34] Ibid, 8.
[35] Image source: http://www.upress.umn.edu/books/r/ranciere_disagreement.html.
[36] Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999, 65.
[37] Rancière, Disagreement, 67.
[38] Ibid, 65.
[39] Ibid, 68.
[40] Ibid, 69.
[41] Ibid, 74.
[42] Ibid, 87.
[43] Ibid, 59.
[44] Ibid, 108.
[45] Ibid, 123.
[46] Ibid, 127.
[47] Ibid, 11.
[48] Ibid, 11.
[49] Ibid, 12.
[50] Ibid, 87.
[51] Ibid, 62.
[52] Ibid, 42.
[53] Ibid, 99.
[54] Ibid, 83.
[55] Ibid, 138.
[56] Ibid, 136.
[57] Bruno Latour, “Critical Distance or Critical Proximity,” found online, http://www.bruno-latour.fr/poparticles/poparticle/P-113-HARAWAY.pdf.
[58] Aureli and Tattara, 7.
[59] Jacques Rancière, "Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art," 12. (found online)
[60] “It does not sidestep the fact that a film remains a film and a spectator, a spectator.” Rancière, “Aesthetic Separation,” 14.