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non-typological architecture

Non-typological Architecture is an architecture and research practice begun by Brendon Carlin in 2020. Working with dozens of collaborators, our research and work are ultimately concerned with a form of praxis defined as theory embedded in a mode of thinking, working, and building. Given the possibility for more interesting, wildly plural, and caring worlds, we must not merely interpret and represent our situation in various ways. Instead, we might live and work as if other worlds have already been realized. We can of course begin at the scale of our own mouse, desk, kitchen, garden, or street.

The category non-typology makes conspicuous what is absent: type and typology. In the first instance, it refers to examples of architecture that tend, in a self-evident way, towards an absence of composition, form, or interior subdivision. On the other hand, non-typology can refer to a practice and architecture impoverished by an overabundance of composition, even or especially when excessive design labour results in a smooth, minimalistic architecture. Thus, non-typological architecture tends towards an absence of any historical or progressive effects whatsoever; it tends towards a lack of any origin, plan, or future. But non-typological architecture is an ambivalent concept. In a positive sense, it can also refer to the negation of those concrete abstractions, striations and separations - and typologies of domestication and territorialisation - that confine and shut down the possibility for a plurality of situated forms of architecture, relationships and life which are always already emerging. 

As an epistemological category, non-typology challenges this absence or lack of form to speak about what isn’t there: what has been rejected, lost, taken away or made invisible. In an equal and opposite way, an absence of visible, tangible form can be made to speak about what is there, about what has been constructed; about the total saturation and overabundance of technologies, machines, laws, and codes via which our world grows increasingly hard.

On one hand, we witness an accelerating frequency and abundance of images, styles, expressions, and ‘freedom’ on an otherwise empty surface; and beneath it, an exponentially expanding micro and macro control 'architecture.' The schism between 'software' and 'hardware' is ever-expanding. Both mask a profound crisis of form. Since at least the end of the Second World War, we live in a reality where typology has increasingly and unwittingly given way to a kind of non-typology. Architecture’s, and indeed form's crisis, resides in the fact that its historical roles have continued to dissolve, shift and be hollowed out under the imperium of runaway 'technic' capitalism.   

Type in architecture is a disciplinary category or tool for theory and practice, that aims to approach an epistemological threshold. In other words, through typology – as the inquiry into and discourse on Types - we cast light on, and can catch a glimpse of an epistemological figure's shadow as it moves, and morphs. Thus, typology can be understood as a concept and discourse via which, through reading a specific example of architecture, city, or built reality, we might understand its patterns, essential elements, and deep structure. Type changes slowly over time and therefore manifests common aspects that are larger than any individual life span, generation, or epoch.

 Type can be grasped through a deep reading of a particular, irreducible and singular example of architecture, or a paradigm, which is both actualised by and actualises its Type. The question of which came first - the idea, or the underlying aspect or element of a given example - is of course wholly unknowable. Element is etymologically rooted in the Greek stoikheîon, which can refer to one of a series, an aspect or part, or to the sound of the voice as the first element, or the elementary aspect of language. It can also refer to the shadow of the gnṓmōn, a vertical pillar used to tell time by the shadow it casts, and to a person that is a discerner or interpreter. It is rooted in the term gignṓskō, which means to perceive and to know. When we use the terms deep structure, and element to identify that aspect of an architecture that is essential to its categorisation and grouping within a larger set or series, we undertake the development of a method for producing architectural knowledge typologically.

In our investigation of Types, we encounter thresholds of formation in Archetypes: singular, paradigmatic examples of architecture antecedent to a Type, that make visible a mode of power and reality. To treat an example as a paradigm is to place it beside itself (paradigm is etymologically rooted in para, beside, and deíknumi, to show) through its categorisation; hence the relationship between the category and example becomes the focus of a formal, historical, genealogical analysis.

Typology is thus necessarily concerned with exposing those moments and aspects at the deepest ontological levels from which it is possible to perceive underlying patterns and grasp their core idea and reason. An entire cosmogonic architecture then emanates or cascades out from those core ideas and reason; from higher level abstract aspects and rationalities to modes of production, to configurations of materiality and network, and on to those aspects that make themselves increasingly plain to the naked eye at any given moment, like form, symbolism, and materiality. An architecture’s conception, production, use and change is ultimately a decisive ontological nexus at the centre of a complex organisation, mediation and reproduction of forms of work, life, and reality.

Methodologically, the inclusion of typology (albeit in the negated form of the non) constitutes a refusal to be blackmailed into an amnesia, into a habit of self-referentiality, ‘authenticity,’ or naïvely outright reject the status quo, and all those problematic structures, apparatuses and forms of relationality that we all both suffer and depend on – and which ultimately are and are not us. A non-typological architecture is not anti-form, anti-composition, anti-rules, anti-ritual, anti-rationality, anti-planning, anti-technology, or even anti-Type. Today we are prisoners of an everything-ness and nothingness, a sameness; of a tautological ever-expanding and complexifying inwardness, an endless moralised destruction of forms, and, as we have seen, of an equal and opposite growing hard of the world in the fractally expanding ‘invisible’ micro and macro scale network machinery of abstraction, distance, flow and control.

Against this, we argue for an ethics of beautiful forms. But we also recognise that form is, in the end, something that only those who will inhabit it can ever design for themselves. This ‘autonomous’ becoming of millions of tiny forms is already always happening but is just as quickly being destroyed or thwarted; chaos is control’s most fundamental weapon.   

Working with, through and against typology now requires the rebirthing of an ancient scope of knowledge practices suggested by a few of the titles used historically to describe the ‘architect’ Imhotep: polymath and magician. Far from being interested in mystification, the latter category is aimed precisely at a de-mystification of the accepted categorical and procedural structures through which we understand and construct reality. The use of non-typology and magic, as analytical categories, becomes a kind of Ulysses contract. One that forces us to look at composition at the deepest levels of structure beneath those of even politics and (the mysterious) economy, which are but higher level, contingent, artificial warp and weft of the hegemonic fabric of our reality today.

In practice, non-typology can challenge us to stay with the trouble as we attempt to develop knowledge and ethics of architectural practice and form today. In a positive sense, to work non-typologically proposes that we consciously work with, and through Types, with and through the familiar; with and through historical inheritance, the general intellect, that which is shared and common. Simultaneously it suggests that we bring the Other, negativity, or inoperativity, into the act, into the opus: realising the possibility, in a work and action, of the suspension of the very Same; of its possibility to be other, or not to be at all. Non-typological architecture suggests that while the very possibility of Politics and Architecture is grounded in our shared lack of any fixed nature, tasks, identity, way of working, living or being, the possible actualisation of other modes or forms is only realisable as an art of the possible

Office for Non-typological Architecture is registered in the UK


Brendon Carlin practices as an architect, critic, researcher, and tutor. His recent work centres on the politics and ontology of the disappearance of type, form, and ritual in architecture. He leads Diploma 19 at the Architectural Association and is a post-Doctoral fellow and Assistant to the University of Technology Vienna RAUM where he holds various positions tutoring PhD, Masters, and Undergraduate students, teaching history and theory and working on EU-funded research projects. He leads the architecture and research practice Non-typological Architecture.

His recent post-Doctoral research pits architectures, infrastructure, technologies, and rationalities of extraction, distance, and disappearance against forms of architecture, knowledge, and practice that are situated, visible, intuitive, and participatory. He does so mainly through readings of imperial and anti-imperial ontologies and architecture around present-day New Mexico, from indigenous to Spanish and Mexican colonial-religious, to American scientific-military and domestic, to the techno-politics of contemporary big tech and data. Collaborating with partners Maria Paez Gonzalez, James Kwang Ho Chung, and students, Brendon strives to develop novel perspectives and to actively participate in the development of strategies to carve out spaces wherein dispossessed and discredited groups can regain or protect lands and foster their distinct forms of life and world.

categorical areas of research: architecture, typology, political theology and ontology, political economy, labour subjectivity, postcolonial studies, indigenous studies, climate justice, spatial justice


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