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non-typological architecture

Entheogenic Research and Treatment, 'Liminoid House', by Tanuj Kohli, AA Diploma 19 2022

The Ambivalence of Design

Oct 6-14 Architectural Association London and Yonsei University Seoul

Organised by:

Brendon Carlin & James Kwang Ho Chung

Jooeun Sung & Jaewon Lee

guest speakers:

Andrea Branzi, David Wengrow, Federico Campagna, Francesca Dell'Aglio, Hyungmin Pai, Joe Jung Hwan, Kim Tae-young and Kim Hyun-jin (Urban Topology), Olivia Neves Mara, Oneul Collective

AA and Eventbrite links here


What if we were to cast suspicion on the concept, set of ideas, tasks and assumptions entangled with our current understanding of the term design? We might thereby begin to expose, test and then perhaps even suspend some of the impulses of the ‘designer’ that have been handed down, and which we unwittingly or indiscriminately reproduce as architects. Based on the research of AA Diploma 19 and Yonsei University's ADS4.1, we would argue that despite the noble intention of architects to design a world that is more interesting, beautiful, just, sustainable, communal and so on, we too often only deepen our predicament via the very same impulses. In fact, it is often the ‘liberated’ pursuit of ideals, aspirations, aesthetics, and ends like these - while working well within existing systems of technology, theology, patronage and regulatory institutions - that prolongs and deepens our crisis; preventing anything radically new from ever happening.


Seol Gye (or Design in Korean) comes from hanja-mal (Chinese characters incorporated into Korean language) ‘設計’, which is made of three characters. Seol (設) consisting of eon (言) meaning an oath of self to god and soo (殳) meaning long pole, which implies a person with authority, who holds a pole in his right hand, pointing at something to give divine (godly, omnipotent) orders. Gye (計) means to calculate and consists of eon (言) and Shib (十), Ten, the number of perfection. What an etymology of the term and a study of the history of design in Korea suggests, is that a figure (or group of figures) who appropriated exclusive rights of communication with the divine, will transmit or deliver the world to a destined state of calculated order, beauty, and perfection. This kind of understanding parallels an etymological reading of the Latin root of design in designō (“I mark out, point out, describe, designate, contrive”), which, interpreted through techno-capitalism's ontological frame involves the calculated separation, pre-destination, naming and therefore ordering of objects and subjects as a means to a telos or end. From at least the rise of monotheism through mathematical-science, capitalism, the state, and technologies secularization of its theology during the enlightenment, designō has aquired a mythology of the divine plan, protection, fate or destiny in the eventual perfection and salvation of civilization. However, as is increasingly clear, this alliance can only tend towards total destruction.


In broad sum, since its invention, design has become wrapped up with the transmission of the patron’s divine plan. In the first instance design entails the negation of a previous state of things via the creation of formal, aesthetic and symbolic architectures and machines of continuous and accelerating de-signation, which uproot and prefigure forms of life in a calculated and instrumentalising way. Of course, we typically reject any suggestion that we are not generally autonomous; we believe that we are in command, have a choice, and act largely of our own free and individual will. However, the evolution of design in the realm of architecture, technology, politics and economy produces an ‘interface’ with an increasingly wide ('free') ‘option space’ to construct and fulfil forms of desire, thus seemingly putting the ‘user’ in command. But this increasingly monopolistically designed and controlled interface, platform and 'option space' is guided (or challenged-forth) by the ‘destiny’ of pure potentiality, instrumentality, and profit, and must therefore always shut down radically different realities and actualities that are already always trying to take form. As much is clear when we realise that at no point in history have a majority of humans worked with the same ‘tool’ (the computer and mobile) and used the same platforms, designed by fewer and fewer ‘architects.’


But let us begin to trace the outlines of some alternative concepts of design. Rather than designating, which implies attempting to define or assert what we are, must be, should do or become, Architecture can be conceived of as that which hijacks, prolongs and exposes the heretical foundational act of designō: namely the act of negating any existing destiny, fixity, state of things, form of working, living or being. Architecture might bring this act of negating, this lack - which is in fact the core of all ‘creative power’ - into the act and form of any architecture, making it visible and actualising it, without attempting to overcome or master it. At the same time, architecture need not start from scratch or perpetuate an obligatory nihilism, but can instead borrow from a collective archive of examples of architecture, and strive to make visible what is both our own, and common, our essential condition: a ground from which forms-of-life might actually unfold. In this sense, our architecture might be opened to new, free, and common invention and use – and to that which can never be pre-designated.

text by Brendon Carlin and James Kwang-Ho Chung

The Ambivalence of Design series invites nine esteemed speakers to propose radical, alternative forms of design praxis. In places like London, the city's production is driven by profit, the market, and thus market research, propelling escalating cost inflation, increasing hours of work and financial struggle, deepening the climate crisis, and producing a more and more homogeneous and uninteresting city. Architects are now so often commissioned to cloak raw profit speculation and its hidden command over our forms of work and life with an opposite or contrasting image - whether aspiring, spontaneous, ‘green,’ communal, healing, soothing, identitarian, optimistic-futuristic or other. Thus, we architects are too often distracted and help to distract others from an awareness or confrontation with the deeper sources of our crisis and disenchantment, ensuring that nothing radically new can ever happen. Put simply, one of the core aims of the series is to develop ways that architects and architecture might empower people to ‘see,’ and become their own designers, theorists, doers, guides, ‘healers,’ world-makers, and in some sense, even architects.

Clarification of Topic and Themes

Put simply, one of the core questions that the symposium seeks to address revolves around how might we empower people to become their own designers, theorists, doers, guides, ‘healers’ and even perhaps architects. This seems to begin with asking how the architectural profession can begin to distance itself from its by now ancient alliance with the institutions, systems and forces of endless and expanding technical rationalisation, extraction and production. As we have argued, 'technic' - a name given for the currently dominant reality-system by Campagna - now produces a real nihilism that architects are in a sense, too often commissioned to mask with superficial forms of the protection, spectacle, optimism, or distraction. Based on our research, the wider tendency seems only to deepen a blindness and dependency on fleeting existential crutches provided through the market. Therefore we might say that we are interested in unveiling how forms of destructive power operate through architecture - and in stealing back or more widely displacing the power to see and do.


Thus, the overall theme generally focuses on the role of design conception in architecture as engaged with the construction and reproduction of specific forms or authority or power and with specific forms of political, social, and everyday life (reality). How might we begin to think about breaking the spell of a world in which nothing radically new is ever allowed to happen? In which nothing is allowed to congeal into a world? We invite speakers to work with themes in their current areas of interest and investigation that they think relate to the abstract text of the symposium.

We give below some examples of specific areas of engagement with the topic of the symposium. While the topics and themes we are aiming to throw into the mix for discussion should (and for us in fact inevitably will) always relate to architecture, or more broadly, social forms or institutions (which can include institutions of the ‘private’, oikos, household) and their built spatial-material manifestations, we intentionally aim to include a range of disciplinary perspectives which are entangled with architecture. These different disciplinary perspectives can be more design-focused or more investigative, anthropological, or archaeological, or lean more towards political economy, philosophy or historiology.

Some examples of areas of relevant interest might include the questioning, challenging, or reconceptualising of architectural typology (or an ethos of ‘anti-typology’) and the role of the architect in planning and designing, perhaps with concepts like program or function in mind and guided by (knowingly or not) performance criteria, certain habitual or even ideal diagrams or deep structures. This area of discussion could of course relate to architecture as a biopolitical technology that through techniques of vision and surveillance, the medical, the management of reproduction, and the construction of the public/private divide destroys and or produces relations of gender, sexuality, meaning systems and/or their absence and so on.

Another area of potential themes might relate to histories or historiologies of the origins of certain institutions or institutional architectures, programmes, rituals, technics etc. that are entangled with the establishment of certain specific modes or forms of reality/cosmos, telos, power, authority, social relationships and hierarchies, and life. Yet another possible area of research relevant to the topic might involve discussing a series of example architectural projects that challenge or expose the typical role or tasks of the architect or perhaps challenge spatial or programmatic composition, ‘style’, ‘taste’ or other aesthetic areas of architecture or the city. In a related area, speakers might be interested in alternative modes of conceiving of and realising architecture, where the status quo role of the architect shifts from that of designer or mediator etc., to that of moderator, or something entirely different.

These are but a range of areas that we hope will provoke debate amongst invited speakers, students and archtiects.

The Ambivalence of Design is a symposium and workshop hosted at the Architectural Association and Yonsei University and funded by the British Council

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