Anthropology and Architecture: Misplaced Conversations
Special issue: The Architectural Theory Review
Deadline: March 30, 2016
According to anecdote, Claude Levi-Strauss hosted Le Corbusier for a night when he was cultural counselor to the French Embassy in New York. The anthropologist and the architect, both notoriously voluble, had much to discuss, however all that is preserved of their conversation is a word of advice about interior design: Corbusier allegedly advised Levi-Strauss to leave an ornate salon designed by Stanford White untouched. Now is the time, for better or worse, to reconstruct two centuries of missing conversations.
After all, Anthropology and Architecture have a filial history. Both occupy comparable positions within national academies, as autonomous but applied disciplines. However whereas architecture is understood as culturally intrinsic, the anthropologist usually studies culturally extrinsic phenomena. Perhaps as a result, the anthropologist has only been permitted limited entry into architectural discourse, and then often merely for the discussion of externalities such as “shelter”, myths of origin, or vernacular (and therefore untheoretical) architecture. This is a relationship that could be made much more nuanced, and more interesting.
In the last century, both anthropology and architecture have both undergone what have been described as “linguistic turns”. The adoption of Saussure’s structuralist linguistics as an ordering schema by anthropologists, and anthropology’s subsequent re-articulation of structuralism was not so much a “turn” as an act of intellectual anthropophagy—the complete incorporation of what had been a specific approach (applied to the study of kinship) and its re-emergence as a universal principle. In architecture, the linguistic turn has been much condemned, and yet its influence was arguably just as profound. Can a comparative disciplinary history of anthropology and architecture be written?
We explicitly invite anthropologists to write about architecture, and architecture theorists to write about anthropology. What we seek is that deferred (but not deferential) conversation between Levi-Strauss and Corbusier, between Mary Douglas and Bruno Taut, between Semper and Warburg, between Latour and Doxiadis, between Mead and Neutra.
Historically, architecture’s techniques have often been put to the service of either political gesture, or commercial manipulation (or both). How can these gestures and manipulations be studied using anthropological techniques? What insights do contemporary in situ ethnographic methods offer to the design process, and how might they be more intelligently applied, from the first sketch to the post-occupancy survey? From Kon to Lefebvre to Lucius Burckhardt, what can field research teach the designer or the historian?
Anthropology is particularly well equipped to study everyday transactions, as well as the rituals and ceremonies with which we mark life transitions—from the private to the public, from domestic life to death. These are also domains to which the design process feels itself called. In spite of shifting social norms around families, work and the distinction between private and public life, architectural typologies are surprisingly long lived. When the half life of a social form and its architectural expression do not match, what can be learned from their asynchrony?
Global architectural history also calls for the inclusion of new critical perspectives. In the wake of the Great Kantō Earthquake, the Japanese anthropologist Wajiro Kon invented new methods of field research in order to document the response of the city to a traumatic event. In the process, he founded the mock discipline of “Modernologio”, which took seriously the need to investigate the hidden logic in everyday life. For Kon, anthropology was not a technique for examining alien cultures, but rather an alien perspective from which he could defamiliarise his own culture. Whether introverted, extroverted or reversed, what can the perspectives of anthropology offer this new global history?
Figures of interest to authors might include, but are not limited to (in no particular order): Christopher Alexander, Konstantinos Doxiadis, Bruno Taut, Tim Ingold, Alfred Gell, Lucius Burckhardt, Wajiro Kon, Terunobu Fujimori, Andre Malraux, Tony Bennett, Jean-Louis Cohen, Gottfried Semper, Giancarlo Cataldi, Abby Warburg, Richard Neutra, Pierre Bourdieu, Mary Douglas, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Georges Canguilhem, Bruno Latour, Margaret Mead, Ernst Gombrich, Henri Lefebvre, Gregory Bateson, J. L. Austin, Marilyn Strathern
The Architectural Theory Review, founded at the University of Sydney in 1996 and now in its twentieth year, is the pre-eminent journal of architectural theory in the Australasian region. Published by Taylor & Francis in print and online, the journal is an international forum for generating, exchanging, and reflecting on theory in and of architecture. All texts are subject to a rigorous process of blind peer review.
Enquiries about this special issue theme, and possible papers, are welcome, please email the editor, Adam Jasper: email@example.com
The deadline for the submission of completed manuscripts is Monday, 30 March 2015. Please submit manuscripts via the journal’s website: http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/ratr When uploading your manuscript please indicate that you are applying for this special issue, for example: vol. 21.2 – Architecture and Anthropology.
Manuscript submission guidelines can be found at: www.tandfonline.com/action/authorSubmission?journalCode=ratr20&page=instructions ——