Submission deadline:

October 2, 2023

Les Cahiers de la recherche architectural 20: Questioning Technology in a Time of Global Upheaval

Les Cahiers de la recherche architectural, urbaine et paysagère
Thematic dossier coordinated by Roberta Morelli AND Jean Souviron
Deadline for sending papers: 2 October 2023

The place and role of technology in the organisation of industrialised societies raise controversies that have continuously questioned the impact of human activities over the last two centuries. The criticism of industrialisation–underpinned by the thinking of William Morris (1834–1896) and Lewis Mumford (1895–1990), among others–emerged with the advent of the “age of machinery”  and led to a reconsideration of the history of technology at the crossroads of human societies and cultures. Nowadays, in a context marked by the acceleration of global disruption, this criticism challenges the very notions of progress and innovation, and questions the relationships between our societies and their technical objects through the “imperative of responsibility” and the notion of ethics. Controversies have arisen between advocates of technological solutionism, for whom technical progress can provide effective responses to the challenges facing modern societies, and the technocritics, who have various ways of arguing against the sacralisation of technology and the resulting alienation of individuals. While this opposition needs to be qualified in light of the plurality of policies that question the role of science and technology in society, it nevertheless reflects the issues and controversies that run through contemporary discourses and practices, and which this thematic dossier aims to explore.

Ecological upheavals, increasing social vulnerability and the promises of the digital revolution, all raise questions about how infrastructural choices and architectural, urban and territorial practices impact the environment and our societies. The growing scarcity of material and energy resources and the urgent need to retrofit and renovate existing buildings are transforming the very notion of technology in these fields. As a result, new issues have arisen concerning, on the one hand, the environmental, health and social impact of building systems; and, on the other hand, the division of labour between the design and construction phases. Examples include controversies raised by construction models addressing energy performance based on thermal insulation and the mechanical ventilation of buildings; the limits of industrialisation and “low carbon” labelling of timber construction; the challenges of waste management in response to the call for a “circular economy”; and the impact of urban planning models based on smart grids and mass electrification.

Almost thirty years after Les Cahiers: Journal for the Study of Architecture, Urbanism and Landscape published its last issues devoted to the material dimension of living space, the coordinators of this dossier wish to revive scientific debates on technology. The latter is understood here in a broad sense to include material and energy resources; tools, knowledge and know-how; production and design processes; as well as construction work and the maintenance of structures. The objective of this thematic dossier is to contribute to a critical analysis of the changes in the material conditions of our built environment. In particular, it aims to explore the interdependentrelationships between the political, conceptual and constructive dimensions that characterise contemporary professional practices. It also aims to understand the resulting changes and controversies by analysing social practices, their economic circumstances and their environmental impacts.

The field of the history of construction and technology has long been aware of the value of legacies, and has more recently opened up new research perspectives by embracing social studies. However, contributions on the current state of technology are less common, despite contemporary professional practices being potential sources for rich critical analyses. For example, some authors have highlighted the fragmentation of stakeholders and their responsibilities in the act of building, pointing to the loss of technological unity achieved in old architecture; which spared nature, built cities and erected houses according to the same principles. While technology has always ordered human capacities regarding their ability to build solid structures, the injunctions formulated in so-called “ecological” discourses and policies exacerbate the fragmentation of contemporary regulatory, economic and operational logics. As a result, a series of controversies and paradoxes have arisen: with the growing heterogeneity of technical entities, comes an increasing standardisation of products and construction methods; with the diversification of stakeholders involved in building design, comes a loss of know-how; with the increase in the level of industrialisation, comes a gradual rise in construction prices; and with the acceleration of digitalisation, comes an inequality in the socio-economic conditions of production and maintenance of the built environment. All these controversies and paradoxes raise questions about the specific ways in which those involved in architectural, urban and territorial production think about and implement their technological choices. They also call for an analysis of the impact of these choices on the spatial and socio-economic context in which they are made.

With contributions across a range of disciplines, this thematic dossier puts forward the hypothesis that technology today represents a space of differentiation and a place for negotiating plural and conflicting interests, with a direct impact on material production, the organisation of work and labour, and the definition of space. Why and how is technology defined in contemporary architectural, urban and territorial production? What political and social projects does technology embody? What are the issues and controversies involved? To further explore this hypothesis and to help answer these questions, this call for papers aims to build an open debate on an international scale, to shed light on current controversies and to question the place and role of technology in a time of global upheaval. Papers may focus on one or more of the following topics:

1. Technologies and processes in the production of construction materials
2. The construction site or the challenge of materialising a thought about technology
3. The role of technology in adaptation, maintenance and repair practices

The articles must not exceed 40,000 characters (spaces included), notes and bibliography are notincluded in the character count.
Languages accepted: French, English.
Articles must be accompanied by:
– A biography (for each of the authors) between 5 to 10 lines (first and last names of the author (s), professional status/titles, institutional affiliations, research themes, latest publications, e-mail address).
– Abstracts in French and English.
– 5 keywords in French and 5 in English.

More information can be found in the full call for papers in English here and French here.

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