Architecture has been a powerful technology of colonialism, economic and infrastructural development, and modern governance. It has also been an important arena for fights for social and ecological justice and for innovating diverse “traditional” ways of building and living with the land. Balancing both “top-down” and “grassroots” forms of expertise, we will explore architecture’s concern with “place-making,” as that concern addresses not only people but also animals, climates, ancestral forces, and the Earth herself. We will read and develop critical ways of talking about architecture, as both built objects and as dynamic processes for building and ordering the world.
This course has two main objectives. One is to demonstrate how to study architecture from an anthropological perspective. This demands that we think critically about the concepts that we use to talk about built environments. Are all buildings “architecture”? Is all architecture “built”? What practices of thinking, making and moving does (capital A) Architecture entail, and how does that compare to other ways of building and dwelling? Do only people make architecture? What do buildings do? We can only touch on the infinitely variable and complex answers to these questions, but we will raise them, and many others.
The other objective of this course is to use buildings and landscapes as a means of exploring “ecology” and “politics” as anthropological concepts (as well as their conjuncture, as “political ecology”). Our first task will be to expand the conception of ecology as primarily concerned with nature, to include people and their bodies, their material stuff, their passions, their machines—no less is necessary to even be able to disagree with an architect! But what happens to “politics” if we include, and really take seriously, the myriad “non-human actors” that comprise thick, living landscapes—all those animals, art forms, energies, spirits, even living buildings? Are they “political”? These are not hypothetical questions; these exclusions are integral to the history of architecture as a modern technology. But they are also integral to the many vibrant and innovative ways in which people are expanding, subverting, and remaking what counts as architecture, ecology, and politics by putting these terms in conversation with each other.