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All human activity is localised. Therefore, it is not outrageous to think that there might be a relationship between activities

Relational Architectures

Dragoș Dascălu

Along this text you will find questions with no immediate answer. The text doesn’t answer them. It had just determined the questions. Asked by the editor they mark a step from a process of negotiation which has been initiated with the author of the text. And in the limited space of a page you are a witness of the process not the end result. The chance it brings is for you to become a part of the making of and find your own answers to the questions, in an article so densely packed with ideas. Or you can disagree with the inquiry, skip it and just read the text. Or come up with your own questions.

What are we actually making of? Subsequent adaptations for two specific contexts. An unfolding negotiation is used in order to adapt the article to the context / place where it is due to be published: first here, in the info section of Arhitext magazine, and then in the new Articles & Research section of Agora Experiments platform.

For its place in the hard copy of Arhitext magazine a decision was made to leave both the questions asked by the editor (Andreea-Livia Ivanovici) and the original shape of text that brought them up.

We thus invite you to see not only how the article continues but also to discover the changes brought to it by the questions, for the purpose of its publication on the online platform Agora Experiments. And yes, the process is opened. The text can still change according with your questions sent on the Agora Experiments FB page. Simply post to page with the hashtag #relationalarchitectures.

All human activity is localised. Therefore, it is not outrageous to think that there might be a relationship between activities and the space in which they are situated. However, throughout history, this relation was: either strongly exaggerated, especially by architects who considered that architectural objects or space by itself, through its physical characteristics can determine human behavior and actions; either ignored, especially by social scientists, up to the point where architecture and space are but a simple background for human activity.

There are relatively few approaches to the human activity – space relationship that stand outside these two extremes. Relational architectures tries to offer a different approach, using a case study based strategy and relying on concepts, studies, data and analysis coming from architecture, sociology, social psychology, and political science.*

*Relational architectures is a study which has recently been published as a book. What is it bringing for the architects involved in experimental architecture projects? Who did you also had in mind as users and how did you model the journey and the conclusions depending on this?

In order to avoid the trap of architectural determinism, the book uses a larger definition of architecture which incorporates all the elements that shape the built space: people, institutions, organisations, procedures, built objects, form, theories, histories, etc. Also, they are taken into consideration as long as there is a perceived trace.*

*Who is / are the perceiver(s) in this case?

We will therefore use the term architecture always in referral to Foucault’s concept of dispositif. For making the connection between these elements and human action in general, we relied on Latour’s actor‑network theory. Thirdly, in order to see the specific social effect of architecture we will focus on its effect on social interaction. Without influencing social interaction, talking about the social role of architecture is void of meaning. We consider the social phenomenon as a result of the superposing and composure of a multitude of actions and interaction, situating ourselves in an interactionist paradigm.*

*When speaking about social interaction it is important to acknowledge one of the roles of architecture as political statement. Which is more important to consider in this study: «Which are the forces that control the actions?» or «Who is in control of the actions»?

However, in order to limit our field of study and so that we might be able of establish relations between space and interaction we will deal only with face‑to‑face interactions. These are interactions that take place in a clear and limited space.

Thus the question which the book tries to answer is: How can the architectural‑dispositif and process stimulate face‑to‑face social interactions between strangers?*

*Architecture exists in relation to a function or a pattern of space usage. How can / does architecture begin without it being clearly defined? In which way is this related to the stimulation of faceto-face social interactions?

The theoretical framework is based on three motivations for social interaction: trust, familiarity and disequilibrium. Each of these is analysed separately. In reality, the three social mechanisms never work independently one from another. Familiarity is usually a precondition for establishing trust relations, and a disequilibrium if it is not consumed through eliminations or becoming a new familiar routine, it might have negative effects. At the same time, networks of trust (social capital), without a form of constant disequilibrium, will tend to close onto themselves, refusing interaction with strangers. Therefore, the three strategies are in fact complementary in stimulating face‑to‑face social interaction between strangers.*

*Two of the three motivations you choose to work with seem to correspond to a couple of basic needs as described in Maslow’s pyramid (trust for safety and familiarity for belongingness). Is relational architecture standing, among other, for a return to the basic needs? Why?

The theoretical framework tries to establish the way in which diverse elements of the heterogeneous assembly called architecture have the capacity to use familiarity, build trust and introduce disequilibrium in order to stimulate face‑to‑face social interactions between strangers. We will therefore look at such elements as the actors which initiate, design, finance, build, use and manage the architectural object or space, limits and accessibility, functions, use, adaptability, norms and rules of use, monitoring and enforcing rules, costs, etc. We used this theoretical framework in an analysis of two of the more recent and highly successful socially involved projects: Passage 56 (Paris) by Paris based studio – atelier d’architecture autogérée and Open Air Library in Magdeburg by KARO Architekten.

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