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Towards a Relational Architecture: Research at the Faculty of Architecture, Umeå University
(Baltic Group Funding Towards a Relational Architecture)
2011 (English)Other, Policy document (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Towards a Relational Architecture

Research at the Faculty of Architecture, Umeå University


The theme Relational Architecture relates to the ambition at the architecture faculty to critically think through Modernity and its political, economical and social consequences in order to show that the works and methods we develop and discuss will have different cultural implications than the ones handed down by the prevailing order. The programme and its lecture series, therefore is emancipatory, striving for opening up space for original participation and dialogue rather than closing it off through functionalism and its descendant The International Style of Architecture.


Paradigm Shift

It follows from this that the global is not used here to describe the movement of discrete units in fixed time and space - it is not that objects are made and then distributed, as either commodities or gifts- , rather the notion of global describes how it is that objects in movement make and mark time and space.

Scott Lash, Celia Lury

We live in a time where our relationship with things and the enviroment is undergoing a rapid and radical change. Globalization has given the culture industry of design, architecture and art a fundamentaly different mode of operation. After the 2nd world war till the 70ties culture was still fundamentally a superstructure. As a superstructure, both domination and resistance took place in and through superstructures – through ideology, through symbols, through representation. When culture was primarily superstructural, cultural entities were still exceptional. What was mostly encountered in everyday life were material objects from the economical infrastructure (form follows function). This was true in 1945 and still so in 1975. But in 2011, cultural objects are everywhere; as information, as communication, as branded products, as financial services, as media products, as transport and leisure services in our designed world. The spread of suburbanization, which began to take off at the end of the Second World War, allowed an extraordinairy increase in social exchanges, as well as greater indivdual mobility (thanks to the development of rail and road networks, telecommunications and the gradual opening up of isolated places, which went hand in hand with the opening up of minds. Culture today is so ubiquitous that it, as it were, seeps out of the superstructure and comes to infiltrate, and then take over, the infrastructure itself. It comes to dominate both the economy and experience in everyday life. Culture no longer works primarly as superstructure in regard to resistance or domination. In our emergent age of a global culture industry, where culture starts to dominate both the economy and the everyday, culture, which was previously a question of representation, becomes “thingified”. In the classical culture industry – both in terms of domination and resistance – mediation was primarly by means of representation. In the global culture industry instead it is about the mediation of things – through innovative, interactive and creative design.

From the 50ties till the 70ties the cultural industry determined their audiences through a fixed set of identities, like the proper place of home for the nuclear family living in Modern housing blocks. The objects of the global culture industry are not determinated from above, but as social subjects we relate to them in an indeterminate mode. This does not mean that capitalism is not reproducing on a global scale, it only means that it is reproduced differently. Now the much less determinate objects of our global culture industry encounter the characteristically reflexive individuals of today’s informational society. Determinacy is a question of “identity”. Interderminancy is a question of “difference”. In the culture industry, production takes place in the Fordist and labour-intensive production of identity (through commodities). In global culture industry, it takes place in the post-fordist and design-intensive production of difference (through branding). While the commodity works through reproduction of identity, the brand becomes operational through the evermore production of difference. Hence goods become informational, work becomes affective, property becomes intellectual and the economy more generally cultural. Culture, once in the base of the superstructure, takes on a certain materiality itself.


Relational Turn

Relational aesthetics tries to decode or understand the type of relations to the viewer produced by the work of art. Minimalism addressed the question of the viewer’s participation in phenomenological terms. The art of the ‘90s addresses it in terms of use. Tiravanija once quoted this sentence from Wittgenstein: “Don’t look for the meaning of things, look for their use.” One is not in front of an object anymore but included in the process of its construction.

Nicolas Bourriaud

Against the background of the above mentioned transformations of our global cultural industry the art-curator and theorist Nicolas Bourriaud introduced the concept of relational aesthetics for the modern art museum Palais de Tokyo designed by the architects Lacaton Vassal in 2002. Art became an interactive process; where a set of practices take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the encounter with the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than the assertion of an autonomous and private symbolic space. Instead of clean white walls, discreetly installed lighting, and wooden floors, the interior of the new museum was left bare and unfinished in order to stress that a work should be open ended, interactive, and resistant to closure, and often appearing to be work-in-progress rather than a completed object. The museum became a laboratory, a site under construction, for action, participation and live experiences. While we will stress the importance of relational thinking, understand space and its (designed) object within the global cultural industry and as interactive relational network that mediates and needs to communicate with the world at large and its users, we will not argue for projects that are itself to be in perpetual flux. With our understanding of global cultural reality through the notion of the relational turn we like to formulate an appeal far more than a description of our global reality. It doesn’t prescribes nothing but wants to underline a consciousness that derives its coherence from another consciousness: one that is aesthetic, ethical and political.

Towards a Relational Architecture

If modernism was a return to the origin of art or of society, to their purification with the aim of rediscovering their essence, then our own century’s modernity will be invented, precisely, in opposition to all radicalism, dismissing both the bad solution of re-enrooting in identities as well as the standardization of imaginations decreed by economic globalization. To be radicant today: it means setting one’s roots in motion, staging them in heterogeneous contexts and formats, denying them any value as origins, translating ideas, transcoding images, transplanting behaviors, exchanging rather than imposing.

Nicolas Bourriaud

It is becoming clear to architects, designers and artist that space is more complex and dynamic than previous formal models allowed. Ideas about spatiality are moving away from physical objects and autonomous forms towards the variety of territorial, political and pychological social processes that flow through space. The interrelationships amongst things in space, as well as the effects that are produced through dynamic interaction, are becoming of greater significance to intervening in urban landscapes than soley compositional arrangement of objects and surfaces. Now that relationality, networking, connectivity and other dynamic experiences in our heterogenous time effect the nature of the architectural (art and design) project – its conception, procurement, construction and use but also its shape, materiality and aesthetics – we have to start to analyse (map), judge and create projects on the basis of the inter-human relations they represent, produce and enact in our global cultural industry.

Although the urban, neoliberal, and modern everyday is pushing towards increased homogeneity in daily life, the irreconcilable disjunctions born in our generic city full of anachronistic interstices make it impossible to think of modernization as only negative. Michel de Certeau’s work confirmed the impossibility of a full colonization of everyday life by late capitalism and stressed that potential alternatives are always available, since individuals and institutions arrange resources and choose methods through particular creative arrangements from within their generic condition. It are precisely these unpredicatable situations of co-existence that should be of interest for the relational architect, designer and artist. It is here where modernity revolutionizes itself through the complex overlapping of co-existing realities. It are these realities the relational architect, designer and artist wishes to engage with, without ever wishing to finalize them. We, as space makers, should ask ourselves the essential question what “modern” could mean in this complex global culture. Or in other words, how we as architects, designers and artist could help create conditions of “situated freedom” for both the collective and the individual now that globalization is total, and neo-liberalism has no answers to confront the disasters it created on the level of the city, the landscape (ecology) and humanity as a whole.


Don’t Excavate. Change Reality!

As citizens of a free society, we have a duty to look critically at our world. But if we think we know what is wrong, we must act upon that knowledge.

Tony Judt

We were not looking for origins, even lost or deleted ones, but setting out to catch things where they were at work, in the middle: breaking things open, breaking works open. We weren’t looking for something timeless, not even the timelessness of time, but for new things being formed, the emergence of what Foucault calls “actuality”.

Felix Guattari & Gilles Deleuze

Many institutions of academia have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point of our research is to change reality. Within and through the framework of relational architecture we at the Art Campus not only intend to explain, and interpret the world but feel the urge – as international and public platform for local and global research – to develop new agenda’s for practice experiments operating on the scale of the city, architecture, design and art.

Research Projects (see also enclosed project descriptions)

The following projects will be researched within the framework of relational architecture

Towards a Relational Architecture consist of:

1) Resurrecting the Chora. Aesthetics and sustainability in architecture.

2) Aesthetics as a Form of Politics. From Fresh Conservatism to Radical Democracy.

3) Passion for Reality. Unpredictable emancipations renewing society from within.


* For more details on the above mentioned projects see enclosed attachment with detailed descriptions.



- The faculty of architecture, together with the art faculty supervises and initiates the project. (The project information included with this document mentions the persons involved).

- The project not only mobilizes national and international expertise beyond its own domain but also invites them to participate through seminars, public lectures, conferences, publications, webpages, exhibitions, articles, videorecordings and livestreaming.

- The research is interdisciplinairy of character and includes the expertise of art, philosophy, technology, sociology, cultural studies, politics, design any several other fields.

- Besides the UMA PhD & Post-Doc research laboratory the following companies and their guest professors support the program: Benisch Architects, Tyrens Engineers Stockholm, Locus Foundation France, Transsolar Germany, Urban Think Tank architects, Zürich, NGO’s from Cairo and several other stakeholders and specialist who will particiapte at a later stage.

- UMA architecture is a member of the Nordic Academy network of PhD institutes, and was granted – together with the KTH, Lund and Chalmers University – a new grant for international PhD research. The expertise and exchange within its members and institutes wil be mobilized through this project on relational architecture.


Research Formats

-  Workshops and seminars (4 a year)

-  International conferences (3 in total)

-  Publications (both in print (4 books, peer reviewed articles) and electronic articles (a special webpage).

-  All programs are public and livestreamed when it concerns a lecture, forum debate or conference. Livestreams are recorded and can be looked at from a digital archive over the internet.

- All research projects will be excecuted on PhD level, as postdoc and in publications by the professers involved.

- All research, debates and its information (knowledge) are part of an international platform of exchange between local, national and international institutes (which is open to the public at large).


General Aims

-  We are in need of new ideas to create a better future. The project develops and brings together advanced ideas (theories) that not only reflect but alos speculate how relation architecture can indeed create a better future.

-  Besides theoretical speculations (the development of ideas) the project will mobilize (bring together and produce) an Atlas of alternative practices of concrete (real) examples, and techniques, from both disciplinairy and interdiciplinary perspectives. This atlas of examples (both of the past and the future) will collect all relevant knowledge within the framework of relational architecture.

- Knowledge on this topic is everywhere and nowhere. The many traces hidden in the different practices and institutes (and its discources) are in need of a common platform on relational space (architecture, design and art). The aim is that the art-campus profides this common platform of knowledge (database), expertise and exchange.

-  With this project we initiate a higher seminar for researchers, doctorate students, master students, aesthetic students, philosophers, historians, architects, designers, artists, curators and various theoreticians in order to thoroughly discuss developments within the project. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå, 2011. , 13 p.
Keyword [en]
relational, architecture, research, baltic, UMA
National Category
Research subject
Aesthetics; design
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-108567OAI: diva2:853602
Available from: 2015-09-14 Created: 2015-09-14 Last updated: 2015-09-14

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