Framing Places: Mediating Power in Built Form

Framing Places: Mediating Power in Built Form

Framing Places: Mediating Power in Built Form

Framing Places: Mediating Power in Built Form


Framing Places is an account of the nexus between place and power, investigating how the built forms of architecture and urban design act as mediators of social practices of power. Explored through a range of theories and case studies, this examination shows how lives are 'framed' within the clusters of rooms, buildings, streets and cities. These silent framings of everyday life also mediate practices of coercion, seduction and authorization as architects and urban designers engage with the articulation of dreams; imagining and constructing a 'better' future in someone's interest.

This second edition has been thoroughly revised and updated to include a look at the recent Grollo Tower development in Melbourne and a critique on Euralille, a new quarter development in Northern France. The book draws from a broad range of methodology including:

  • analysis of spatial structure
  • discourse analysis
  • phenomenology.

These approaches are woven together through a series of narratives on specific cities - Berlin, Beijing and Bangkok - and global building types including the corporate tower, shopping mall, domestic house and enclave.


I have long been fascinated by the meanings and mysteries of places – rooms, buildings, streets and cities; typical and exceptional; wonderful and awful. This book is driven by a belief in the an interest does not fit neatly into the discipline of architecture, which is my background, nor of urban design, urban planning or landscape architecture. Instead it entails a slippage between categories, a crossing of boundaries as regularly as we do in everyday life. I write from a context of teaching architecture and urban design in a university and therefore with a view to the task of designing places. It has always seemed to me that this task is, in a small way, to literally ‘change the world’. But whose interests prevail in this practice of ‘changing the world’? What do justice, democracy or liberation mean with regard to built form? What does ‘change’ mean in a world that is transforming in a bewildering range of ways that often seem both destructive and inevitable? the task of changing the world requires more than a capacity to climb on, or submit to, the Juggernaut.

Architecture and urban design are the most contradictory of practices – torn between a radically optimistic belief in the creation of the new, and a conservative acceptance of the prevailing order. Architects and urban designers engage with the articulation of dreams – imagining and constructing a ‘better’ future in someone’s interest. This optimistic sense of creative innovation largely defines the design professions which are all identified with constant change. Yet architecture is also the most conservative of practices. This conservatism stems from the fundamental inertia of built form as it ‘fixes’ and ‘stabilizes’ the world – space is deployed to stabilize time. It is this antinomous quality – coupling imaginative innovation with a stabilizing conservatism – that makes the interpretation of place so interesting yet problematic.

This book also arises from a certain tension between academic and public discourse. Social theory has turned its attention towards spatial issues in a major way since the 1980s and scholars such as Foucault, Derrida, Eagleton, Giddens, Lefebvre, Habermas, Bourdieu and Harvey are widely cited in architectural discourse. Yet these theorists rarely write about the specifics of built form and the ways in which their work is applied to design practice, and public debate is . . .

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