Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Building Type Production and Everyday Life: Rethinking Building Types through Actor-Network Theory and Object-Oriented Philosophy

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Building Type Production and Everyday Life: Rethinking Building Types through Actor-Network Theory and Object-Oriented Philosophy

Article excerpt

Abstract. The aim of this paper is to reconceptualise 'building type' in order to better account for its general role in society and everyday life. The paper merges the concept of building type with actor-network theory and object-oriented philosophy in order to develop the concept of 'territorial sorts' as a way of widening building-type research and making it more useful for investigating how building types are actually produced, not just in terms of the work done by different kinds of authorities, such as architects, engineers, and building regulators, but also in terms of the ongoing practices and power relations of everyday life.

Keywords: building types, everyday life, territorality, actor-network theory, object-oriented philosophy, topology

Introduction

The concept of building type has traditionally been based on two different kinds of logic; the logic of form (materiality and construction), such as the morphological schemata of Jean-Nicolas-Luis Durand's Precis (2000 [1802-05]), and the logic of function, such as the division into different usages inNikolaus Pevsner's A History' of Building Types (1976). Much of the discussion of building typology is also centred on the relationship between these two logics and how they interrelate. Brenda Case Scheer names these two different perspectives formal type and use-type (2010, page 2; cf Markus, 1993, pages 33 ff), and the discourse of building types as it has evolved in the research fields of, for example, morphology and architectural theory and history has tended to focus on one side of the split between form and function. The focus on either form or function could sometimes have advantages, but becomes problematic in discussions on building-type production. As Scheer has suggested, the production of a successful building type often includes a synomorphic evolution of form and use where "a series of functions ... [has] been choreographed and refined over time, in part because of the existence of a successful type" (2010, page 32).

Building types play fundamental, and sometimes unrecognised, roles in our societies, not just in urban planning and architectural design, but also in the simple ongoings of everyday life. To investigate this further, one would, however, need a building-type theory that allows us to focus on events and effects rather than forms and functions. In this paper, I use actor-network theory (ANT) and object-oriented philosophy (OOP) to develop a building-type theory that better addresses the complex and sometimes user-driven production of building types in society. In the first part I develop an actor-network perspective (Latour, 2005) that, by bypassing the traditional dichotomies of form and function, helps us to describe building types as a heterogeneous and multiscalar phenomenon. In Mapping Controversies in Architecture (2012) Albena Yaneva has proposed an architectural theory inspired by ANT and the theories of Bruno Latour (2005), seeking to trace an 'architecture on the move', as it unfolds in practice (Latour and Yaneva, 2008). Yaneva's approach, following ANT closely, does not take dualisms such as society and architecture (or form and function) as givens, but looks at architectural processes as they unfold from a less differentiated and more anthropological perspective (Yaneva, 2012, pages 25-48). With the help of fluid topology as described by Annemarie Mol and John Law (1994; Law and Mol, 2001), I also develop a perspective on building types as territorial sorts, where territorial sorts can be described as kinds of territorial stabilisations by actors, interconnected through "various more or less viscous combinations" (Mol and Law, 1994, page 660). In the second part of the paper, I use OOP (Harman, 2009; 2010a; 2011) to investigate the role of objects in building-type production further. A building type is not just a spatial product; it is also an autonomous object of its own--in fact, this double role is, as we shall see, of the essence in processes of typologisation. …

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