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Douglas Spencer - Architectural Deleuzism

Douglas Spencer - Architectural Deleuzism

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Published by Ross Wolfe
From Radical Philosophy, "Architectural Deleuzism."
From Radical Philosophy, "Architectural Deleuzism."

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Published by: Ross Wolfe on Aug 13, 2013
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Radical Philosophy 168 (July/August 2011) 
Architectural Deleuzism
Neoliberal space, control and the ‘univer‑city’
dougas Spencer
For many thinkers of the spatiality of contemporarycapitalism, the production of all social space tendsnow to converge upon a single organizational paradigmdesigned to generate and service mobility, connectivity
and exibility. Networked, landscaped, borderless and
reprogrammable, this is a space that functions, withinthe built environments of business, shopping, educationor the ‘creative industries’, to mobilize the subject as acommunicative and enterprising social actant. Integrat-ing once discrete programmes within its continuousterrain, and promoting communication as a mechanismof valorization, control and feedback, this spatial modeltrains the subject for a life of opportunistic networking.Life, in this environment, is lived as a precarious andongoing exercise in the acquisition of contacts, theexchange of information and the pursuit of projects. Asa form of space, this is consistent with what Foucaultdescribed as the mode of neoliberal governmentality,operating through environmental controls and modu-lations, rather than the disciplinary maintenance of normative individual behaviour. It also, as many havenoted, resembles the ‘control society’ forecast sometime ago by Gilles Deleuze, in his ‘Postscript on Socie-ties of Control’, in which the movement of ‘dividuals’ istracked and monitored across the transversal ‘smoothspace’ of a post-disciplinary society. Developed, in partat least, in response to the growth of post-Fordist knowl-edge economies, so-called immaterial labour, and theprevalence of networked communications media, thisspatial paradigm has been theorized through modelsof complexity, self-organization and emergence. Ithas also been serviced, as I want to show in whatfollows, by a self-styled avant-garde in contemporaryarchitecture claiming and legitimizing the emergenceof this mode of spatiality as essentially progressivethrough its particular reading of the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari.What I will term here ‘Deleuzism’ in architecture
 – identiable in the projects and discourse of practicessuch as Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), Foreign Ofce
Architects (FOA), Reiser + Umemoto, and Greg Lynn,for example – has tended to read the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari with a marked bias towards itsBergsonian and Spinozian (rather than Marxian) regis-ters. Filtering from the philosophers’ corpus any traceof criticality, it has not, though, renounced the politicalin this process, but rather reframed it as a matter of organization and affect. Transcribing Deleuzean (orDeleuzoguattarian) concepts such as the ‘fold’, ‘smoothspace’ and ‘faciality’ into a prescriptive repertoire of formal manoeuvres, Deleuzism in architecture has
proposed, through its claims to mirror the afrmative
materialism of becoming and ‘the new’ which it hasfound within Deleuze and Guattari’s œuvre, that itshares with that œuvre a ‘progressive’ and ‘emancipa-tory’ agenda.In the main part of the article that follows, I wantto explore this supposed agenda through the study of an exemplary recent project: FOA’s design for the newcampus of Ravensbourne College (2010) located on theGreenwich Peninsula in London. This is an especiallyinteresting project in this context, not only because of the ways in which it connects with current concernsregarding the neoliberal marketization of education(particularly in the UK), but because of the reputation
acquired by FOA, and their central gure Alexander
Zaera-Polo, of being at the leading edge of contempo-
rary architectural Deleuzism. Like many other gures
from this milieu, FOA initially extracted from the workof Deleuze and Guattari a number of key conceptsappearing to lend themselves readily to translation into
a set of formal and spatial tropes, but, signicantly,
they have more recently returned to the question of thepolitical, once denounced by Zarea-Polo as ephemeralto the concerns of architecture,
and positioned thebuilding envelope as the organizational and repre-sentational medium through which the discipline cannow acquire political agency. It is to this turn within
architectural Deleuzism, along with its re-conceptionof the political and claims to have advanced beyond asupposedly outmoded and regressive politics of oppo-sition and critique, that this aricle will attend. Beforecoming directly to FOA and to the Ravensbourne
project, however, I need rst to trace the emergence
of Deleuze’s dominant position within recent ‘avant-garde’ architectural theory more generally.
The new architecture
During the period of its initial development in the1990s, Deleuzism in architecture was driven, primarily,by readings of the philosopher’s
The Fold: Leibnizand the Baroque
, and the section on the smooth andthe striated, from Deleuze and Guattari’s
 A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
. Promoted asan architectural device in the 1993 special edition of 
 Architectural Design
Folding in Architecture
,which featured essays and projects by Peter Eisenman,Greg Lynn and Jeffrey Kipnis, among others, Deleuze’s‘fold’, with its apparent correlation of Leibniz’s phil-osophy with the formal complexity of the architecturalBaroque, seemed, in particular, to offer architecturean escape route from its entanglement in linguisticand semiotic paradigms, and opened the way for a
return to form, as a concern more proper and specic
to its own discipline. Eisenman, for example, claimedto have employed the fold as a generative device inhis Rebstockpark project of 1990, a heavily Deleuz-ian account of which was further elaborated in JohnRajchman’s
Conceptually related tothe fold, the schema of the smooth and the striatedwas originally elaborated in
 A Thousand Plateaus
 to articulate the relations between open and closedsystems in technology, music, mathematics, geography,
politics, art and physics. Smooth space was gured
there as topologically complex, in continuous varia-
tion and uid. This was a space – a sea or a desert
 – through which one drifted, nomadically. Striated
space, by contrast, was dened by its rigid geometry, a
space carved up into functional categories channellingthe movements of its occupants along the pre-inscribedlines of its Cartesian grid. Striated space was standard-ized, disciplinary and imperial. Again, these concepts,
particularly the implicit (though qualied)
privilegingof smooth space and continuous variation over staticgeometry, were found to resonate with architecture’sengagement with complex topologies whilst suggest-ing that its formal experimentation was also imbuedwith philosophically radical implications. Deleuzean‘smoothing’ and the pursuit of continuous variationhas been referenced in the architectural writings of,variously, Lynn, Reiser and Umemoto, Patrick Schu-macher and FOA, for instance, to suggest the philo-sophical substance of the complex formal modulationsthat characterize their work.The usefulness of Deleuze and Guattari’s phil-osophy was not limited, though, to its provision of the formal tropes of folding and smoothing, but alsoextended to a conception of the ‘new’ with whicharchitectural Deleuzism could further differentiateitself from the preceding currents of postmodernismand deconstructivism in the 1980s and early 1990s. InKipnis’s contribution to the
Folding in Architecture
 volume, ‘Towards a New Architecture’, postmodernistarchitecture was hence cast as politically conserva-tive, even reactionary, due to its ultimate inability toproduce the new. In its use of collage and historicism,postmodernism’s ultimate effect, he argued, was to
‘valorize a nite catalogue of elements and/or pro
-cesses’. For Kipnis, postmodern architecture had
enabled a reactionary discourse that re-establishestraditional hierarchies and supports received systemsof power, such as the discourse of the nothing newemployed by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcherfor their political ends and by Prince Charles, RogerScruton and even Charles Jencks to prop up PoMo.
Whatever the truth of this, one further marker of the ‘new’ architecture’s own newness was, in turn,its departure from any semiotic or linguistic para-digm, even the most radically conceived (as in decon-struction), in favour of a supposedly new Deleuzeanorientation adopted by its theorists such as Lynn andSanford Kwinter. These, wrote Kipnis, had turned from‘post-structural semiotics to a consideration of recentdevelopments in geometry, science and the transforma-tion of political space, a shift that is often marked asa move from a Derridean to a Deleuzean discourse’.
The proposition that Deleuze could think the newin terms of ‘political space’, while Derrida was miredin the detached realm of ‘post-structural semiotics’,though unsustainable as a reading of their actual phi-losophies, was thus mobilized by Kipnis and others inorder to distinguish the new architecture from that of its immediate predecessors such as Bernard Tschumi(or the earlier Eisenman). Where such architects had
been identied with Derridean deconstruction, a new
generation would need to distinguish itself both fromits architectural predecessors and from the philosophywith which these had been associated. Yet in order toratify this new architecture with the same pedigreeof philosophical sophistication as that accorded todeconstructivist architecture, a comparable counterpartto Derrida had to be found. Enter Deleuze.
As François Cusset has noted, there was a broadertrajectory of transition from ‘Lacanian–Derridean’ to‘Deleuzean–Lyotardian’ positions during this periodin American academia.
So, this is far from uniqueto architecture. But the shift towards Deleuze, in USarchitectural culture at least, has also to be understoodin terms of how the place of the ‘new’, or of ‘becom-ing’, in the thought of Deleuze could be made ame-nable to an architecture seeking to establish for itself an image of novelty as its very
raison d’être
. Indeed,for the ‘new architecture’, the term ‘new’ operated as
a convenient conation of two senses of the term: one
identifying it as succeeding the old (deconstructiv-ism or postmodernism), the other as an orientationtowards a philosophy of invention itself, putativelyderived from Deleuze. At this point philosophy wasconjoined to an exercise in academic marketing; the
new as invention conated with the new as the rebrand
-ing of an architectural ‘avant-garde’. Exemplary of this mobilization of newness isReiser + Umemoto’s
 Atlas of  Novel Tectonics
, where post-modernism is employed as thefoil against which the noveltyof their approach to architectureis contrasted. Here Deleuze, andDeleuze and Guattari, are read,above all, as philosophers of matter, emergence and becom-ing. Through their allegiance tothis philosophy the architectsthus pursue, they claim, anagenda of ‘difference’ and ‘theunforeseen’: ‘The primary andnecessary conceit of this work
is that benecial novelty is the
preferred condition to stabilityand the driving agenda behind architectural practice.’
Where Deleuzism in architecture originally under-took, then, to establish its autonomy from the lin-guistically oriented concerns of poststructuralism, itsubsequently sought to distance itself too, as part
of its afrmation of the new – indeed, afrmationof afrmation – from any obligation to engage with
. Through its alliance with the ‘post-critical’position emerging, around the same time, in US archi-tectural discourse – marked by the publication of Robert Somol and Sarah Whiting’s now near-canonical‘Notes Around the Doppler Effect and Other Moodsof Modernism’ in the journal
in 2002 – itarticulated its opposition to critique as a matter bothextrinsic to the ‘proper’ concerns of architecture, andas a counterproductive form of ‘negativity’.
In anessay of 2004, ‘On the Wild Side’, for example, Kipnisdescribes criticality as a ‘disease’ that he wants to‘kill’, ‘once and for all’.
For Zaera-Polo, similarly,criticality is anachronistic, and, in its ‘negativity’,allegedly inadequate to deal with contemporary levelsof social complexity:
I must say that the paradigm of the ‘critical’ is in myopinion part of the intellectual models that becameoperative in the early 20th century and presumedthat in order to succeed we should take a kind of ‘negative’ view towards reality, in order to be crea-tive, in order to produce new possibilities. In myopinion, today the critical individual practice thathas characterized intellectual correctness for most of the 20th Century is no longer particularly adequateto deal with a culture determined by processes of 
transformation on a scale and complexity difcult to
understand … you have to be fundamentally engagedin the processes and learn to manipulate them fromthe inside. You never get that far into the process asa critical individual. If we talk in terms of the con-struction of subjectivity, the critical belongs to Freuda Lacan [
], what I called ‘productive’, to Deleuze.
Zaera-Polo’s remarks here are signicant not onlyin recruiting Deleuze to the afrmative ‘produc
-tivity’ of the new architecture (and in the processeradicating through a crude binary opposition thereal continuities between Lacan and Deleuze andGuattari, to be found, for example, in the concept of ‘territorialization’), but also in the proposition thatarchitecture position itself within the complexitiesof contemporary culture so as to ‘manipulate’ themfrom the inside. Where Deleuzism in architecture isto be autonomous from any engagement with lin-guistic paradigms or critical perspectives, through
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