TOTW: Against Architecture
2022 03 27
I have been thinking recently about what seems to me to be one of the greatest failures of anarchist, anti-technology and anti-civilisation discourse and practice. This failure is that of not having presented much, if any, critique or challenge to architecture, which seems to me to be the cage that captures most within the totalitarianism of this technologically dependent culture. What I mean by “architecture” is buildings and all that is involved in serving their Cause.
This is by no means intended as a challenge to what I would describe as nest, or shelter, creating, as nests/shelters do not strike me to be ways and means of capturing and containing individuals within the work-machine, unless an individual chooses to use one to keep being part of the work-machine when rendered without a house or other building to occupy. What I mean by a nest or a shelter is generally something that any individual can transport, assemble, take down and move again, such as a tent, or anything like the shelters being used by uncontacted people or pre-civilised people. When I was involved in a local homeless support group I had a conversation with a guy who had been houseless by choice for well over a decade (possibly 2 or 3) and hearing him speak about how he found his tent far more desirable than any mansion was beautiful.
Rather than striving for this kind of primal-freedom, of seeking to not live lifestyles of architectural-technological dependency, anarchists often seem to desire capture-by-buildings more than anything else – be it through the squat or the “democratically run” factory. A friend of mine who lived for a while at La Zad told me of how they witnessed competitive barn building, fights over barns and similar barn-oriented shitty politics and policing, rather than solidarity, mutual aid and anything that they had wanted to experience there – barns becoming the technologies of capture and church-like Causes.
Anti-technology discourse, which is often focused so intensely on contemporary gadgets and the technologies that are the products of the industrial revolution, similarly has, as far as I can see, failed to present any substantial challenges and/or critiques of architecture. It is tragi-comic that the holy-prophet of many sympathetic to anti-technology thought and action, Ted Kaczynski – whose Jesus-like position as a martyr, as being made by the Father whose forsook him, is often missed by his worshippers – spent much of his life captured by the cabin that was his bomb factory, only then to be captured within the architecture of the prison system. Also, I am often amazed at how anti-civilisation discourse so readily challenges “green technologies” and domestication, whilst largely ignoring the Cause that these technologies and narratives serve; architecture.
Most “radical” thought regarding architecture surmounts to little more than trying to envisage apartment complexes with community gardens built into them, or the Situationist style city that is constantly being taken apart and rebuilt – both of which strike me as horrific to imagine. Deconstructivist-architecture and anti-architecture are seemingly nowhere to be found, nor is there any challenge or critique to the “authority” of the Designer. Within Marxism, the architect is upheld as superior to the bee and it seems like this mode of speciesism is located within even more “libertarian” socialist economic theories.
Perhaps the best challenges to architecture, within discourse, that I have encountered come from Thoreau’s writings, which I have returned to recently. I am very much in agreement with Thoreau that, while civilisation might have improved the houses of the domesticated and the objects that they place within their houses, architectural improvements have done nothing to improve those who live within these houses or their lives. The obvious contradiction/paradox here, which does not negate the statements Thoreau makes regarding architecture, is that for the most famous and (seemingly) personally significant part of Thoreau’s life, he was (arguably) captured by his cabin – though I see this as a far less intensity of capture than that of the mansion owner, who puts in video surveillance around their house and lives with the anxiety of losing all that “they own”(/owns them), or of those who today may work 3, 4 or more jobs, in order to pay their rent and keep living within the flat that has seemingly captured them. It is fair to say that I too am subject to this contradiction/paradox, as I am currently sitting within the barn conversion bungalow that I call home, though I know that my intensity of capture is far less than the examples I just gave, as it is comparatively very cheap to upkeep and I do not feel paranoid regarding the safety of any of my “property” – I also don’t mind breaking the law of the excluded middle and living in the truth that I am both captured and not captured.
I will include here that another inspiration for this TOTW, alongside Thoreau’s thought, has been seeing more housing developments local to me, cutting down areas of woodland to build large poor quality houses, while also seeing large abandoned buildings being left unused and falling apart.
So, for this topic of the week, I invite anyone willing to suggest ways and means of challenging architectural totalitarianism, forms of architectural deconstructionism, new critiques of architecture and, if also desired, challenges to anti-architectural thought (of which I am sure there will be many).
May we live lives more beautiful than our houses! May we care for ourselves and those we love more than we care for the buildings that capture us!
We thank Julian Langer for sending us this TOTW submission via email.