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Sn 3 - Ep 4

POLITICAL ARCHITECTURE AND THE PROLETARIAN ETHIC
by
Keefer Dunn
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The late-capitalist bourgeoisie have no political utility for leveraging aesthetics and planning to improve quality of life for the many. [1] In this vacuum, architects interested in doing good must fight for scraps (grant money) to carry out token projects under the umbrellas of “Social Architecture,” “Alternative Practice,” or “Critical Practice,” which prop up a professional myth of architecture as an inherent good. It’s a useful myth for coping with the alienation of a dull job, while simultaneously bolstering developmentalist ideology.

Architecture has become solely reserved for the technical aspects of complex development, displays of conspicuous consumption, or branding. “Ethical practice,” as a category, is always jettisoned away from the mainstream since there is no need for it to mediate the contradictions of capital. [2] Politics becomes a specialty, going corporate means selling out, architectural workers suffer, and developers laugh all the way to the bank. However, our political climate is changing, and so are the possibilities for how architectural workers can engage politically.

The industry is increasingly centralized around a handful of global AEC firms tasked with the technical implementation of global urban development. On first blush, these trends carry ill tidings for left architects. We are forced to contend not only with the full subsumption of design production into market logics, but also with the reactionary perspectives that seek to resurrect the gentleman professional as a model of practice. However, the size of this political task is equal to the size of its potential. If we want a more just spatial environment, the left must find ways of intervening in mainstream architectural practice.

No longer is justice something we demand for others on the basis of ethics. It is something we demand for ourselves as part of the masses. For many architectural workers, solidarity is not an abstract consideration, but a practical necessity. This is why a proletarian ethic of solidarity will supplant professional ethics, and the architectural project as a vehicle for change will be replaced by workplace organizing. A critical mass of architectural workers can be organized to constitute a small but powerful piece of a general workers movement.

We must be mindful that objective conditions are not deterministic. Even in a newly proletarianized capacity, architectural workers could be bought off in a Faustian bargain with capital. As left architects, we must demonstrate that we are better off throwing our lot in with the resurgent left than giving in. For a generation that has witnessed recessions, precarious work, endless war, mounting student debt, and impending environmental collapse, there has never been an easier moment to make this case. So, let’s dispense with the conception of political practice as only a specialty. Let’s organize and win, wherever you are; the bigger the office, the better.

NOTES 🚘🏀🐤🍏🌎🍇

[1] Le Corbusier famously gave elites an ultimatum: “architecture or revolution.” This notion (see Manfredo Tafuri’s discussion of “The Plan of Capital” in Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development, 1973) was simple: appease the masses with quality housing and livable cities, or face the end. This ultimatum makes little sense in the context of neoliberal hegemony and the development of new mechanisms of control.

[2] While capital provides the motive for this jettisoning, the actual mechanism is architects who have themselves internalized neoliberal ideology, or the false belief that there’s a distinction between the hard-nosed, practical “real-world” and idealistic projects.
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