(james benedict brown) on the road

This is what we do

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 1 November, 2007

Today is the day when ‘the studios go up’. The thirty week academic year at the University of Sheffield is divided for Master in Architecture students into two parts: the six week ‘live project’ at the start of the year (which concludes next week) and then the twenty-four week ‘studio’. Nine studios have been offered to students by various members of the school’s full and part time staff, and students voted for their preference by way of a first/second/third choice voting slip. All sixth year students have been placed in their first or second choice studio; some fifth years have had to settle for their third choice to balance numbers. Most of us found out who we’d be spending the rest of the academic year with this morning when the studio list was pinned up in the studio (the actual studio where we work, that is…).

Who knows where the studios will take us, but for a brief clue at what’s to come, here’s the handbook description of my studio. You can find all nine listed between pages 18 and 25 of the 2007/8 M.Arch Handbook.

Studio 9: Challenging the Architecture of Public Security
Co-ordinator: Florian Kossak

“But while the history of cities is certainly a history of freedom, it is also a history of tyranny, of State administration controlling ot only the country but the city itself. The towns may have supplied the historical battleground for freedom, but up to now they have not taken possession of that freedom.”

— Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 176

‘Security’ is one of the key words in the current political and economic debate. In fact, it can be argued that ‘security’ has always been an issue within the discourse of any ruling class. Hence, it is also an ideologically loaded term that puts up a smoke screen regarding its actual means and ends.

Today, ‘security’ is ever more used as justification for the introduction of a plethora of new legislation, policies and physical means that aim to both sanction and prevent specific actions or behaviour. As the physical terrain of ‘private’ and ‘public security’ is mainly to be found within the urban realm and architecture the analysis of its mechanisms and techniques is vital for our understanding of the contemporary built environment.

The questions we have to ask, not only as architects, is whether we accept this increasing, and possibly irrevocable transformation of our build environment that subjects public as well as private buildings and spaces to a state of total surveillance, control and covert militarisation. Or, do we find ways to counter this dystopian current and develop alternative spatial and organisational responses, even think the ‘unthinkable’, a truly liberated space.

The studio will first work on a systematic overview of the historical and current relationship between the mechanisms, techniques and technologies of ‘security’ in the construction and operation of buildings and cities. We will engage with a multi-disciplinary discourse that brings together approaches and knowledge from the fields of architectural history, critical theory, political, economic and social sciences, policy-making, as well as military technology. This shall result in a critical analysis of the growing formation of zones of surveillance and control within the contemporary city and modern building typologies.

Building on this critical knowledge the studio aims to develop architectural projects that are able to question, challenge, counter, subvert, or dissolve the very notion of ‘security’ and its dominance in the way we produce and perceive buildings and cities. As ‘security’ is a global phenomenon we will not be bound to work in or with one specific locality.

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