New publication: Albena Yaneva, Mapping Controversies in Architecture

This is out since March 2012, here’s the amazon link.

‘By crossing the tools of science studies with the digital techniques of mapping controversies, this book renews the critique of architecture. It offers a new way to place architecture and design as one of the most exciting ways to explore the common world because it takes controversies as the normal state of affair. With many lively examples it is a masterpiece of theory made empirical .’

– Bruno Latour, Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris, France

’Yaneva brilliantly proposes a new and robust ethnographic approach to built form: mapping the controversies in which they emerge and seeing them as “connectors” with unique properties – neither just reflections of society or constructors of it, nor as cold materials – but as dynamically tying together different media, materials, peoples and things in a distinctly architectural way. This represents a profound shift in the way we can think anthropologically about the analysis of buildings and what buildings “do” and how they emerge socially and materially in the widest possible sense.’

– Victor Buchli, University College London, UK

’Mapping Controversies in Architecture is a fresh and highly productive challenge to the tendency of architectural theory to represent architecture as a static object. In Yaneva’s richly documented analysis, buildings become animated ecosystems, “in the making” long after the completion of their final design. Yaneva’s innovative methodology, hybridizing parametric animation and ‘post-parametric’ computation, unfolds buildings as multi-dimensional controversies. Political tides, technological shifts, financial crises and aesthetic experimentation are but a few of the actors Yaneva follows in demonstrating architecture’s fundamentally connective role. In doing so, she extends a powerful platform for discourse well beyond the architectural community.’

– Ariane Lourie Harrison, Yale School of Architecture, USA


This book tackles a number of challenging questions: How can we conceptualize architectural objects and practices without falling into the divides architecture/society, nature/culture, materiality/meaning? How can we prevent these abstractions from continuing to blind architectural theory? What is the alternative to critical architecture?
It places architecture at the intersection of the human and the nonhuman, the particular and the general. It allows its networks to
be re-established and to run between local and global, social and technical. Mapping controversies can be extrapolated to a wide range of complex phenomena of hybrid nature.

Bruno Latour, An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence, Intro and contents

In case you didn’t know, the Intro and contents of the French version of Latour’s Inquiry into the modes of existence is currently available on his website. I was already familiar with most of the arguments and material presented in the introduction as this is mostly stuff I have already heard in some of his recent talks and interviews. Some themes are presented in this talk from a 2006 seminar in which he discusses Irreductions 30 years later and puts it in perspective with his new work.

On colors

One significant difference I notice between the writing history and ethnography is the possibility of adding colors to a description. Most historical writing has to be in black and white by default. By contrast, ethnographic descriptions have all the liberty to add colors, but very few do so. I have attempted to add four or five color adjectives in my recent text on crowd engineering in Shanghai and I was quite satisfied with the result even if, on content grounds, they added absolutely nothing to the argument. Four or five colors might be just enough. Twelve colors would perhaps evoke something like the Yellow Submarine cover.

Richard Sennett at GSD tonight



Tuesday, February 28
06:30pm – 08:00pm


Piper Auditorium, Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

Event Description

“The theme of the lecture addresses a question: how can we design spaces in the city which encourage strangers to cooperate?  To explore this question, I’ll draw on research in the social sciences about cooperation, based on my book, and relate this research to current issues in urban design.”

Richard Sennett, a faculty member at New York University and the London School of Economics, is the 2012 Senior Fellow of the Loeb Fellowship Program.

“A Brief Biography” (from Richard Sennett’s website)

“Richard Sennett has explored how individuals and groups make social and cultural sense of material facts — about the cities in which they live and about the labour they do. He focuses on how people can become competent interpreters of their own experience, despite the obstacles society may put in their way. His research entails ethnography, history, and social theory. As a social analyst, Mr. Sennett continues the pragmatist tradition begun by William James and John Dewey.

His first book, The Uses of Disorder, [1970] looked at how personal identity takes form in the modern city. He then studied how working-class identities are shaped in modern society, in The Hidden Injuries of Class, written with Jonathan Cobb. [1972] A study of the public realm of cities, The Fall of Public Man, appeared in 1977; at the end of this decade of writing, Mr. Sennett sought to account the philosophic implications of this work in Authority [1980].

At this point he took a break from sociology, composing three novels: The Frog who Dared to Croak [1982], An Evening of Brahms [1984] and Palais Royal [1987]. He then returned to urban studies with two books, The Conscience of the Eye, [1990], a work focusing on urban design, and Flesh and Stone [1992], a general historical study of how bodily experience has been shaped by the evolution of cities.

In the mid 1990s, as the work-world of modern capitalism began to alter quickly and radically, Mr. Sennett began a project charting its personal consequences for workers, a project which has carried him up to the present day. The first of these studies, The Corrosion of Character, [1998] is an ethnographic account of how middle-level employees make sense of the “new economy.” The second in the series, Respect in a World of Inequality, [2002} charts the effects of new ways of working on the welfare state; a third, The Culture of the New Capitalism, [2006] provides an over-view of change. Most recently, Mr. Sennett has explored more positive aspects of labor in The Craftsman [2008], and in a study of cooperation to appear in 2012.”