An international conference was held at the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff, Wales, UK on the 6-8 July 2011
The word ‘economy’ first described the management of a household. It comes from the Greek oikonomia—oikous (house) and nemein (manage)—but its description of domestic frugality bears little relation to the contemporary ‘economy’ of governments and financial markets. Economies and capital are central to the dynamics of construction and urbanism, in ordering and disordering patterns of production and consumption. Given the collapse and mismanagement of the larger households of our societies, is it not vital to now evaluate the multiple meanings and potentials contained within this word? This international conference invited papers that investigate economy under the following themes:
Dwelling and Economy
Economy was seen historically as a spatially situated physical and social entity. Accordingly we invite contributions which interpret architectural territories as households. The extreme abstraction which characterises 'the economy' of financial experts tends to disempower the non-expert in relation to creative and productive life. Global scale and seemingly boundless territory is a part of this condition. Where, we might ask, are the edges of global economics? Papers are invited that address economies as spatially and materially embodied ‘wholes’ read in relation to their creative or productive life. The households under consideration may be at any scale: bed-sit, house, estate, community. Historic and contemporary studies are welcome.
Economy and/of Means
The dialogue between architecture and economy can lead to the minimal or the extravagant according to the agendas at play among the various actors. If we speak of economy and means we might consider system-building, self-build, re-use and conservation, prefabrication and component development - factors which impact upon architectural production, procurement and design-team communications. If we speak of economy of means we might question ideas of the everyday, the as-found, and minimalism, and consider ways in which architects spend more to achieve a desired ‘less’ or, alternatively, achieve more with less. We invite papers that address these and related issues.
Politics of Economy
For Marx, studying political economy meant studying the means of production of the capitalist system—understanding the mechanisms by which a small elite produces profit from habits socialised into working people. Economy here is understood as a system of control, exploitation and alienation. Lefebvre, among others, proposed that consumption, distribution and branding produce the spaces of capitalism, and are produced by it. Papers might question how architects are produced by, or produce, political economy.
Architecture and Capital
‘We are soaked in economy as the mediaeval peoples were soaked in religion’, wrote Mies van der Rohe in 1959. The symbolic role of the cathedral has arguably been superseded by an architecture of capital, in which the bank, the commercial high-rise, shopping mall, and museum function as iconic destinations in urban landscapes produced for consumers. From the architecture of financial institutions, to the consequences of urban environments developed by speculators and programmed for tourists, papers could examine the historic, present, and future implications of environments built for economy.
The science of political economy as it emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was arguably purely mercantile and lacked any definition of social capital. It was not only labour that was divided, but people themselves that were broken. In resistance, John Ruskin proclaimed: ‘There is no Wealth but Life’. Architecture appears to be involved in wealth creation and deprivation—but how? We invite papers that address issues of how value is acquired, defined or created in the many realms of architecture and its discourse, including education, practice, criticism and research.
Keynote speakers were:
Birkbeck College, University of London
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
University of California, Davis
University of Sheffield School of Architecture
Sergison Bates architects, London
Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London
University of Westminster