An Architecture Space and Society Centre Conference

27-28 April 2023

Venue: The Birkbeck Clore Management Centre, 27 Torrington Square, London WC1E 7JL


Luisa Lorenza Corna (Honorary Research Fellow, Birkbeck, University of London),

Mark Crinson (Professor of Architectural History, Birkbeck, University of London),

Supported by the Architecture Space and Society Centre (Birkbeck)

The conference is free and open to anyone interested. There is no registration required.

The conference aims to sample how the work of architectural historians, and contemporary architectural scholarship more broadly, relates to the analytical categories and concepts belonging to the Marxist tradition, and to open out new lines of research and theoretical enquiry.

Are the concepts of kritik, labour, ideology, totality, reproduction or imperialism, to mention some amongst the main ones, still of use to decipher the entanglements of architecture, the political and social spheres?  If so, what current research and theoretical work succeeds in bringing the theoretical toolkit provided by historical materialism to bear upon the present in challenging and innovative ways? What resources or examples are there in the historiography of architectural history (despite the fact that a Marxist tradition has been only marginally sustained within that discipline), or indeed in returning to those moments when Marx and Engels touched on environmental critique? How can Marxist concepts be strategized in responding to tendencies like ‘new materialism’, which after more than a decade continues to inform certain strands of architectural theory? In what ways can the Marxist tradition speak to the environmentalist concerns of global warming and extractivism and how this has entered architectural history and theory? What does a Marxist critique do in relation to contesting efforts to advance a global architectural and design history? What steps have been taken to address the built environment in the light of racial capitalism? What studies are trying to intersect an analysis of infrastructure with those of contemporary imperialism(s)?  And finally, how are architectural and spatial theory responding to the postcolonial vs decolonial debate?

This is a conference of invited papers focused on particular aspects of research relating to the above concerns. We hope to bring out those broader concerns with ample discussion time following the sessions, through discussion of an artist’s film at the end of the first day, and through a round table of invited speakers and discussion at the end.

Conference Schedule

Thursday 27th April

10.30am: Introduction – Mark Crinson and Luisa Lorenza Corna

11am-12.30pm: First session – Ideological Formations

Elizabeth McKellar (Open University) – ‘Summerson’s Marxist Moment: Georgian London and Historical Materialism’

Tom Wilkinson (Birkbeck, University of London) – ‘Siegfried Kracauer, Architectural Employee’

12.30-1.30pm: Lunch

1.30-3pm: Second sessionLabour and its Histories

Silke Kapp (Federal University of Minas Gerais) and Katie Lloyd Thomas (Newcastle University) – ‘Down below, disqualification: How to design the formal subsumption of labour’

George Jepson (Architectural Association) – ‘Industry and (Ir)rationality: Tracing the Formal Tensions in the Architecture of 19th century Manchester’

3-3.30pm: Break

3.30-4.30pm: Book launch and ‘in conversation’ Nick Thorburn on Brutalism as Found: Housing, Form and Crisis at Robin Hood Gardens (2022)

4.30-5.30pm: Wine Reception – Clore Basement Foyer

Friday 28th April

10am-12pm: Third session – Building the Racial Regime of Modernity

Alistair Cartwright (University of Liverpool) – ‘Ground Work: Marx, Viollet-Le-Duc and Disaster Reconstruction’

Sebastiaan Loosen (ETH, Zurich) ‘Requalifying Architecture in the Foreign Aid-Funded Knowledge Economy: Marxist Trajectories in the Postcolonial Context’

Nick Beech (University of Westminster) – ‘Policing the Crisis: Locating the urban in Marxist critiques of the 1970s’

12-1pm: Film viewing and discussion – Onyeka Igwe, ‘A so-called archive’

1-2pm: Lunch

2-3.30pm: Fourth session – Infrastructure and Environment

Tijana Stevanovic (Bartlett, UCL) – ‘The city is not a living organism’: Class Struggle in Claude Schnaidt’s Environmental Critique’

Rujana Rebernjak (London College of Communication) – ‘Designing the Environment of Self-Management: From Marxist Theory to Technocratic Practice’

3.30-3.45pm: Break

3.45-4.45pm: Roundtable

David Cunningham (University of Westminster)

Louis Moreno (Goldsmiths University)

Dubravka Sekulic (Royal College of Art)

5pm: Drinks at the Institute of Education Bar