About the programme

The programme is a 2-year Master's programme at the school of Architecture. Read more about the programme's academic content and structure here.

Structure and Content

Sustainability remains the most vexing and critical concern of our time. Sadly, the political and economic order of today appears to be too impotent and undecisive to turn the direction of development toward a just and endurable future for all. Optimism dwindles as commitment to international goals and new green policies falters. In the face of growing frustration and bitter divides, future architects work inquisitively and creatively to develop site-sensitive architectural instruments for palpable change.

Political architecture does not rely uncritically on sustainability standards, certificates and green talk. It is important that architects become politically active through their profession, and that the profession realizes its political potential and responsibility.

The general approach we adopt toward political architecture is twofold: on the one hand practical, material and constructive; on the other analytical, conceptual, academic.

We raise our questions, individually and collectively, through courses, workshops lectures and exercises. Relative to the contexts at hand, we develop methods and tools pertaining to both domains, the scholarly and the practical. As the year progresses, the two perspectives become increasingly intertwined.

Even so, their dual capacities are kept separate, feeding into each other in a co-evolutionary process. A polyrythmic structure characterizes the program: lectures, individual tutorials, workshops, roundtables, fieldwork, networking, and seminars interweave to establish a type of project and research development practice that we call Co-evolutionary Project Work (CPW).

A special feature of the CPW environment is the “polysophicum”, a series of open discussion sessions devoted to singularly relevant texts and architectural examples. With these in-depth conversations, we meet the need to question architectural theory, philosophy and academic research papers with open-minded questioning and speculative rigor.

Fieldwork
A defining feature of the Political Architecture program is the annual campaign of fieldwork. This mandatory excursion provides us with architectural complexity, urgency and a foreign political context. The fundamental purpose of fieldwork is: 1) to select and explore a concrete political situation of particular complexity, and urgency; 2) to discover and construct individual project contexts, rich enough to feed co-evolutionary project work throughout the academic year. 

An equally defining feature of the study year is the return trip. In view of completing their projects, students return to the fieldwork destination and reconnect with stakeholders, local architects and policy-makers. Measuring the quality of one's work by its impression on those to whom it matters is of great value to students, but it is also a token of gratitude to the communities who have shared and helped us to understand. On the heels of the semester it is customary for students to collect and publish their production in a printed volume to beissued the following semester.

Our 2020 fieldwork destination is Yerevan, capital of  Armenia. A number of circumstances, political and architectural, motivates this choice. The city is characterized by a unique DIY building culture which has turned Soviet housing blocks into a labyrinthine meshwork of additions, materials, scales and possible new functions. The city is also known for its Habsburgian city plan which, with its radial logic provides particular possibilities and difficulties for movement, gathering and dispersal.

In April 2018, Yerevan became an international focal point due to an uprising which soon was named the Velvet Revolution. Like its namesake, the 1989 revolution in Czechoslovakia, this one was entirely peaceful and imminently successful. Led and supported largely by young Armenians who were to assert the legitimacy of the new government in fair and peaceful elections soon after the fall of the old authoritarian and largely corrupt regime, the current political establishment still enjoys popular support.

Not only are new reforms and a transition to a settled polity underway; new institutions are created and new ways of life call for the creation of new spaces to accommodate it. The architectures of past misruling are giving way to a city worthy of the hopes of the newly liberated. The historical shift is physically making its mark on the city - architecture and politics are entwined in the crafting of a democracy to come.

But as so many similar events have shown, the newborn hope, the visions and promises declared may easily collapse and the ensuing disappointment then easily paves the way for backlash. The theme for the 2020-21 study year is Post-revolution Architecture. As of yet it seems that Armenia has made a robust move for the better.

The transition from revolutionary spirit to settled political structures appears fragile but mostly stable and adhering to the principles it embraced with fervor. We seem to be witnessing a major change in privilege. A new liberalized economy is envisaged with a new tax code which may have enormous effect on small businesses and entrepreneurs who, in turn, are likely to change the face of the city. Corrupt civil officies and law enforcement, nepotistic graft schemes and an established bribe-friendly administration are targeted for clean-up, which means that legislation can perhaps be trusted to have intended effect.

Housing regulations are underway and infrastructural projects are planned. There is talk of tackling environmental issues tied to the mining industry and some measures to battle global warming are being introduced. This, we imagine, is what the transition still to come looks like: vagarious, uncertain and sensitive to letdowns and exploitation. 

What can architecture do here? We do not expect grand gestures, nor do we anticipate effective transformation. Yet students are encouraged to wield actual political impact at available levels of influence. It is not uncommon for a Political Architecture proposal to grasp a contentious issue at its very particular expression and offer a new, spatial way forward.

During fieldwork we will explore various spatial designs that act as preconditions and necessary conduits for particular instances of the new democratic government. Parliamentary buildings, public civil institutions and commercial centers belong to classic typologies as do public spaces, residential neighborhoods, symbolic buildings, industrial plants and infrastructural complexes.

Furthermore, if we open up the societal machinations in a particular place, say, a long-haul bus station, we may discover idiosyncratic practices and regulations that are complex and sensitive to spatial reconstruction. Relevant spaces are for example those directly associated with politically charged issues: fallen centers of power, privatized ownership, cultural value hierarchies, foreign investment schemes, urban-rural discrimination and the cruxes of liberal self-governing.

Furthermore, it might be fortuitous to consider the act of building as a political tool of connecting scales: larger and smaller scales of economy, organization and labor meet scales of tectonics, programming and aesthetics. We are likely to explore infrastructural agency; political urban engineering, material potentials, local building industries, cultures, histories and heritage being part of territorial identity.

Course Description

Education at Political Architecture: Critical Sustainability is structured after the annual cycle. Students work for a whole year on developing a single project. The defining event is the mandatory fieldwork expedition, which for each year targets a new destination and most often lasts three weeks, usually in October. 

During the two years of MA program studies, the annual cycle described above repeats itself with courses running on an inaugural level and an advanced level. The exception is the final fourth semester, which is spent finalizing the final thesis project, i.e. the ‘diploma project’. It follows that only the fall semester is repeated twice. As students on the third semester have the skills to pursue studies in a more self-directed way, their semester unfolds in slightly more individualized format.

Courses, Fall Semester
Constructing Context (CC)

Based on desk research, fieldwork, and input from external collaborators, students construct individual project contexts. Context construction will be student driven - reflecting personal interests and concerns mirrored in local findings, conceptual, material, political, historical, architectural, technological or socio-/anthropological. Also, students will engage in basic questions of "what architecture can do" - theoretically introduced via concepts such as architectural agency, performativity and affordance. As a part of CC, a workshop on site registration and mapping will be conducted in preparation for the fieldwork.

Fieldwork (c. 3 weeks)
Students and staff share accommodation in Yerevan where we also hold meetings, crits, and collaboration events. Connections are made with local academies, architects and other stakeholders to facilitate entryways into local conditions. All mandatory parts of the fieldwork are planned with utmost concern for student economy. All fieldwork costs are borne by the individual student.  

Critical Thinking (CT)
Based on ‘Constructing Context,’ a series of academic writing classes devoted to Critical Thinking will encourage students to cultivate writing techniques associated with the academic paper format [theory]. The results will be a short essay and a written preliminary program. The non-discursive side of project work is based on an iterative approach to developing architectural proposition. This aspect will be increasingly emphasized towards the end of first semester. 

Introducing Co-evolutionary Project Work (CPW)
The co-evolutionary approach centers on a process of parallel interaction through two-fold paths of investigation, one pursuing academic ‘thinking through scholarly method’, the other developing architectural proposition from ‘heuristic thinking through material production’. Students will begin to probe for creative potentials in connections and distinctions between academic work and architectural design processes.

Analyzing and Structuring//Architectural Proposition (c. 5 weeks)
After fieldwork, students are encouraged to examine their findings in view of furthering both research and project development. The course aims at sharpening individual projects through contextualization on three different levels. First level introduces a technique of probing their findings with distinct sketch proposals to establish a series of relevance orders. Second level is the examination of political context: students reflect on what their projects are capable of doing, locally and globally. Reflecting both on the representation of intended intervention and the presentation of changing conditions, students begin to construct a critical program for their project. Third level is the construction of an exploratory proposition for a chosen site, which combines the former two levels into a physical site intervention. 

Courses, Spring semester
Discourse Mutation Theory (DMT)

This course introduces the relationship between discursive and non-discursive critique. Special focus is on the morphogenetic forces that operate across the discursive/non-discursive divide. This class involves writing workshops and project development exercises that attempt to explore the limits of what, in a given malleable context, can be said and be seen. The workshop aims to render operative the theoretical tenets of DMT and thereby offer opportunities to practically think otherwise.

Diagram and Representation (DR) (c. 4 weeks)
Political attention is directed to the architectural means of thinking: drawing, model-making, writing, collage, mapping, diagram and a plethora of visualization techniques. All are recognized as a matter of exploration, while at the same time they are conditional for any project practice. The course is meant to expand and fine-tune students’ skills and toolboxes by practicing in the crossfire of this paradox. Without a transcendental position, architectural thinking confronts its own conditions of possibility and discovers the aesthetical and ethical meanings of selection and choice. 

Polysophicum (approx. every second week)
Throughout the year we take time off to devote our attention to a particular text, artwork, building or film. Rather than a regular class, this is a flat reading session where teachers and students work together through a corpus of seminal work.

 

Language

The programme language is English.

Contact Admissions

Contact Admissions

How to apply for MA in Political Architecture: Critical Sustainability