About the programme

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

Structure and Content

Our political question concerns architectural sustainability. To question it is to not assume or take for granted the established definitions of what sustainability means, whether it is universally desirable, or what kinds of architectures are truly sustainable. Taking such a question seriously is to recognize the urgency of the matter at stake and the need to take imminent 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.

To raise our questions, we offer a number of courses, workshops and exercises that introduce methods and tools that belong to both domains, the scholarly and the practical. As the year progresses, the two perspectives become increasingly intertwined. Even so, their dual capacities are never unified. A polyrythmic structure characterizes the program: lectures, individual tutorials, workshops, roundtables, fieldwork, networking, and seminars interweave to establish a type of research development practice that we call Co-evolutionary Project Work.

A special feature of the CPW environment is the “polysophicum”, a series of open discussion sessions devoted to a singularly relevant text, artwork, film or other. With these in-depth conversations, we meet the need to question scientific and practical truths with 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. 

For the 2019 fieldwork we have chosen the French city of Calais, yet recognized as a European center. It means that we extend our research site to include three major European capitals and political hotbeds: Paris, Brussels and London. All can be reached from Calais within a two hour train ride. Calais itself and the three metropolises make up the perhaps most apparent sites but smaller cities and rural areas are equally important. The fieldwork site is therefore loosely defined by what’s within a circumference through the three capitals with Calais as its center. 

The theme for the 2019-20 study year is Disintegrating Democracies. We seem to be witnessing a major crisis of western democracy and a looming threshold beyond which fundamental values, practices, institutions and allegiances may no longer be taken for granted. A number of status reports issued in early 2019 confirm what journalists and academics have called attention to with increasing urgency during the past years: democratic rule as we know it is weakening. Signs are plentiful: polarized communities fail to find common ground  and stop socializing at the peril of civic society; political elites detach from citizens, are often treated as nobilities when appearing in person but with disdain and contempt in media; Globalized economies and politics have connected people but also created unbridgeable gaps between the corporate and the public, the upper crust and the left-behinds. Migration, populism, alt-right, political power-gaming, social media addiction, post-fact news, extremist terror threats, tax evasion schemes, aggressive lobby groups and corruption plots, constant alarm, impending doom, im/omnipotent leadership and ensuing political fatigue; democratic rule is challenged on many fronts, its essential mechanics in a precarious state. 

What can architecture do? We do not expect grand solutions, nor do we anticipate effective change. But we know students may wield actual political impact, if not very often on a general policy level. 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 democratic government. A parliamentary building, plenary hall and town hall belong to classic typologies as do public spaces, campaign booths, polling stations. Yet further, if we open the machine room in a particular place, let’s say the harbor of Calais, 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: migration, vigilante groups, radicalism, lobbying, peripheral semi-autonomies. 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 landscape engineering, material potentials, local building industries, cultures, histories and heritage being part of territorial identity. An overarching perspective is sustainability and its intimate, yet precarious relation to democracy.

Course Description

Education at PA:CS 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

CC. Constructing Context
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 Calais where we also hold meetings, crits, and collaboration events. It has been common that the program establishes connection with a local architecture school or practices to facilitate entryway into local conditions. Students often work in teams, sometimes with local students, before splitting up to conduct individual investigations. Any mandatory parts of the fieldwork are planned with utmost concern for student economy .All fieldwork costs are borne by the individual student. 

CT. Critical Thinking
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 the semester. 

CPW. Introducing Co-evolutionary Project Work
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
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.

Image and Representation (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 whatsoever. 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. 

Philosophicum (once in a while)
Throughout the year we take time off when we can 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.

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