Whatever happened to ‘Lefebvrean architecture’?, by Richard Bower

Architecture is (arguably) defined by its relationship with wider social, economic and philosophical ideas and theories; from the advent of modernism through to post-modern/structural/colonial theories. At their most demonstratively provocative / powerful / disruptive, theoretical discourse is used to underpin architectural movements through the objectification / abstraction of an idea or even a theoretician (i.e. Deleuzian architecture) and the mis-translation of theory (metaphysical / social / cultural) into a fetishism of marketable aesthetics.

Yet whilst these reductive occurrences might be equally critiqued as frustrating, mis-guided or ironic, they do pose a provocative question; why do some theories become economic and aesthetic idols, and others do not?

In political and economic contexts that aren’t / weren’t (yet) defined by Lefebvre’s ‘abstract space’ of economic and exchange value structures, development practitioners such as Turner and Hamdi have explored an opportunity to re-interpret the purpose of architecture through an engagement with ideas of periphery and ‘the outsider’. Without an explicitly hegemonic political and socio-economic projection of aesthetics and values, architecture is / was able to engage with contexts and perceptions of ‘the other’ – in terms of the relative value of aesthetics, architectural built form, people and cultural contexts respectively. This (re)interpretation of space implicitly runs counter to the same social, economic and political machinations that Lefebvre’s discourse sought to expose and critique.

Based on this analysis, I contend that the principles of development practices suggest an architecture that can be conceived, perceived (and practiced) as a verb, whilst in mainstream architectural practice (and education) it endures as only a noun – an aestheticised object of exchange. In our (supposedly) developed post-industrial societies, the hegemony of ‘abstract space’ and its fragmented perceptions / projections of space and value has made the appropriation of differential spaces and aesthetics a historical platitude and not the simple, everyday reality or aspiration for life that it can / must be.

I contend that the work of Turner can be considered dialectically as a practical exploration of the ideas of Lefebvre and his critique of economic and political structures of space. Similarly, Hamdi’s work reflects aspects of Massey’s discourse on the implications of multiplicity and specificity in a global context.

In contrast to Deleuzian (and other) architectural movements, the ethical emphasis of Turner and Hamdi’s architecture and discourse induce an appropriation, and subsequently an aesthetic of space that is inherently outside architectural control and authorship.

And yet, given the documented socio-economic success of both Turner and Hamdi’s work respectively, and the theoretical and ethical links that can be drawn to the work of the theoretical paradigms of Lefebvre and Massey, why is it that such an architecture remains marginalized as merely an idea for the ‘developing world’?

Richard Bower, University of Plymouth, UK


Harvard Citation Guide: Bower, R. (2012) Whatever happened to ‘Lefebvrean architecture’?, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 13 May 2012, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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