‘Architectural Deleuzism’ published in Radical Philosophy 168, July/Aug 2011

Architectural Deleuzism

Neoliberal space, control and the ‘univer-city’

RP 168 (Jul/Aug 2011)

Douglas Spencer
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For many thinkers of the spatiality of contemporary capitalism, the production of all social space tends now to converge upon a single organizational paradigm designed to generate and service mobility, connectivity and flexibility. Networked, landscaped, borderless and reprogrammable, this is a space that functions, within the built environments of business, shopping, education or the ‘creative industries’, to mobilize the subject as a communicative and enterprising social actant. Integrating once discrete programmes within its continuous terrain, and promoting communication as a mechanism of valorization, control and feedback, this spatial model trains the subject for a life of opportunistic networking. Life, in this environment, is lived as a precarious and ongoing exercise in the acquisition of contacts, the exchange of information and the pursuit of projects. As a form of space, this is consistent with what Foucault described as the mode of neoliberal governmentality, operating through environmental controls and modulations, rather than the disciplinary maintenance of normative individual behaviour. It also, as many have noted, resembles the ‘control society’ forecast sometime ago by Gilles Deleuze, in his ‘Postscript on Societies of Control’, in which the movement of  ‘dividuals’ is tracked and monitored across the transversal ‘smooth space’ of a post-disciplinary society. Developed, in part at least, in response to the growth of post-Fordist knowledge economies, so-called immaterial labour, and the prevalence of networked communications media, this spatial paradigm has been theorized through models of complexity, self-organization and emergence. It has also been serviced, as I want to show in what follows, by a self-styled avant-garde in contemporary architecture claiming and legitimizing the emergence of this mode of spatiality as essentially progressive through its particular reading of the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari.

What I will term here ‘Deleuzism’ in architecture – identifiable in the projects and discourse of practices such as Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), Foreign Office Architects (FOA), Reiser + Umemoto, and Greg Lynn, for example – has tended to read the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari with a marked bias towards its Bergsonian and Spinozian (rather than Marxian) registers. Filtering from the philosophers’ corpus any trace of criticality, it has not, though, renounced the political in this process, but rather reframed it as a matter of organization and affect. Transcribing Deleuzean (or Deleuzoguattarian) concepts such as the ‘fold’, ‘smooth space’ and ‘faciality’ into a prescriptive repertoire of formal manoeuvres, Deleuzism in architecture has proposed, through its claims to mirror the affirmative materialism of becoming and ‘the new’ which it has found within Deleuze and Guattari’s oeuvre, that it shares with that oeuvre a ‘progressive’ and ‘emancipatory’ agenda.

In the main part of the article that follows, I want to explore this supposed agenda through the study of an exemplary recent project: FOA’s design for the new campus of Ravensbourne College (2010) located on the Greenwich Peninsula in London. This is an especially interesting project in this context, not only because of the ways in which it connects with current concerns regarding the neoliberal marketization of education (particularly in the UK), but because of the reputation acquired by FOA, and their central figure Alexander Zaera-Polo, of being at the leading edge of contemporary architectural Deleuzism. Like many other figures from this milieu, FOA initially extracted from the work of Deleuze and Guattari a number of key concepts appearing to lend themselves readily to translation into a set of formal and spatial tropes, but, significantly, they have more recently returned to the question of the political, once denounced by Zarea-Polo as ephemeral to the concerns of architecture,1 and positioned the building envelope as the organizational and representational medium through which the discipline can now acquire political agency. It is to this turn within architectural Deleuzism, along with its re-conception of the political and claims to have advanced beyond a supposedly outmoded and regressive politics of opposition and critique, that this aricle will attend. Before coming directly to FOA and to the Ravensbourne project, however, I need first to trace the emergence of Deleuze’s dominant position within recent ‘avant garde’ architectural theory more generally.



1. See Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Farshid Moussavi, ‘Phylogenesis: FOA’s Ark’, in Farshid Moussavi, Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Sanford Kwinter, Phylogenesis: FOA’s Ark, Actar, Barcelona, 2003, p. 10.