Making Architecture Politically
Public Lecture
Roemer van Toorn

Roemer van Toorn

Making Architecture Politically

Public lecture
Thursday, 23 May 2013


The last public lecture in the Spring UMA  lecture series 2013 "Making Architecture Politically", will be addressed by architect, writer and educator Roemer van Toorn who is professor in Architectural Theory at the Umeå faculty of Architecture.

Due to technical problems the livestream was not recorded correctly.


Making Architecture Politically

What is critical consciousness at bottom if not an unstoppable predilection for alternatives?[1]

Capitalist realism has become Deleuzian. Present-day capitalism has bid farewell to totalizing regulation. The carnivalesque character of everyday life guarantees high profits through the permanent revolution of its own order. In embracing pluralism and the endless relations an intelligent system generates, more and more designers have become fearful of placing a particular antagonism or alternative above another. The danger is that the search for difference or the stimulation of the unpredictable is elevated to an absolute law, and that the possibility of difference is fetishized. Many architects engineer nothing but an advanced form of entertainment to avoid any support for, or opposition against, anything. Suddenly, surrealist techniques appear in advertising. Instead of rethinking the social-becoming political again-they celebrate self-referential architecture and advocate stardom or self-organizing and interactive systems that enhance the post-political sphere. This feast of endless differences no longer guarantees any liberation now that the crises of late capitalism is total.

According to Theodor Adorno and Manfredo Tafuri, the beauty of a critical project would have no other measure except the depth to which a work resolves contradictions. Such a work cuts through the contradictions and overcomes them, not by covering them up, but by pursuing them. Such a persistence of melancholy recognizes the inability of critique to fulfill a transformative promise, and, at the very least, exposes the politics of the status quo. But to make architecture politically we need a new model of theory and practice, which not only reflects, but speculates and develops new ideas, one that would not stop short at melancholy, but is accompanied by propositions of political intervention in search of a social project that aims at both autonomy (independence) and democracy.

Precisely because everyday life cannot be colonized fully by late capitalism, as system critics such as Adorno and Tafuri want us to believe, potential alternatives are always available, since individuals and institutions arrange resources and choose methods through particular creative arrangements from within their generic condition. It is here where modernity revolutionizes itself through the complex overlapping of co-existing realities. And it is here where architects, as space makers, should ask themselves the essential question of what "modern" (razing the question of Enlightenment) could mean in our global age. Or in other words, how we as architects could help create conditions of "situated freedom" for both the collective and the individual now that globalization is total and neoliberalism has no answers to confront the disasters it has created on the level of the city, the landscape (ecology), and humanity as a whole.

[1] Edward Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 247.


Roemer van Toorn

Roemer van Toorn is the Architectural Theory and Communication Professor at the Umeå School of Architecture, since 2010 in Sweden. From 1993 till 2010 he has been in charge of the History and Theory program and was Head of publications at the Berlage Institute. He has been a guest professor and researcher at the Delft School of Design at the University of Technology Delft, while at the same time pursuing a career as an international lecturer. He has been the editor of several issues of the annual publication Architecture in the Netherlands, as well as an advisor of the magazine Archis (Volume), Hunch, Domus and Abitare. As author and photographer he also contributes to many other publications. After graduating from the University of Technology Delft, Roemer van Toorn published The Invisible in Architecture (1994), in collaboration with Ole Bouman; in this acclaimed encyclopedic manifest he dissects the varied range of cultural, economic, political and philosophic outlook within the contemporary architectural discourse with the aim of outlining the different positions and issues of today's architecture.

His photography work has been exhibited in Winnipeg, Los Angeles and was part of the exhibition Cities on the Move curated by Hou Hanru and Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Parts of his photo research on the Society of The And have been exhibited at Archilab. Currently he is working on the forthcoming text and photo book the Society of The And, which include; besides text by himself, articles by Stefano Boeri, and Bart Lootsma.

More information:

Image above:
Entrance area Burj Khalifa, Dubai, photo Roemer van Toorn, 2012.