Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Architecture and Labour

We must start speaking about workers again, with programmes and projects that concern them directly, existentially.
Mario Tronti, ‘Politics at Work’, 2008

In her book The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt distinguishes labour from work. While work is the production of things that may be more enduring than the life of its producer (like a pot or a poem), labour is the sheer unending business of life reproduction: cooking, cleaning, giving birth, raising kids, taking care of the household. According to Arendt, labour is merely a performative activity confined within the space of the house that does not leave anything material behind. With the rise of industrialisation and the increasing division of labour, the distinction between labour and work does not exist anymore and the subjectivity of animal laborans becomes the fundamental datum of modern society. Within modernity labour no longer addresses a specific sphere of the human condition but the totality of life, since under capitalism it is life as bios that is put to work and made productive. As Karl Marx wrote in a crucial passage of Das Kapital ‘labour power is the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in the physical form, the living personality, of a human being’. This means that what is at stake in the concept of labour is not the production of things, but the production of the most crucial commodity within a capitalistic economy: subjectivity. Production of subjectivity becomes the fundamental goal of a capitalistic economy.
In this sense it is impossible to define the modern city and its architecture without understanding it through the lens of labour. And yet until today, with very few notable exceptions, very little has been written on the relationship between labour and architecture. While issues such as public space, politics, capitalism, neoliberalism and the commodification of the built environment are widely discussed, labour has rarely been confronted by the culture of architecture. The reason for this lack of discussion may be the ubiquity of labour itself as both spatial and social condition of our life. The symposium gathers for the first time a group of researchers who will attempt to read the relationship between labour and architecture in different contexts, from the intimacy of domestic space to the abstraction of post-industrial forms of production, to the role of the architect as producer. Rather than offering a comprehensive historical mapping, the symposium will offer critical insights towards a new understanding of architecture through the concept of labour.

  • Pier Vittorio Aureli

A Symposium organised by Pier Vittorio Aureli and the PhD programme ‘City/Architecture’
Pier Vittorio Aureli, Fabrizio Ballabio, Peggy Deamer, Fabrizio Gallanti, Maria S. Giudici, Peer Ilner, Francesco Marullo, Andreas Rumpfhuber

13/11/2015, Architectural Association School of Architecture