The Politics of Urban Space
The School of Architecture and Design in the Beirut campus hosts an international symposium on the theme of “Architecture and the Political.”
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“How are politics and architecture related?” asked Dr. Elie Badr, interim dean of the School of Architecture and Design (SArD), in his opening remarks at the Fourth International Symposium on Architectural Theory. “By mankind,” Badr went on to answer.
Organized by the School of Architecture and Design, “Architecture and the Political” brought together 19 scholars from all over the world to explore the connection. The two-day symposium began on November 10 and featured presentations both on the Beirut campus and at the Beirut Art Center.
SArD Assistant Dean Dr. Elie Haddad, who served as chair of the symposium’s organizing committee, described its goal as that of “promoting reflection about architecture in its larger scope.”
The committee was co-chaired by Dr. Haddad and Dr. Nadir Lahiji, an architectural critic who has taught intermittently at LAU since 2000. Lahiji and Haddad, who have collaborated on the symposium in previous years, decided this year to highlight themes tackled in a recent collection of essays edited by Lahiji, Political Unconscious of Architecture: Re-opening Jameson’s Narrative.
The call for the symposium drew over 60 abstracts from architects and theorists all over the world, including Europe, the Middle East and the United States.
“It’s a topic that a lot of people are interested in, and we wanted to address it in a way that would apply globally, not just to the region,” Lahiji says.
The symposium examined the discourse of the political in contemporary architecture, the politics of aesthetics, and the role of the city as an emancipatory space where social ideals can be expressed and realized.
It tackled various contemporary architectural issues, ranging from social housing and political urbanism to the politics of renovation, generic architecture, and architectural environmentalism.
“Our designed buildings and streets are a reflection of our multifaceted culture and politics,” said Badr, “but politics and architecture should agree on one thing: green. Compromising green will compromise the maker of politics and architecture: mankind.”
Keynote speaker David Cunningham, Deputy Director of the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture at the University of Westminster and editor of the journal Radical Philosophy, discussed the importance of urban space in mediating architecture and politics, highlighting the impact of capitalism on the former.
“Architecture is radically transformed by the growth of the metropolis. All architecture is political,” said Cunningham, prompting the audience of the symposium to ponder the larger forces shaping and transforming architecture.
The symposium’s very setting resonates with its theme, several speakers suggested.
“A 15-minute drive from the airport to downtown Beirut takes you from one political context to another,” said Badr, noting that the architectural identity of Beirut correlates with its cultural identity.
Lahiji agrees. “There’s a certain peculiarity that makes Lebanon, and Beirut specifically, significant in terms of the relationship between architecture and politics, especially when it comes to the politics of reconstruction of the center of city,” he said.
Haddad stresses that Lebanon in particular has suffered adversely from the “impact of the political on urban and architectural frameworks, as evidenced by chaotic development, a lack of coherent urban policy, and a growing social housing problem.” He adds that academia’s role is precisely to put such issues under the spotlight and propose alternatives.