Relationality and architecture: How refocusing the discipline might reverse the profession’s seemingly unstoppable trajectory of decline

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Architectural Theory Review, 2016, 21 (1), pp. 89 - 107
Issue Date:
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© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Hyungmin Pai, author of The Portfolio and the Diagram, suggests World War I and the Great Depression revealed “to many architects that the traditional strategy of autonomy had become ineffectual amidst a social agenda maximising efficiency and production”. Pai links the major reformation of the discipline that subsequently took place to this questioning of the profession’s relevance. Eighty years later, as the most recent financial crisis was starting to bite, five publications were released, each of which questioned the role of the discipline and profession in the light of a similar questioning of the disjunction between the activities of the profession and issues of increasing inequity worldwide. Although each publication was the culmination of years of research, the simultaneous release of these manifestos over a three-month period from the summer of 2008 is nothing short of extraordinary. This moment framed the subsequent decade of debate around the content and role of the profession and disciplinary boundaries. Conclusions are few, but the need for a disciplinary and professional transformation of equal consequence to that which occurred in the 1930s remains. This essay works through key arguments to conclude that, as in the 1930s, the focus in the discipline on the object needs to be supplanted by a focus on how architecture works with relationality, such that objects are understood as after-effects of these relations, and thus the profession is structurally recast in this context.
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