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Francesca Romana Dell'Aglio

PhD Work

From Ritual to Habit. The Anthropology of London's Forma Urbis

The city used to be considered an anthropological form, where if anthropology represents the study of the human race, its culture, society and physical development, architecture remains as the traces that society leaves through its actions. The current architectural debate, however, is progressively translating the city into a mere infrastructural issue. As such, the research intends to analyse the meaning of rituals as a critical and highly relevant architectural issue that urges reopening today in order to investigate the current status of our cities' urban form. 

Rituals are actions which, if performed repetitively and rhythmically as a sequence of movements, become a paradigm that generates a physical form, giving meaning to architecture as a constitution and perpetuation of quotidian social relations through the interaction of the body with a structured environment. As such, ritual becomes a space-making device, which whether performed in a group or in solitary, leaves certain physical traces behind, becoming a crucial ingredient in the design of architectural forms. This paradigmatic nature of rituals, being strictly related to its socio-political circumstances, generates a proliferation of architectural forms and typologies, which today seems to be flattened into one single way of assembling structural parts that eventually imposes on us a code of behaviour. Architects seems to have lost their agency which for centuries has favoured this anthropological perspective on our discipline, while forgetting the crucial role of the disparity of rituals in a moment of unprecedented and monotonous overbuilding. Rituals are not anymore, a fundamental in the formation of architecture, which eventually ceased to represent a form in society.

This condition is evident at best in London: the city of brick and stones has become the city of steel – or concrete – structural frames and glass and has developed a standardised mode of types that spatially creates a standardised forma vitae or habit. Such a condition has today turned London into an agglomeration of introverted, secure and anonymous buildings, where the identical prefabrication in their construction proposes and ultimately produces a monotonous form of everyday habitual actions where architecture has been reduced into a mechanism for the construction of financial gain, where the act of building prevails over the act of thinking.

This thesis will look at the downfall of the contemporary city from an anthropological lens: this shift, here defined from ritual to habit, where if once the ritual was producing a space, today such a ritual is turned into a habit constrained by the space itself and its required standard conventions. The intention is not to find a solution to the way we design our city-compromise between investors, developers and builders, but rather to propose a re-think of the city as an anthropological form, where architects can find again their agency.


  • PhD


    School of Architecture


    Architecture Research, 2017–

  • Francesca is an architect, writer and educator. Having graduated from the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia (IUAV), she holds a Master's degree with Distinction from the Architectural Association in London. Francesca has previously been a unit tutor at IUAV and Oxford Brookes, and she is currently teaching assistant in History and Theory Studies at Central Saint Martins, Architectural Association and the Royal College of Art.

    For several years she has collaboratively worked on multiple exhibitions, including projects for the last three Venice Architecture Biennales. Since 2011 she has been editor of the Venice-based academic journal Engramma. Her research focuses on the relationship between rituals and architectural forms, and it has been discussed in different conference and symposia. Her writings appear in Lobby, STUDIO Magazine, Engramma, and other publications.