Thermal Performance

The politics of environmental management in architecture

In 1979, Lisa Heschong proposed a thermal environment ‘rich in cultural associations’ celebrating 'delight' and the 'bonds of affection and ceremony’. She describes throughout her book ‘Thermal Delight in Architecture’ an obsolescence of thermal symbolism in the mechanically controlled contemporary interior. Her thesis, published at the height of the second Oil Crisis, was that a more expressive and meaningful interpretation of heat in buildings could deliver energy savings.

Counter to critiques of late capitalism as a soulless machine that alienates us from authenticity of experience, as well as emotional and social bonds, I suggest that it is precisely these qualities that are incorporated into organisational management, and materialised in the interiors of the contemporary workplace - the sites of inspiration, meaning, delight and desire that are an integral part of what is termed knowledge work knowledge work’ (Peter Druker, 1959).

This PhD by practice is composed of two parts – the first is the construction of a database of metaphors, idioms and synonyms of heat. With over a thousand entries drawn from dictionary sources, the database was used to test propositions of Heschong about thermal culture, and also the thesis of pervasive everyday metaphor put forward by Lakoff et al. I propose 1. that our thermal culture is not primarily one of cosiness and comfort, but a contested and layered discursive field of power, economics, desire, love, productivity and war. 2. The phenomenological body cannot be the source domain of these metaphors. 3. These are not poetic embellishments, they are actively used in everyday communication and are partially constitutive of the subjects of emotional labour (Hochschild), affective labour (Hardt & Negri) and immaterial labour (Lazzarato).

In the thesis I propose that the status of the body and the culture of heat pose a problem for architecture that aims to perform environmentally, and that the way in which these conditions manifest in architecture can be traced through the trope of ‘performance’.

The thesis introduces a politics of thermal management and performance, tracing a line through performativity theory from the work on pragmatic linguistics by J.L. Austin, through the politics of action in developments of speech-act theory in feminist and queer critiques; (Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, Vikki Bell, Rebekka Kukla) alongside a critical analysis of the modes of high performance management of the knowledge and high-tech economy in particular Total Quality Management (TQM), Excellence (Peters and Waterman), Theory Z (Ouchi), Management By Walking Around (MWBA), and Silicon Valley Management (SVM).

In the second part of the project I use practical methods of actioning, originating in the theatrical method of Constantin Stanislavksi – in a series of performances resituated within the specific context of the workplace at a moment of convergence between smart technology with architecture; where notionally, agency is given over to autonomous environmental systems to ‘do the right thing’, and work environments that are embedded in a performative-linguistic culture. In other words – where machines do things with fans and boilers, and humans do things with emails, meetings and performance reviews, employee training and corporate culture.