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ADS5 DOT: Architecture and World Systems

Jon Goodbun, Benedict Singleton & Victoria Watson

In order to understand the world today we need to understand the nature of systems – social and cultural systems, technical systems, spatial systems, material systems, biological systems: systems which in their dynamic and networked assemblages operate as world systems.

Post CPTL/Nature/Acceleration

The global economy is a mangled nest of interconnected complex systems. Our bodies and minds are a part of this, and are produced within this, even whilst they are also constantly autopoietically re-producing their own conditions of emergence: this is the double internality of the human condition. Everything that we make, do and think changes the nature of these systems, and of ourselves, in subtle and not so subtle ways… sometimes reinforcing, sometimes undermining, sometimes transforming, sometimes bifurcating existing systems. One characteristic of complex systems’ behaviour is that they are hard to predict, hard to plan… and yet we have to manage under that condition, and we have to make choices and value judgements even whilst we lack a total cognitive mapping of our current or future possibilities. Thus every ecology (ecology is another word for a nest of complex systems) is always a political ecology. And it is in the nature of our thinking to not really understand them, to not intuitively grasp complex systems… or rather, we understand them through two very different modes of mental reflection… firstly through rational analysis (today typically various modes of algorithmic/cybernetic/ecological thinking), and secondly through mythic structures… where we rightly recognise the relative autonomy of complex systems: all complex systems are actually minor and major deities. Complex systems really are alien minds and organisms which we co-evolve with… and that include spaces, buildings and cities.

What is called capitalism is a dominant alien power that has emerged within and through our economic and ecological relations; yet there are many different specific modes of capitalism co-existing today, and many non-capitalisms too: on the one hand capitalism has become ecological, it has integrated itself into and transformed the reproductive systems of the planet at every scale, from the biological cell, to the plastic networks of neurons in our brains, from the surface of the planet to the atmosphere within which we bathe. And yet there is a very specific political ecology at work in capitalism too. And importantly, there are alternatives, other possible future political ecologies, and other ways of living and becoming amidst a nest of other biological and material entities.

As architects, urbanists and designers we study and co-produce important parts of these systems. The production of space is a key part of the constant reproduction of these world systems. ADS5DOT continues to explore this way of understanding the world. An architectural training provides a useful set of tools and traditions for thinking about and exploring this condition. But on its own it is not enough. In order to map the nature of the world systems within which we work, we need to explore trans-disciplinary ways of working and thinking – although again, coordinating transdisciplinary teams is a part of architectural training.

This year takes-off with a recent ADS5DOT interview with Nick Srnicek, (reported in the school’s Research Folio series, Folio5, 141-200, 148-151):

'The project we are trying to undertake is a counter-hegemonic project, which means convincing people and changing people’s common sense……technology opens up possibilities, it opens up connections. It makes certain things easier to do, and other things harder…’

'Some form of planning is absolutely necessary, for a proper post capitalist economy……we need some kind of decentralised planning….we can build an economic model….by computing the plans that are possible on the basis of given parameters……like economic parametricism…how to get a complex system into a manipulable framework…'

‘So paradoxically, we need to look at capitalist planning and non-capitalist markets... We need to look more carefully at the extent of planning going on today and we need to look at non-capitalist markets…….What can we learn from Walmart and Amazon about how to do economic planning every single day….’

'A pre-capitalist form of mapping totalities is the mythic….can we imagine post-acceleration mythologies, can we imagine non-commodified labour?’

This year we want to think about ‘strategic buildings’ and ‘world systems building.’ These are not hard and fast distinctions and neither are they definitions, just plausible entries into areas of architectural inquiry. For example, the enormous basilica that used to sit in the forum of Roman London was both a strategic building and a world system building; because it played an essential role in running the economic machinery of the Empire and it incorporated metaphysical ideas that were necessary for maintaining the social structures and hierarchies of that particular world-system.


To begin with we are going to look at specific buildings and/or sites, we will inhabit them formerly and experientially and get to understand how they are organised, eventually we will formulate complex analysis of them in terms of ‘strategy’ and ‘world-system,’ and we will re-imagine them creatively, intelligently and propositionally. Here is a list of possible buildings and/or sites we are interested in: Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow; Independence Square, Kiev; Centreparks; Soane Museum; Tilbury Fort; BMW Leipzig (Hadid); Fiat Factory, Lingotto; Las Vegas Strip; Eurolille (Koolhaas); Milton Keynes shopping building; Terrace Houses at no. 2 Willow Road (Erno Goldfinger); Bluewater; UN Building (Le Corbusier); Pompidou Centre (Piano & Rogers); Bank of England; Somerset House; British Museum; London Guildhall; Pantheon, Rome; Hawksmoor/Wren (Greenwich); Black Rock City/Burning Man/other festival sites.

Taught by Jon Goodbun, Benedict Singleton & Victoria Watson