Autonomy and Commerce: The Integration of Architectural Autonomy

Tahl Kaminer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


More than three decades ago, the architectural historian Manfredo Tafuri
pessimistically concluded that a revolutionary architecture cannot precede a social revolution. In this comment, he summed up the perceived failure of modernist architecture to realize a social utopia. The comment implied that the architectural discipline, as part of the superstructure, cannot affect society; rather, it is the means and forces of production which determine society, while architecture only reacts, corresponds and represents these changes.
A generation of architects sharing this bleak conclusion distanced themselves
from any social pretension and embraced architectural autonomy as a means of
resisting consumer society rather than transforming it. By the late 1990s, however, the discipline found itself enjoying unprecedented popularity, affecting real economic interests: not only in the building industry, but also in areas as diverse as the tourism sector and mass culture. Ideas propagated by architectural autonomy - such as authorship and difference - were the generators of this transformation. Unexpectedly, architectural autonomy, instead of providing resistance to consumer society, brought about the commodification of architecture. The novelty of the current situation is the assimilation into the market economy not only of the realized building, but of the architectural idea itself. The newly found status of architecture posits the discipline as a participant in affecting society, albeit in a manner which is far removed from the utopian dreams of the modernists, a manner which is socially complacent rather than revolutionary. In order to explain the recent transformation in the relation of the discipline to society, it is necessary to return to the development of the idea of autonomy in the arts before examining the emergence of autonomy in the architecture of the 1970s.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Pages (from-to)63-70
Number of pages8
Journalarq: Architectural Research Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • Architecture Design & Theory
  • critique
  • Commodification


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