Deregulations double: Fire-safety engineering and restructuring of architectural practice

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Abstract / Description of output

This paper considers fire-safety engineering in its relation to practices and rationalities of de-regulation.
It does so first by offering a brief historical genealogy of the discipline, noting its relationship to two seemingly oppositional developments in the field of architecture and construction practice in the period 1975-95. Fire Safety consultancies will be shown to have developed, on the one hand, in response to innovative forms of appointment and building contracts, which created new markets for consultancy by deconstructing monolopies of function and authority previously enjoyed by the architect. On the other hand, the discipline will be shown to have closely associated itself with the figure of the ‘starchitect’, whose signature gestures of authorship tested the limits of a regulatory response to the problems of fire-safety.
Secondly, it will consider the governing rationalities of fire-safety science, and their technical discontents. It will show that the arguments which supported the development of a fire-safety science – the ambition to subject the concept of ‘safety’ to scientific definition – have led to an epistemic aporia – the impossibility of quantifying a discursive construct. That is, the disciplines ambition to individualise and marketise social risks will be shown to quickly run into both conceptual and political limits, ones which force it to rely on the social frameworks that it would seek to deconstruct.
That is, the paper will use fire-safety engineering as a means to consider both the ways in which de-regulatory initiatives have reshaped the function of architecture within the political-economy of contemporary building practice, as well as an object-lesson in some of neo-liberalisms constitutive contradictions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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