Starting from the Mess: The “Environment-World” of Architectural Research and Practice

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Abstract / Description of output

On top of the Technical Institute of Abadan in southwest Iran, designed by the British architect, James Mollison Wilson (1939), there are three bells made by Gillett & Johnston bell and clock manufacturing in Croydon, Surry, in England. The bells used to be heard over the city of Abadan on the first day of every academic year, to welcome the new students who were ready to learn all about oil. The chimes continued even after the nationalization of oil and the dismissal of British Petroleum Company in 1951, but stopped after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. While students have continued to be educated at the institute, in the vicinity of these dormant bells, dictatorship, imposed wars, external and internal colonization, have created an “environment-world” wherein the piece of architecture nearly disappears in a series of complex relations. But how to approach such complex sites? The methods through which we encounter, give critical reading, and inhabit architectural projects and sites, have significant role in making new trajectories and shifts in practices of architecture design and research. They also reveal what we mean by practice and what it can and cannot do in response to social, political and environmental crises. Bryony Roberts in her “Expanding Modes of Practice”, questions the “one-way street” architecture designers take “from idea to drawing to building”, and dismantles this linearity by bringing in the “mess of labor, money, site conditions, trade collisions, political squabbling and occupancy” and asks: “What if that mess were the starting point?” In her Creative Ecologies: Theorizing the Practice of Architecture, Hélène Frichot also invites us to turn around an object-oriented and frontal approach to architecture that is carefully “framed and curated”, and instead to allow “it’s facilitative background” to emerge and make architecture “near indistinguishable from these surroundings.” As she writes: “This would be to allow the environment-worlds of architecture to be considered, as well as the minor characters who work away quietly at the periphery.” This proposal studies the “environment-worlds” of architecture constructed through research methods and design tools that make architectural object “indistinguishable” from its surrounding mess. I mainly focus on decolonizing tools, through which Architecture is “multiplied across a more diverse array of points of view.” To do so I start with architecture work by the British Petroleum’s architect James Mollison Wilson, who supported colonization of oil resources by means of architecture design during the early 20th century in Iran. I work with two methods of “watching the photograph” borrowed from Ariella Azoulay, and methods of storytelling. While “watching”, instead of looking at photographs, animates a finished event and opens up a closed frame to new possibilities, storytelling changes the course of colonizing grand narratives and bring in other (hi)stories. Afterwards I reverse the process and investigate how such approach to architecture – starting from the mess – can be applied in architecture design and its consequent impact on rethinking the practice of architecture.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2020
EventThe Practice of Architectural Research: Perspectives on Design and Its Relation to History and Theory - Online, Belgium
Duration: 8 Oct 20209 Oct 2020


ConferenceThe Practice of Architectural Research
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