The Boredom of Building Regulation: Liberalism, Modernity and the Withheld Possibilities of Architecture

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract / Description of output

Building is an apparatus. Building is part of that broad governmental apparatus that seeks to “conduct the conduct” of Man . Contemporary Liberal government conducts its subjects by freeing them toward an increased productivity. Its institutions – the rule of law, the vote, social dissent – are its instruments of government, its means of subjectification: They are the means by which we become subjects, internalising imposed obligations, recognising ourselves as freed to specific ends. As Sven-Olov Wallenstein has shown, the Modern architectural project emerged in relation to this Liberal governmentality, and we should understand Modern Architecture as another instrument of this particular subjectivity .

However, building is also a substance. Building is not only a governmental apparatus, but is also a material and a practice in its own right. Building has a communicative potential that exceeds any particular governmental role, enjoying a radically open potential . In order to enframe this open potency within any particular governmental programme, then, building itself must be subjectivised – it must internalise and recognise the freedoms granted by its own set of regulations.

Contemporary practice is made subject to an increasingly globalised set of regulations - economic, technical, social, environmental, aesthetic. This proliferation – which always extends the governmental potential of building - might be seen as the universal success of the Modern Project. However, it might likewise mark the end of that Project. Through its universal satisfaction, the regulatory apparatus no longer appears as liberative; the specific limits and freedoms its secures no longer appear connected to any subjective project. That is, by normalisation its tenants as legislative requirements, regulation transforms the subjective project of Modernity into an instrument of de-subjectification.

This hypothesis is supported by the fact that architects find regulation boring: building regs are a bore because their pre-ordained ends free architects from the need to engage with the open potency of their means. Regulations are a boring, then, but they are also Truth. Regulations are not accidental. Rather, they depend upon and index specific empirical potencies in building – economic, technical, social, environmental, and aesthetic. Every article of regulation is both an opening and a closure; the revelation of a specific means in building, as well as the foreclosure of that means toward a specific end.

Concerned with a perceived instrumentality in contemporary architecture, this paper presents Building Regulation as an unlikely front of phenomenological opening. Illustrating its argument with examples of studio practice, the paper draws upon Agamben’s development of Foucault’s Apparatus, drawing attention to the schism in Being created by any particular dispositif. It contends that the regulatory apparatus is revelatory as well as enframing, and that, as it flattens one subjective project into objectivity, it creates the site through which we might speculate on alternative subjectivities.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2010
EventThe Cultural Role of Architecture - Lincoln, United Kingdom
Duration: 25 Jun 201025 Jun 2010


ConferenceThe Cultural Role of Architecture
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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