Architecture’s Bodies: Agency and Biopolitics

The aim of this seminar is to think carefully about how bodies engage with architecture and the built environment. In examining relationships between ideological constructions of the modern “subject” and the physical constructions that house those subjects, we will explore how architecture mediates between the body and the body politic. We will look at how the philosophical project of bio-politics necessitates an understanding of architectural space, and how differences in built space necessarily results in differences in how political power is able to lay claim on the body. Concurrently, we will be paying special attention to the ways in which architecture can allow for individual agency, and produce resistance to embedded structures of power. Topics within this broad frame will include civil rights and rights discourse, theories of race and gender, citizenship, and technologies of life and death. Our historical focus will cohere around select episodes in the Atlantic world from the 18th to 21st centuries.

In an explicit departure from architectural discourses that have perhaps framed the human experience as homogeneous, we will begin from the premise that the human body’s relationships with architecture cannot be reduced to a singular idealized frame. A particular aim of this course will be to attend to the ways in which differences in race, gender, class, age and ability affect access to, and the experience of, the built environment. Through theoretical and historical texts, we will consider the lived-experience of subjects and the ways in which subjects are governed and guided by their world. The semester will be structured around a series of spaces in the built environment of varying scales. These will include: the ramp, the elevator, the hold; the bathroom, the kitchen, the plantation; the examination room, the field, the office campus, the public park. Throughout, we will aim to think about these spaces and their associations with bodies in multiple ways. We will ask: what role has architecture played in the transformations of biological bodies into political bodies? And, concurrently, by what means does the built environment allow for, encourage, or preclude individual agency?

This is a reading seminar, focused on in-class discussions of assigned texts. In addition, each week will focus on one or more primary documents related to that week’s architectural object—ie, the ADA Accessibility Code; a broadsheet describing slave ship; recent “bathroom bill” legislation, etc. Assignments will be structured as short progressive writing exercises, culminating in a final research paper or annotated bibliography.