Town & Country: Architecture Between Dichotomies

Call For Papers

Date: May 4-5, 2018 (view in event calendar)
Keynote Speaker: To be announced
Organizer: Ph.D. Program in Architecture, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

  • The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.
    —Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848)

Recent global political events have exposed what seem to be sharp divisions among urban and rural areas. Following elections in the United States, Europe, and India and uprisings and violent conflicts in Syria, Brazil, Venezuela, and Myanmar, the urban/rural split has repeatedly been used to account for difference across disparate political and economic environments, disregarding particular issues of class, gender, and race. Already naturalized at the time of Marx and Engels’ writing, the separation of “country” and “town” has been used to explain people’s values, modes of living, and politics. While scholars such as William Cronon argue that the categories “urban” and “rural”—or relatedly “center” and “periphery”—are not two poles, but rather unstable ends of a continuum, the urban/rural dichotomy seems to have immense discursive and myth-making powers with very real consequences. Architecture, by operating on both material and discursive levels (from drawing lines, building walls, and arranging spaces to re-defining the concepts of exclusion, inclusion, belonging, land, rent, ownership, and density), mobilizes the urban/rural dichotomy. Addressing the vital role of architecture in producing both the condition and meaning of “urban” and “rural,” this conference revisits the origins and consequences of the dichotomy and asks how it gained explanatory power at different moments in time. Through investigating the historical emergence and usage of the urban/rural split, we aim to discuss the analytical value of the dichotomy in our present day: what does it help us see, what does it occlude?

The conference intends to elicit historical, methodological, and theoretical discussions. Papers can address any temporal or regional scope, including the challenges of contemporary spatial practices. We solicit abstracts from graduate students across disciplines that may reflect on or respond to, but are certainly not limited to, questions on the following topics:

  • How have dichotomized frameworks been historically produced and how do they inform one another? When do such spatial and political divisions arise, how have they been put to work, and what ways of thinking and relating one to another do they engender?

  • How has design reproduced—and how has it been produced by—the structures of power that order inclusion and exclusion from the scale of the detail to that of the territory?

  • What are the historic relationships of land and property to constructs of family and gender?

  • How can ”colony” and “metropole” be thought together in architectural history? What role has architecture played in colonial regimes to produce this dichotomy in the first place?

  • How do changes in climates, historically or at present, unevenly affect urban and rural areas or create movement between the two?

  • How is the urban mostly conflated with the “secular,” while the countryside is considered “religious”? How does questioning the urban/rural divide affect the religious/secular dichotomy, and vice-versa?

  • How do techniques of architectural production reflect their locations, and how do the various modes of political economy under which architects work condition the buildings that are their products?

  • In what ways does security factor into architectural construction in urban settings, as compared with rural ones? How does security’s spatial analog, territory, figure into architectural design?

  • What are the ethnological sources of the divisions between “center” and “periphery”? How do those ramify into connections across, or tensions between, “urban” and “rural” areas?

  • What perspectives might other fields of study, including anthropology, political science, etc. offer regarding the architectural and spatial effects of the dichotomy of “urban” and “rural”? How does studying the built environment provide unique methods of analysis, or otherwise unavailable conclusions?

  • How do political rhetorics produce the built and unbuilt landscapes of “peripheries”? Conversely, how does the built enact spatial politics?

  • How do infrastructural systems either entrench or blur the boundaries of spatial dichotomies?

  • What about the “suburban”? Is it “urban” or “rural”? Or rather: how and why does this question matter?

Submission Information

Please send a 250-300-word abstract to by January 7th, 2018. Authors of accepted papers will be notified by January 21st via email, and will be asked to submit a full preliminary draft paper by March 25th.

Assembling Values: Architecture and Political Economy

May 6-7, 2016 (view in event calendar)

Keynote Speaker: Arindam Dutta, MIT HTC

The conference Assembling Values: Architecture and Political Economy seeks to measure the extent to which architecture has not only been formed by, but is also productive of political-economic formations throughout the world.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, a landscape marked by foreclosed homes, empty luxury towers, divided cities, and occupied streets has fueled debates concerning architecture’s relation to political economy. Salient among such debates is the question of whether architecture is doomed to remain a testimonial backdrop, a mere reflection, of financial capitalism, or whether it may offer more nuanced, and more effective, histories and analytics for the study of political economy.

If so, then this global, increasingly uneven, landscape compels us to recognize the instrumentalities and values that sustain and augment economic power relations through architecture’s own workings and operations. The moment is ripe for the reevaluation of old frameworks in order to consider the role of architecture, planning, and development in assembling the political-economic nexus

Building up to this graduate conference were three workshops

  • September 2015: PhD workshop with invited guest Professor Daniel Abramson (Art & Art History, Tufts University)

  • January 2016: PhD workshop with invited guest Professor Julia Elyachar (Anthropology & Economics, UC Irvine)

  • February 2016: PhD workshop with invited guest Professor Stephen Collier (International Affairs, New School)

The speakers shared and discussed their recent projects with a group of PhD students. The workshops argued that architecture actively participates in the making of political-economic regimes through multifarious forms and at different scales, ranging from the city to the street, to the building, and even to the pipe.

Organizers of the graduate conference and the workshops

Aaron Bradley White, Alexander Hilton Wood, Amy Zhang, Ashraf Abdalla, Erik Carver, Eva Johanna Schreiner, Jonah Rowen, Manuel Shvartzberg-Carrio, Norihiko Tsuneishi and Oskar Orn Arnorsson.