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Shaping Social Commitment. Architecture and Intellectuality in the 1970s and '80s

Book - Dissertation

The overall research question that guides this dissertation, together with that of my colleague Elke Couchez, revolves around the formative years of architectural theory in Flanders. What conditions allowed architectural theory to mature into a self-aware and recognized discipline in the 1980s and 1990s?To this aim, the notion of 'architectural theory' is broadened to that of 'architecture intellectuality', which simply refers to 'thinking about architecture'. As a widely divergent field, it contains many voices in a panoply of discursive settings where architecture is 'being thought'. Whereas Elke Couchez's dissertation focuses on the pedagogical context, this dissertation focuses on 4 contexts where socially committed protagonists for various reasons sought to give shape to their commitment in their thinking about architecture. How to think about architecture as a service to society?Key in this study is the appreciation of the 1970s as a decade where architecture definitively lost its previously unshakeable beliefs in modernist principles and was more than ever in search of its own terms. To many, 'society' the widely accepted touchstone of this search. In the quest of trying to articulate their social engagement in one form of thinking about architecture or another, the 1970s were not merely years of 'intellectual malaise', but also, more positively, an incubation period that helped shape a fledgling architecture culture in the subsequent decades. In this panoply of 'figures' of knowledge, 4 cases are elaborated and placed within their historical logic, each in itself implying a genuine form of intellectuality aiming to serve society.Case 1: Brussels based Archives d'Architecture Moderne's claim on socialism.With Maurice Culot as pivotal figure, socialist ideals, a historicist formal language, urban activism, and international networking come together in a deliberate and diverse publication strategy.Case 2: Sociologist-urbanist Sieg Vlaeminck's plea for a woonecological science.Sociologist arguments, an environmental mindset, participation ideals, and the effects of secularization come together in a series of small book reviews in a Flemish newspaper.Case 3: The Leuven based Post Graduate Centre Human Settlements's import of form.With Han Verschure and André Loeckx as pivotal figures, a fledgling academic environment, an internationalizing impulse in the Global South's "development" context, post-structuralist theory, and a defense of the socio-spatial nature of form come together a UN mandated training program on 'Housing in Development'.Case 4: bOb Van Reeth & Geert Bekaert's postulate of the real.With Van Reeth, Bekaert and Mil De Kooning as pivotal figures, architectural criticism and the figure of the critic, architecture's autonomy, a profound reflection on reality, and an anxiety of language come together in Bekaert's intellectual engagement with Van Reeth's built work.Insteading of taking the vantage point of now well accepted paradigms to dissect theory's history, such as phenomenology or critical theory, this dissertation focuses on the specific historical and cultural conditions that were crucial in shaping architectural theory as we know it today. Though situated in Belgium and Flanders, many of these conditions resembled those in other Western European countries.
Publication year:2019