Conference on Architecture

*CFP: A Strange Utility: Architecture Toward Other Ends*

*Deadline: Friday, November 2, 2012*

*Conference Date: April 26 and 27, 2013 *

*Conference Location: Portland State University, Portland, OR, USA*

*Keynote Speaker: Jill L. Stoner, Associate Professor of Architecture, UC

Ours is an era of austerity measures, global economic turmoil, and
resource depletion in which the utility, or “use value” of any product,
resource, or process is championed as its foremost virtue. Politicians
aspire to budgets that maintain only the most functional and necessary
line-items and consumers seek products that are economical in their use of
resources or their adaptability from one utility to another—for example,
cars that use only a limited amount of gasoline, furniture that converts
into other uses, cell phones that are also computers, cameras, and personal
navigation system.

Of course, the discipline of architecture has always been linked to the
idea of utility—albeit in a variety of ways and to different degrees. From
architecture’s putative origins as a primitive form of shelter made of
foliage to the Modernist dictum that form follows function, architecture,
from the beginning, has been required to perform a “useful” function. Not
surprisingly, utility remains a central concern within contemporary
architectural practice, but alongside some of the obvious benefits—the
development of more energy efficient materials and processes and the
economic incentive to redevelop existing buildings before building
anew—have come some strange, if understudied effects. It is now common to
describe the inhabitants of buildings as “users,” a turn of phrase that
subtly positions architecture as a product whose value, in the end, is
determined primarily by the function of its use, and its inhabitants, in
the end, as consumers of space, rather than active participants who engage
with and indeed transform space through their habits, interventions, and

Meanwhile, outside the confines of mainstream practice, architecture is
being appropriated to ends that seem to dramatically expand and estrange
the familiar notion of utility.  For example, contemporary Polish artist
Monika Sosnowska recently used the twisted architectural form of a
Soviet-bloc government building as a metaphor for the pressures exerted
upon now-collapsed political regimes. Likewise, artists Paul Pfeiffer,
Thomas Demand, and James Casebere have all used the architectural model
(and its subsequent imaging) as a vehicle for addressing historical and
societal ills, their photographs addressing subjects such as the
atomization of the crowd at the sports arena, the history of American
slavery, and the atrocities of Nazi Germany. At the same time, for revered
science-fiction author Bruce Sterling, architecture is the very medium
through which future worlds are destroyed, imagined, and rebuilt. Moreover,
within the sphere of architecture itself, as envisioned by Jean-Gilles
DĂ©costerd and Philippe Rahm, the built environment is designed to incite
physiological and biological responses; indeed, for many avant-garde
architects, architecture is both a medium and means to an unconventional
end, one part of an equation that considers, among many influences, the
social, cultural, mythological, economic, electromagnetic, biological and
chemical interactions between our bodies and the built environments they

Recognizing the contemporary currency of utility, this symposium seeks
unexpected ways of defining this term within and with respect to the built
environment. Submissions sought include, but are not limited to, academic
papers, performances, audience-participatory projects, poetry, and prose.

This symposium* *will be structured around a series of events and speakers
that grapple with the following questions: how and who has defined
architecture’s use-value, its utility? How can turning to other
disciplines’ unexpected utilization of architecture expand architects’ and
architectural historians’ perception of architecture’s utility? And, what
are architecture’s *future *utilities? As architecture’s primary function
is called into question daily, we may find that the answer to
architecture’s future lies precisely in its strange utility.

Please send abstract and c.v. to Professors Nora Wendl and Isabelle Loring
Wallace at the following email addresses:


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