Multidisciplinary Research Program: Architecture and/for Society

Nick Beech, Murray Fraser, Timothy Ivison, Simon Sadler, and Ben Sweeting
Research, May 2014 to September 2015
British Culture for Architecture

“Architecture and/for Society” uses the CCA’s Cedric Price fonds, a comprehensive archive documenting the practice of the British architect from 1953 to 2000, to investigate the relationship between social transformations and architecture, in the context of post-war “British culture for architecture.”

In the past twenty years, the practice of architecture has experience a loss of momentum in the development of creativity and invention in respect to socially pressing matters. By contrast, the decades following WWII were a rare period in which an emerging architecture culture actively paved the way for social transformation and, by aligning with the social-democratic model, allowed architects to act as catalysts rather than mediators of social and cultural change. Cedric Price represents a generation of architects whose approach captured the optimism of—if not fascination with—architecture’s social responsibility.

This optimism not only nourished the discipline and profession in postwar Britain, but also provides a template for rethinking society today. Taking Price as a starting point, “Architecture and/for Society” tackles broad questions of the genealogy of consumer and leisure society, of societal transformation and reform, of the standardization of culture and the individualization of society, of demographic changes and the effect of immigration on social composition, and of the politics of the welfare state on housing, health care, and higher education.

Collaborative research process

The collaborative research project “British Culture for Architecture” historically reframes individual projects by Cedric Price and re-contextualises them in a larger narrative to develop a new kind of historiography reconsidering post-war British culture in light of contemporary social and cultural issues. The interdisciplinary team of researchers tasked with carry out this project was selected through a peer-reviewed process following an open call for applications and a preparatory seminar for shortlisted candidates. The team of selected researchers then participated in three workshops at the CCA, a seminar in London, and an individual residency in Montreal, developing both individual and collaborative research.

The collaborative research follows an approach that encompasses key concepts across architectural history, cultural studies, science and technology studies, historical etymology, and critical studies, to offer a contemporary reading on the modern condition of what sociologist Ulrich Beck called, the “risk society.” Throughout the project, the participants engaged a range of topics, from the relationship between political beliefs and aesthetic values to cultural studies and the construction industry, from cybernetics and indeterminism in design to town planning and the creation of official knowledge, as well as alternative visions of the social democratic ideals.

Participants

Nick Beech
Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom

Murray Fraser
University College London, United Kingdom

Timothy Ivison
Architectural Association London, United Kingdom

Simon Sadler
University of California, Davis, United States

Ben Sweeting
University of Brighton, United Kingdom

“Architecture and/for Society” (2014–2015) is the first project of the Multidisciplinary Research Program, a research initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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