architecture of refusal
this text was originally written for pidgin 15, architecture and money, 2013 and is reproduced here with kind permission.
an architecture of refusal is an attempt to reclaim architectural practice from the capitalist ideology of production. it proposes, instead, that the possibilities of architecture are not determined by the performance-and-deadline-driven excesses of post-industrial society. an architecture of refusal is not a refusal of architecture, but rather a refusal to see building as the only valid architectural response to the question of space, place, and occasion; a refusal to understand architecture as always “problem-solving”; a refusal to view money as the bottom line. it is an opportunity to slow down and re-evaluate the terms of the discipline, consider the possibilities of an expanded architectural practice, and to participate in the creation of an architectural commons.
a refusal to view architecture exclusively as the practice of building opens up the territory of architecture, enabling a more open engagement with its conditions. acknowledging that architecture appears in forms other than its object-form is not only a discursive act, it is a social one. this requires an adjustment of conventional spatial and cultural boundaries. in practice, this means questioning the circumstances under which architecture is initiated, reevaluating the base values and given expectations of a project. it means being selective, sometimes having to say no to projects. this refusal proposes an architecture completed by the user, reusing existing resources, or simply leaving things as they are, with minor adjustments. operating at a basic level, improves the opportunity for adjustment and negotiation within the arena of practice. an architecture of refusal implies taking a position; taking things into your own hands even if you don’t yet know how. it is also an architecture that is shared—an architecture that defines a public as much as a public defines the architecture.
conventionally, architecture addresses a need and offers solutions to problems. the solutions expected of architecture too frequently act as a cover up, obscuring problems of use and users through the production of aesthetic objects. architects should instead question the formulation of their discipline’s stated problems, goals, and values within contemporary culture. making and meaning within this environment entails questioning existing institutional and organizational structures, identifying differences, and engaging the political as an open, ongoing process.
an architecture of refusal proposes that architecture resist reproducing the commercialization of place and the commodification of space. an architecture driven by capital can only exist when decisions and goals are defined through the judgment of a building’s economic value or profit potential—architecture as commodity. a refusal of this situation does not take money out of the equation. it merely shifts the position of money within the hierarchy of relevance, allowing a recalibration of the decision-making process a practice that can take on different responsibilities. an architecture that is not aesthetically overdetermined or a performance-based commodity can accomplish more with less (money) by allowing form and program to remain simple and by sharing the act of creating space.