The Efficacy of Architecture : Political Contestation and Agency book cover
1st Edition

The Efficacy of Architecture
Political Contestation and Agency

ISBN 9781138909861
Published December 12, 2016 by Routledge
218 Pages

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Book Description

A significant ideological transition has taken place in the discipline of architecture in the last few years. Originating in a displeasure with the ‘starchitecture’ system and the focus on aesthetic innovation, a growing number of architects, emboldened by the 2007–8 economic crisis, have staged a rebellion against the dominant mode of architectural production. Against a ‘disinterested’ position emulating high art, they have advocated political engagement, citizen participation and the right to the city. Against the fascination with the rarefied architectural object, they have promoted an interest in everyday life, play, self-build and personalization.

At the centre of this rebellion is the call for architecture to (re-)assume its social and political role in society. The Efficacy of Architecture supports the return of architecture to politics by interrogating theories, practices and instances that claim or evidence architectural agency. It studies the political theories animating the architects, revisits the emergence of reformist architecture in the late nineteenth century, and brings to the fore the relation of spatial organization to social forms. In the process, a clearer picture emerges of the agency of architecture, of the threats to as well as potentials for meaningful societal transformation through architectural design.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Return to Politics.  Part 1: Critique, Reformism and Co-Optation  Critique and Change.  The Ascent of Reformism.   The Integration of Critique  Part 2: The Architecture of Radical Democracy  The Post-Fordist City.  Theories of Participation.  Theories of Contestation.  Praxis  Part 3: Languages of Architecture  The Political as the Symbolic.  Urban Form.  ‘Vulgar’ Architecture, ‘Vulgar’ Politics.  Notes.  Bibliography.  Index.

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Tahl Kaminer is Senior Lecturer in Architectural Design and Theory at the University of Edinburgh, UK. He co-founded and edited the journal Footprint. His publications include the monograph Architecture, Crisis and Resuscitation (Routledge, 2011) and the co-edited anthologies Houses in Transformation (2008), Urban Asymmetries (2011) and Critical Tools (2012).


The Efficacy of Architecture: Political Contestation and Agency is a book like no other I have come across. Equally familiar with architectural projects, the media’s use of those projects, and theories past and present that guide and critique those projects – it offers an insight into how socially motivated architects, urbanists, and theorists have been misrepresented and marginalized. In essence, this book is an in-depth examination of architectural ideology: how media, theory, philosophy, criticism, and design intertwine and morph as need be to silence politically engaged, participatory architecture. That this examination brings together actors not normally associated with each other around specific (largely Western) historical, intellectual and economic events is, to a large extent, its novelty; that the groupings nevertheless seem so obvious when explained by Kaminer, is proof that his argument (the obscuring of architectural critical history) is spot on. This book is insightful about the co-optation of publicly-minded work, but its analysis is ultimately not depressing; it offers precise direction for those so-minded to maneuver dexterously through our complex 21st century politico-economic system.’ - Peggy Deamer, Yale University, USA