Manchester School of Architecture
Manchester 1824

History Of The Concept

The methodological and conceptual roots of this approach stem from the discipline of Science Studies, with the writings of the French sociologist and philosopher Bruno Latour forming the primary source for its subsequent development. Latour first developed his ideas in relation to the analysis of scientific and technological controversies in his book Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987. Controversy analysis is also part of the Actor-Network-Theory developed in his most recent book Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Subsequently, following a decade of teaching and exploration of this methodology in relation to science and technology issues, it has been explored to see how this new approach could be extended to other disciplinary areas, such as design and architecture. It is towards this latter area that we turn in the Manchester School of Architecture, by seeking to provide a methodology of analysing controversies surrounding architectural plans and urban development projects. The research project, Mapping Architectural Controversies, represents the latest stage in the development and extension of this evolving inter-disciplinary area of study.

Our notion of buildings is linked to the idea of Euclidean geometrical space in which a three-dimensional representation of a building is enclosed. Yet the world we live in is something quite distinct. The environment in which a building is situated is a reality shaped by multiple subjective perceivers. We may ask how we are to represent the many different demands and opinions of so many conflicting stakeholders in our building models, be they users, communities of neighbours, preservationists, clients, or government representatives and city authorities. Euclidean space is a poor medium for capturing the way humans and things do get by in the world, a point much reinforced by studies in phenomenology - the philosophical study of perceived reality and its subjective understanding.

Controversy mapping techniques hinge on the idea that 'things' generate contested spaces, in which an artefact is produced following a plethora of material and subjective considerations. Buildings are 'things' as they appear as the result of a protracted process involving multiple concerns. An Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) understanding of buildings will move beyond the traditional two or three dimensional image, reaching out to represent additional human factors, and indeed reducing the need for distinctions between subject and object. A building will be a "navigation through a controversial datascape," an animated collection of "criss-crossing trajectories of unstable definitions and expertise". Rather than merely adding external concerns to objective entities, the new perspective to buildings will concern architectural projects in the making, studying the creative process and analysing the performative results of buildings in active use. An innovative visual vocabulary will need to be invented that will do justice to the idea of buildings as contested spaces, contrasting with the older and more reluctant view of buildings as objective static objects.

Latour B, & Yaneva A. "Give me a Gun and I will Make All Buildings Move: An ANT's View of Architecture" in Geiser, Reto (ed.), Explorations in Architecture: Teaching, Design, Research, Basel: Birkhäuser, 2008, pp. 80-89.