Manchester School of Architecture
Manchester 1824

Why Controversies?

Nowadays, we are confronted more and more with uncertain architectural knowledge concerning the latest innovations in engineering and building construction together with the changing demands of clients and communities. This causes us to become embroiled in various controversies surrounding architecture and urban design, which reshuffle the multifarious connections between architecture and society.

On the one hand, architectural knowledge advances very rapidly, with new types of materials and technological innovations entering the field and multiplying architectural invention. On the other hand, urban experts, architects, and engineers often publicly debate uncertain urban knowledge and technologies, polarising opinion as witnessed on numerous architectural blogs, citizen fora and newspaper websites. The disputes continue even when an architectural competition is won, a building constructed, or a city-wide development plan implemented.

This radical transformation in building technologies, in the reliance upon experts, and in the expansion of architectural networks could have remained practically invisible were it not for the presence of another phenomenon - the digitalisation and availability of enormous databases on architecture (image galleries, websites of architectural firms and associations, discussion fora, blogs, city council websites). The digital technology at our command concerning a variety of buildings, both iconic and ordinary, planned or existing, built many years ago or still under construction, provide us with abundant resources to follow controversies surrounding design and architecture.

What is a Controversy?

In this sense of the word, controversy does not refer particularly to media debates, scandals, rumours surrounding design plans, uncertain architectural knowledge, buildings-in-progress, tentative technologies or building innovation. Controversy points to the series of uncertainties that a design project, a building, an urban plan or a construction process undergoes; it is rather a synonym of 'architecture in the making'.

What is Mapping Controversies?

Mapping controversies means 'analysing controversies' and covers the research that enables us to describe the successive stages in the production of architectural knowledge and artefacts, buildings and urban plans. By mapping controversies we refer to a variety of new representational techniques and tools that permit us to describe the successive stages of architectural controversies. For example, the rhythm, intensity and scope of the disputes; the dispersion of the actors' positions; the trajectory of their arguments; the timing and spacing devices; and the different ways of slowing down the pace of the controversy and closing it.