For centuries, Man has been at the crux of fundamental concepts of architecture. While the term Man, and the Humanist tradition that followed from it, have been challenged in feminist, queer (see Footprint 21: Trans-Bodies/Queering Spaces), poststructuralist, and postcolonial critique, which questioned its nature, or even pondered if we are actually human, the debates have hardly escaped anthropocentrism.
However, some architectures, purposefully or inadvertently, have been showing allegiance to a wholly different set of values, emanating from the industrial economy and its technological developments, which often dictate the creation of spaces in which the human body has to operate, and to which it needs to adapt and survive.
The radical conditioning of humans by the built environment can be identified across geographies, times and scales: from Ernst Neufert’s slight modification of the human body to conform with the dimensions of his modular standards, to the planning of office floors according to organisational theories in the Bürolandschaft experiments; from slave and container ships, to data centres and cold server rooms; from modern spaces constructed around the norms of a universal human body, to Amazon’s fulfilment centres and landscapes of logistics and automation that challenge both conventional spatial requirements and normative rules meant for human habitation, and the distinctions between city and countryside.
One line of reasoning, as old as the industrial economy itself, and reincarnating in contemporary reflections on ubiquitous computing and automation, associates the spaces of extreme conditioning with the Hegelian rise of the machine as an inevitable, mythic force external to, but taking over, human culture and apparently substituting obsolete humans. The problem with this narrative attributing autonomy to the development of technics is twofold: the power it gives to those who own and rule the technology, as warned against by Lewis Mumford in his postwar writings, as well as its tendency to render the humans that work alongside these machines invisible. But perhaps these spaces, in which humans and machines interact in unprecedented ways, could provide architecture with the opportunity to reimagine the relationship of the human with the ‘technical object’ (Simondon, 1968) and, ultimately, reconsider humanism and charge it with new meanings.
This issue of Footprint seeks to highlight spaces of radical conditioning, in which humans have to operate in accordance with the logic of industrial economy and technology. We would like to present an understanding of the machine and its rise in a societal and architectural context by exploring historical and contemporary instances of such spaces. Continuing the conversation started in Footprint 24: The Architecture of Logistics, we seek contributions that challenge our ideas about technology, economy, and the built environment, and uncover the rationale, the values and motivations behind the conception of these spaces, as well as their daily functioning and the stories of their human users. Ultimately, we want to question to what extent deconstructing technological determinism in architecture could reveal new forms of human/machine agency.
We welcome original research articles that address these and related questions, through theoretical and historiographical explorations, and transdisciplinary and innovative research methods. Furthermore, we expect contributions in the form of visual essays, and projects and speculations that illuminate the qualities and potentials of these spaces of radical conditioning.
This call is open for both full articles (6000–8000 words) and review articles or visual essays (2000–4000 words).
Authors of research articles are requested to submit their contributions on Footprint’s online platform before 15 January 2019. All research articles will go through a double-blind peer-review process.
Authors interested in contributing with review articles or visual essays should contact the editors. They will select pieces that they consider thematically relevant, innovative and demonstrating an explorative academic level.