The Collective Individual: Confronting Autonomy in an Urban Semiosphere

Year 5  Master's Thesis and Project

This thesis explored a non-object based architecture of “freedom” which confronts the paradox between economic libertarianism and collectivism. Unfolded through the investigation of radical ‘paper projects’ and by using the biological theory of the semiosphere, the associated project, ‘The Southbank Art College’ spatialises what becomes both a fluid extension of, and a determinate resolution of, London’s Southbank Arts complex.

The thesis can be read in full on issuu - follow the link in the box above. The following text is an excerpt from the abstract.

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As Marx and Engels predicted over 150 years ago, threads of consumption spread from the epicentres of industrial revolution and chased “the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe”, intertwining nations and economies. The Information Age gave rise to communities that could transcend borders and oceans, and consequentially the concept of the “collective” as an idea receded as we found ourselves in an increasingly libertarian, globalized world. With regard to the city, Georg Simmel reflects on this anomaly of mass interconnection and subsequent alienation, asserting that “one never feels as lonely and as deserted as in this metropolitan crush of persons.”

 

Nowadays, the register of “urban” escapes even Archizoom and Yona Friedman’s radical projections of limitless, spontaneous and nomadic anti-forms in No-Stop City and Spatial City, becoming a theoretical condition closer to Timothy Morton’s “hyperobject.” The hegemony of the urban as a limitless process, as described by urban theorist Neil Brenner, reaches far beyond the city in its traditional sense, consuming hinterlands and laying down supra-urban systems and infrastructure across the planet and beyond. The urban is a now a condition that has “no outside”. Its central process, capital investment, is consuming the global city and privately owned public space is malignantly seeping through the remaining polis, precipitating into urban fields as conditions of extreme inequality and “uneven spatial development”.

The site of the proposition, London, is a hyperbole of these conditions. Yet there remains a zone - the assemblage of arts programmes that belong to the South Bank of the Thames - that stands as a quaint form of resistance to this power game, belonging as it does to the age of impossible dreams which considered the ideas of urban continuity latent in Archizoom’s vision as not the product of capitalism’s “supremacy of ‘tertiary’ activity over all other activities,” but as the potential for a true public landscape of dramaturgical activity for urban citizens.

 

The thesis project will extend this landscape, producing, in Andrea Branzi’s words, an “urban semiosphere” - a heterogeneous model for a continuous flow of information, markets, networks and people. It aims to expose and confront the paradox between complete individual liberty and ‘the people’ as a collective, bringing together the prescience of some of the radical paper-projects at the dawn of the postmodern era with the reality of the neoliberal city.

 

Can “the idea of the disappearance of architecture within the metropolis” - the centricity of a “non-architecture” of freedom - oppose the expropriation of public space and the dominance of the commodity-form?

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