Towards a Posthuman Practice for Architecture and Urbanism?

As a humanist tradition, architecture, with all its associated professions and discourses, has developed within an anthropocentric (human-centred) thought-space. In these disciplines, ontological questions (questions about things in the world) have primarily centred around architectural objects and their human inhabitants. ‘Nature’ in this space has always been a backdrop and resource for human agency and well-being. A tree is for a house and a landscape is for a window.

In this commentary, I challenge this humanist tradition of architecture by drawing on posthuman discourses that argue for the decentring of the human subject and the rethinking of human-environment relations. Responding to intensified concerns around the detrimental effects of human activities at bioregional and planetary scales, I propose that the question of architectural sustainability requires a posthuman reframing.

Writing from the perspective of an architectural practitioner, I argue that the isolation of nature from culture (the nature/culture divide) and the objectivation of nature in architectural tradition, present barriers to the discipline that can perhaps only be overcome through the cultivation of a posthuman architecture. At the urban scale of design, I suggest that the humanist tendencies of objectification and isolation, which are productively challenged by posthumanism, also reveal themselves in the increasing incoherence of city fabrics and public spaces. Here, the rise of individuality and the atomisation of the collective architectural project by the individual icon can be seen in the cleaving of building from city (building/city). This cleaving, I propose, represents a dualism conceptually equivalent to the nature/culture divide. In both cases, by focusing on the object, we limit ourselves to single isolated performances and reduce the environmental capacity of our projects both culturally and ecologically.

by Matthew Dalziel
PhD fellow, Institute of Architecture, Oslo School of Architecture and Design
Publication for Nordic Journal of Urban Studies, read it here