MARION VON OSTEN, "Architecture Without Architects—Another Anarchist Approach"


The title of this text is a hybrid of two existing titles. “Architecture without Architects” was the name of an influential exhibition by the architect Bernard Rudofsky at the MoMA in 1964; “Housing: An Anarchist Approach” was the name of a famous book by the English architect and anarchist Colin Ward in which the author proclaims the rights and productivity of self-built housing and squatting in postwar Europe. Whereas the latter’s collection of essays discussed specific cases of European and Latin American squatter movements from the 1940s to the 1970s, Rudofsky’s exhibition presented photographs of local vernacular architecture from all over the world, with the claim that architects should learn from premodern architectural forms. Both of these perspectives identify a condition that emerged during decolonization, in which a massive crack appeared in the modernist movement and its vision of top-down planning. But they were also two very different interpretations of the simple fact that, throughout the ages and around the world, architecture has been produced without the intervention of planners or architects. Whereas Rudofsky’s approach suggested an aesthetical and methodological shift, Colin Ward’s was a political reading of spatial self-expressions that might offer new methodologies and an alternative understanding of society. In my article, after more than thirty years of debates about High Modernism, I will try to bring into play a third way of thinking that attempts to connect the question of design with that of the political, from the perspective of a globalized world. These ideas have been informed by many conversations, much research, and invitations to Egypt, Morocco, and Israel.