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The politics of making.

Edited by Mark Swenarton, lega Troinai and Helena Webster. Colchester; RouUedge. 2007. [pounds sterling]49.95

This collection is the third book in a series, part of a project by the Architectural Humanities Research Association and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It records papers delivered at a conference held in November 2006. Architectural research has vague boundaries, is recognisably in its adolescent phase, and as here is trying to escape the confines both of history and of enginerring.

To give an idea of the breadth, the index runs from aboriginal culture to Zhou Enlai. To understand the term politics is a little harder, Swenarton uses it to stand for relations of power which enables him to editorialise the papers into three sections, cities, making, and seeing. However, as with most conference papers, the reader can only hunt and peck for good things, reading from cover to cover is not recommended. This is the book of the conference. In a mature discipline, like English Literature or Art History for example, useful papers anonymously refereed by two readers would appear in the standard journals. Appropriate architectural journals have yet themselves to reach maturity.

The papers are short which tends to give the impression that a single factoid is all that is necessary for writing to be research. Thus it is hardly a discovery that Alison Smithson w;is;i lYnmuii'al 'dilnr with her own agenda in Team X though more perhaps could be made over the Polish Catholic church's possessiveness about Auschwitz and its battle with international Jewry. Are there other instances of race versus religion in the history of memorials? My suspicions were raised about this collection when the elegant introduction hangs itself upon the skeleton of Ruskin. This is surely the problem with architectural research in the UK. There is no tradition of architectural theory uncoloured by a moral tone. As such authors, as in this and other collections from this stable, tend to wander through continental phiolsophy picking up the odd tick bite which they then attempt to scratch. Architecture, that is buildings, the profession, the institution and its media, become background to the authors' attempts to grapple with the ideas of other disciplines. Sadly architectural criticism suffers. Yet the Brits have to start somewhere. Must it be here?
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Author:Dunster, David
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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