2011 - 2013
Lectures by
Wouter Vanstiphout
Research by
Tim Peeters

Lecture Series: Blame The Architect

Le Corbusier called houses “machines for living.” France’s housing projects, as we now know, became machines for alienation.” – Christopher Caldwell, New York Times, November 25, 2005

Are designers to blame for poverty, social tension and urban violence?
After the riots in the French banlieues of 2005, fingers were pointed at the architects and planners responsible for the high-rise suburbs as the culprits behind the alienation, the poverty and ultimately the violence erupting around French cities. Just as 20 years earlier in Broadwater Farm, even Le Corbusier himself was blamed for the street fights that took place. Does architectural form have the power to change people’s behavior in such violent ways as some critics would have you believe? Are these riots insurrections against oppression, or are they part of a culture of violence, that uses modern urban spaces as its theatrical backdrop? Who is to blame? The system, the rioter, the architect?

The broad framework for this lecture series consists of the relationship between certain spatial models and the social processes that take place within them. More specifically, the series deals with the links between the urban master plan and social unrest: the main reason behind organizing it is the series of riots in French suburbs in the fall of 2005, and the debate that followed about the responsibility of architects and urban planners for the social developments within the neighbourhoods they design.

In the last 50 years, large urban development plans have been pointed out as both cause and panacea for urban violence. Political processes, developments in the field of architecture and urbanism, social and economical development and changes in sociology and city geography all play a role in this issue.

The lecture series’ main theme, deals with the question whether certain architectural and urban concepts can lead to unwanted social behaviour – or the other way around: can interventions on an architectural and urban level be catalysts in enforcing socially accepted behaviour? The lectures each deal with a specific example of social unrest in western cities in the last 4 decades, the theory written in response to this unrest, and the current situation in the same areas.

The series consist of 6 lectures (available below). The research behind these lectures will ultimately lead to a publication