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Architectural Agents

Architectural Agents: The Delusional, Abusive, Addictive Lives of Buildings

Annabel Jane Wharton
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Architectural Agents
    Book Description:

    Buildings are not benign; rather, they commonly manipulate and abuse their human users.Architectural Agentsmakes the case that buildings act in the world independently of their makers, patrons, owners, or occupants. And often they act badly.

    Treating buildings as bodies, Annabel Jane Wharton writes biographies of symptomatic structures in order to diagnose their pathologies. The violence of some sites is rooted in historical trauma; the unhealthy spatial behaviors of other spaces stem from political and economic ruthlessness. The places examined range from the Cloisters Museum in New York City and the Palestine Archaeological Museum (renamed the Rockefeller Museum) in Jerusalem to the grand Hostal de los Reyes Católicos in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and Las Vegas casino resorts. Recognizing that a study of pathological spaces would not be complete without an investigation of digital structures, Wharton integrates into her argument an original consideration of the powerful architectures of video games and immersive worlds. Her work mounts a persuasive critique of popular phenomenological treatments of architecture.

    Architectural Agentsadvances an alternative theorization of buildings' agency-one rooted in buildings' essential materiality and historical formation-as the basis for her significant intervention in current debates over the boundaries separating humans, animals, and machines.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4338-1
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction Architectural Agency
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)

    Places, like people, are usually more engaging and less dangerous the better we know them. Part of that understanding involves the recognition of their effects, their agency. “Agent” and “agency” are derived from the Latin verbagree, “to set in motion”; its present participle,agens, agentis,used as an adjective, means “effective.” In philosophy and in common language, the term “agent” is embedded in complex concepts of human morality, intentionality, and individual autonomy.¹ But in law and business the meaning of “agent” is less freighted. There, applied not only to persons but also to corporations, “agent” loses most of its...


    • 1 MURDER
      (pp. 3-30)

      Though terrorism now invokes greater outrage, murder is still a serious allegation. In formal language “murder” is reserved as a descriptor of a criminal act with a human victim. In most U.S. states’ legal systems, murder comes in two degrees. First-degree murder is willful and premeditated. Felony homicide—a killing that takes place during the commission of a crime such as robbery—is regarded as first-degree murder in many jurisdictions. Second-degree murder is that which is not planned in advance. Lesser infractions are voluntary manslaughter, which is basically second-degree murder committed with mitigating passion, and involuntary manslaughter, which is homicide...

    • 2 SPOILS
      (pp. 31-56)

      The Cloisters Museum in New York provides a scene for the investigation of crimes committed at a distance, revealing evidence of the venal destruction of monuments for the sake of money and status. The victims are the buildings, maimed or murdered for their parts. The culprits are traffickers in ancient works; their accomplices are curators and art historians. A second museum offers an investigator a different victim—the museum itself. It also presents another villain—the state.

      Museums have always been expressions of economic excess, but they have expended that surfeit for different purposes at different times.¹ In the early...


    • 3 AMNESIA
      (pp. 59-84)

      “True,” in common language, generally refers to that which corresponds to empirical experience with dependable consistency. A “lie” consciously contradicts the true. Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt usefully probes the word “bullshit” in relation to truth and falsehood through a consideration of the intentions of the speaker. Liars consciously contradict that which they know to be true. In order to hide the truth by their lies, they must recognize what truth is. For bullshitters, in contrast, truth is irrelevant. What bullshitters posit may be true or false—it doesn’t really matter. Bullshit, Frankfurt writes, is a greater enemy of truth than...

      (pp. 85-116)

      Arguably Jerusalem has a longer history of trauma than any other continuously inhabited city in the world. It has been subjected to chronic destruction. In 586 BCE, after King Zedekiah rebelled against the Babylonians, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. The city was starved and then destroyed. Zedekiah’s sons were slaughtered before his eyes, then he was blinded. The commander of the invaders “set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down” (2 Kings 25:9). Josephus describes the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE:...


    • 5 GAMBLING
      (pp. 119-150)

      We all have our habits, most of them bad. But few obsessive behaviors, even bad ones, are addictions. Addicts are those who compulsively repeat acts that they and those who know them understand as self-destructive. Beyond their chronic failure to resist the deleterious object of their desire, individuals suffering from addiction have other diagnosable symptoms. They experience stress before their gratification, pleasure and abandon at its initiation, self-loathing at its end. They spend more time engaged in their indulgence than they intend, commonly neglect obligations or forgo beneficial activities for its sake, become irascible in its prolonged absence, and often...

      (pp. 151-184)

      The Las Vegas casino suggests how a building, as a cue, may act as an agent in an addict’s compulsion. Architectural agency is more intense, however, when a space is not the cue that triggers an addictive impulse but is itself the substance of abuse. For those dependent on video games or immersive worlds, play is the addiction and virtual space is its medium. Johan Huizinga, in a brilliant analysis of the ludic as a critique of fascism, argues that a defined space is a necessity for play:¹

      More striking even than the limitation as to time is the limitation...

  8. Conclusion Buildings/Things, Bodies/Texts, History/Theory
    (pp. 185-220)

    Although the agency of built forms has been neglected, the agency of things has attracted a good bit of critical attention—from Mauss and Heidegger to Gell and Brown. It might be assumed that the theorizations of things’ acts would provide useful paradigms for theorizing the operations of buildings. Certainly some of the sophisticated assessments of things that have been written are useful in the investigation of buildings. Others, however, function as obstacles to the appreciation of architecture’s distinctive effects on its social and physical landscape. Indeed, I argue here that the theorization of buildings as agents has much to...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 221-252)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-282)
  11. Index
    (pp. 283-288)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-289)
  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 290-293)