One-day Symposium and Exhibition on Extreme Ecologies, Infrastructure, and Forms of Life
Territory as a Project
11th December 2017
09:30 – 17:30
Faculty of Architecture & the Built Environment, TU Delft
Until recently, territory designated space as a project and as a resource that mainly concerned corporations and institutions. In most early modern European countries, the spaces of everyday life, of artisanal production and local commercial exchanges, were gradually integrated into territories through private commercial and state endeavours ranging from the development of long-range trade routes to the construction of transportation infrastructures. Trade often paved the way for territorial enterprises.
As a project, territory was synonymous with an ideal of the easy circulation of men and goods, an ideal that the Enlightenment would also translate in intellectual and social terms by relating this easy physical circulation with the abandonment of former prejudices and the promotion of social mobility.
Another understanding of this is to characterise territory as space mastered and policed by institutions and corporations.
Through this process, which was analogous to that which led to the ‘death of nature’ in the 17th century, territorialised space became synonymous with a set of passive resources. Just like nature, space gradually lost part of its former vital dimension, with its somewhat feminine connotation of primeval fecundity, in order to become fully measurable, quantifiable and exploitable.
The perception of territory was made possible by the distance that separated the administrator or the professional in charge of its management and transformation and the various geographical places that it comprised. Landscape appeared also as the product of distance, but whereas territorial awareness presupposed a certain degree of interest or even greed, landscape sensitivity, at least according to Kantian aesthetics, was inseparable from disinterestedness.
Such disinterestedness was, for instance, at the core of the Romantic attitude towards natural scenery that a painting like Caspar David Friedrich’s ‘Wanderer above a Sea of Fog’ conveys particularly well.
Contrary to what is often assumed by historiography, territory and landscape, in their traditional meanings, represented distinct and complementary perspectives, both based on an estrangement from immediate experience. The mental attitudes that lay at the core of their perception could not be more different one from another.
Often using the same remote point of view, the territorial entrepreneur charted resources where the landscape amateur experienced disinterested emotions.
The emergence of an environmental approach at the end of the 19th century could have led to a radical critique of the type of distance that was thus presupposed. Jacob von Uexküll’s notion of ‘Umwelt’ was precisely based on the refusal to consider such a distance between living beings and their environment. Uexküll’s Umwelt was all about how living beings perceive their environment, a perception involving intimate and permanent exchange between them and their surroundings.
What happened to territory? It used to be synonymous with a distant, planning, almost scheming gaze. It now appears with an immediacy bordering immanence.
In continuity with it, architecture has no longer to defend its status vis-à-vis planning by asserting the shaping power of the built object. Seen as an integral component of territory, architecture is expected to perform with an efficiency and effectiveness that used to be reserved for living beings or machines.
From environmental behaviour to the production of affects bridging the former split between object and subject, contemporary architectural performalism is intimately linked to this new territorial dimension.
Such an evolution does not only present advantages; it is also accompanied by new ambiguities. The main ones have probably to do with the political dimension. Territory used to be associated with administrative action. It was in particular often related to the construction of the nation-state. What are the political forces at work in the new fields explored by designers today?
*Excerpt from ‘What has happened to territory?’ by Antoine Picon published in Architectural Design Special Issue: Territory: Architecture Beyond Environment, May/June 2010, 94–99.
Dr. Arch. Hamed Khosravi
Dr. Arch. Taneha Kuzniecow Bacchin
Geert van der Meulen
Elise van Herwaarden
Gerben van den Oever
(Delta Interventions Graduation Studio)
Welcome by Dr. Taneha K. Bacchin and Dr. Hamed Khosravi
Delta Interventions Studio (Delta Urbanism Research Group), TU Delft
Lecture by Dr. Marina Otero Verzier
Head of Research and Development at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam
Lecturer at the Royal College of Art, London
Exhibition Opening and Discussions
Delta Interventions Graduation Studio 2017-2018 ’North Sea: Landscapes of Coexistence’
Lecture by Dr. Godofredo Pereira
Head of Environmental Architecture Programme, Royal College of Art, London
Senior Researcher at the Forensic Architecture, London
Lecture by Dr. Pier Vittorio Aureli
Head of City/Architecture PhD programme, and Studio Master Diploma 14 at the Architectural Association, School of Architecture, London
Louis I. Kahn Visiting Professor at the Yale School of Architecture, New Haven
Round Table Discussion and Final Remarks
“Roving Institutions: Architectures for the democratization of the metropolitan cultural condition, or propaganda machines”
The construction of transportable urban environments had been embraced throughout the 20th century by cultural institutions as a mechanism to mitigate the growing imbalance between the countryside and the metropolis.
By enhancing the movement of people, information, goods, and capital throughout the territory, projects such as the Misiones Pedagógicas (Spain), 1931-1936, the Cátedra Ambulante Francisco Franco (Spain), 1939-1977, or The Centre Pompidou Mobile (France), 2011-2013, responded to the interest in injecting urban dynamics in culturally isolated areas. The multi-scalar architecture of these institutions in flux was materialized in standing structures, but also in larger entanglements between spaces, territories and individuals articulated around these circulatory processes.
This lecture aims to shed light on how these mobile infrastructures were designed to carry information services, education and entertainment, as well as diverse political ideologies; how were conceived as a mechanism of social order, and a tool for urban development, and nation-building processes.
— Dr. Marina Otero Verzier is an architect based in Rotterdam, where she is Head of Research and Development at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Previously she was Chief Curator of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016 with the After Belonging Agency. From 2011-2015 Otero was based in New York, where she was Director of Global Network Programming at Studio-X and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia-GSAPP. She is currently teaching at ETSAM, and has taught seminars and studios at ETSAM, Barnard College, and Columbia GSAPP.
“Nation-building from below”
The presentation will look at the relation between nature and political projects by tracing how the Venezuelan bolivarian government has shifted the political role of oil, from an invisible source of power –the Magical State- into a central object of politics. In particular it will focus the geopolitical, territorial and social imaginations that in the case of Venezuela, have emerged around extractive practices, including the Gran Gasoducto del Sur project, a proposal of a 5,000km pipeline connecting the Orinoco oil belt to Buenos Aires. Drawing comparisons with contemporary disputes around resource extraction in Chile and in Nigeria the presentation will focus the role that certain objects from the underground have in the re-imagination of collective politics, and on the isomorphic relations that ground the revolution: Venezuela=Bolívar; Bolívar=oil; oil=the people. Finally, it will be argued that the underground has in itself become a resource: a potential for the constant emergence of territorial and architectural projects.
— Dr. Godofredo Enes Pereira is the course leader for the MA in Environmental Architecture and teaches ADS7 Ecologies of Existence design studio at the RCA, where he also leads the Architecture and Social Movements Research group. His doctoral research ‘The Underground Frontier: Technoscience and Collective Politics’ investigated political and territorial conflicts within the planetary race for underground resources. He is a member of Forensic Architecture where he led the Atacama Desert project; and was the curator of the exhibition Object / Project (Lisbon Architecture Triennial, 2016).
“Territory and Primitive (and On-going) Accumulation”
To settle is one of the primary forms of land appropriation and the primary form for architecture. In the settlement architecture reveals its most fundamental capacities, such as to orient, to limit and to define distances and proximities. While the act of settling expresses a desire for stability and sense of orientation, settlements always confront situations of crisis, disorder and failure. Here the politicisation of architecture is no longer ‘discursive’ but instead embedded in the very material constitution of its elements: walls, passages, rooms and streets. Especially in times of danger, crisis, warfare and colonisation, ‘to settle’ becomes a mechanism for social mobilisation. It helps us to define and reproduce specific forms of life. In this sense, the settlement is the architecture of the territory. Limits, boundaries, thresholds, topography, topology, logistics and infrastructure become direct indexes of the way political forces directly inform human subjectivity.
While the concept of ‘territory’ is today taken for granted as the concrete ground in which we live, its political and cultural genealogy is very complex and yet relatively recent. By territory we mean the concrete – physical – trace of man’s forms of life. By using the term ‘territory’ rather than ‘city’ we imply that this physical evidence transcends the traditional dichotomy city-countryside and goes beyond the physical, political and juridical discriminations that make the concept of the city.
A first step towards the definition of ‘The architecture of the Territory’ is to think urbanization no longer as the ‘natural’ fate of society but as a historical process whose traces can be defined in the way in which the modern city has come into being. In ancient times a territory was a vast open-ended realm within which the first cities were isolated human settlements. Yet already at this stage the territory is interpreted as a canvas in which topographic features such as mountains, rivers, plateaus, islands are not just ‘places’ to inhabit or to use as resources, but points of reference that orient the settlers.
— Dr. Pier Vittorio Aureli is the head of the City/Architecture PhD Programme at the Architectural Association, Louis Kahn Visiting Professor at the School of Architecture at Yale University, and the author of The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture (2011) and The Project of Autonomy: Politics and Architecture Within and Against Architecture (2008). Pier is co-founder of Dogma, an architectural studio based in Brussels and focused on the project of the city; his research and projects focus on the relationship between architectural form, political theory and urban history.
*There are limited places available for the event. Please register by sending email to
Elise van Herwaarden: elisevanherwaarden(at)gmail.com