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In PLAT 9.0: Commit, Walter Benn Michaels asked: beyond its spatial effects, does architecture have the capacity to convey a thought?

In a capitalist society where even such spatial effects are commodified, providing desirable user experiences to potential consumers threatens to eclipse all other aspirations. If the intention behind a work of architecture is only to provoke the interest of a consumer, interpretation of it as something other than a commodity is impossible. Positioning user is experience as the sole concern of architecture risks relinquishing its capacity to carry an independent meaning. PLAT 10.0 seeks speculations on the significance of a parallel audience distinct from the user: that of the beholder. The former implies experiencing an architectural object. The latter involves interpreting the embedded intentions of said object. To use architecture means to engage only with the physical existence of a work; to behold it considers a built work as the conveyor of ideas. If a project acknowledges and engages with this distinction, it can begin to resist its commodification. This aspiration may seem naively heroic, but does architecture have a choice? How can it uphold a status as an active agent in society while being subsumed by the market?

The decentring of user experience recalls the project of autonomy explored extensively in the seventies and eighties. In his introduction to the Oppositions Reader, Michael Hays claims that architecture’s autonomy is “its self-organization into a body of formal elements and operations that separates it from any particular place and time.” But architecture is expensive, big, and relatively permanent in an urban fabric—by denying architecture’s status as a commodity within a larger system, these efforts failed to address the reality in which it necessarily exists. A reality built on individualism and inequality which left unchecked grows increasingly difficult to challenge. The apathy inherent in “separating architecture from any particular place and time” amounts to tacit approval of current conditions.

Is there a way to instead suspend commodification without denying its presence in what we do? Can there be autonomy from market forces without an ignorance of the real world? By positioning using and beholding as two distinct poles, might there be a way to curate a user experience and engage with broader issues without compromising either endeavour? How does the recognition of the beholder alongside the architect and the user affect the overall dynamic? How can a building address a public beyond its users? PLAT 10.0 asks your speculations on the potentials of framing architecture as a medium for conveying meaning by suspending the primacy of the spatial experience. PLAT 10.0 asks what it means to behold a work of architecture.

Send PLAT your essays, projects, case studies, interviews, photography, fictions, drawings, anecdotes, etc. We welcome submissions from non-architects thinking seriously about architecture. Abstracts of approximately 250 words and images are due December 30, 2020. Complete pieces are welcome, though they should be delivered with an accompanying abstract. For initial submissions, image and video files should be reduced in size to accommodate easy transfer. Materials can be attached or linked.

Email submissions and questions to [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you.

Follow the work at platjournal.com and @platjournal.

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