long-term programme

On Power in Architecture

A series of symposia to examine architecture in regard to its heterogeneous relationship to power from different philosophical perspectives.

21.09.2017 - 26.09.2019

Architecture has served throughout history as one of the most prominent tools of power, functioning as both its representation and its manifestation, embedded as it is within the public and the private realm. The symposia series On Power in Architecture facilitates a critical discussion and proposes concepts to reflect on this complex topic. This symposia series brings together philosophers, architectural theorists and historians in order to examine architecture in regard to its heterogeneous relationship to power from different theoretical perspectives.

Conceived and organized by: Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory, Ljubljana in collaboration with Mateja Kurir
Supported by: ERSTE Foundation;  Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO), Ljubljana; University of Ljubljana; Outsider magazine

Thursday, 26 September 2019
MAO – Museum of Architecture and Design, Ljubljana
Speakers: Andrew Ballantyne, Elke Krasny, Nadir Lahiji, Robert Pfaller, Douglas Spencer

Pre-event: Architecture and Ideology
25 September 2019, 18:00
Faculty of Architecture, Ljubljana
Speakers: Andrew Ballantyne, Nadir Lahiji, Elke Krasny, Robert Pfaller

After focusing on the materialistic and the phenomenological philosophical perspective, the third and last edition of the symposia series On Power in Architecture focuses on the psychoanalytical and poststructuralist perspective of reflecting on the relation between power and architecture. The third international symposium will bring together renowned philosophers and theorists who will think about the specific intertwinement between power and architecture in contemporary neoliberalism.  

Andrew Ballantyne, Elke Krasny, Nadir Lahiji, Robert Pfaller, and Douglas Spencer will talk about micropolitics and architecture, phantasmagoria and capitalist pleasure, iconic shifts in architecture in the 1980s and ’90s, the intertwinement of postmodernist aesthetics and neoliberalism, and the possibilities of an alternative view of power in architecture as the power of capital and the power for capital. 


The symposium is organized in collaboration with Mateja Kurir and is supported by MAO, Faculty of Architecture, University of Ljubljana and ERSTE Foundation.

The programme will be in English. Entry is free of charge.

Symposium programme

Wednesday, 25 September 2019, 18:00, Faculty of Architecture
What is the relationship between architecture and ideology? How and why does architecture perform as ideology? Andrew Ballantyne, Nadir Lahiji, Elke Krasny, and Robert Pfaller will present their views on this complex intertwinement. The discussion will be moderated by Mateja Kurir.


Thursday, 26 September 2019, 10:00–16:00, MAO  

10:00–10:15    Opening remarks by Mateja Kurir, The Architecture of Neoliberal Destruction

10:15–11:00     Andrew Ballantyne, Micropolitics and Architecture

11:00–11:45     Elke Krasny, Iconic Moves: Regeneration + Reproduction

11:45–12:30     Nadir Lahiji: Phantasmagoria of the “One Divided in Two”: Architecture and the Capitalist Enjoyment

12:30–13:15     Discussion

13:15–14:00     Break 

14:00–14:45     Robert Pfaller, Postmodern Aesthetics and Neoliberal Politics: A Relationship between Ornament and Crime

14:45–15:30     Douglas Spencer, Architecture and the Subject of Capital: A Critique of Symptomatics and Spectacle

15.30–16.00     Discussion



Andrew Ballantyne
Politics is interpersonal relations; it originates as a word at the scale of the city – the polis – at a time when the city was the state. Governments take decisions about infrastructure and commission buildings that can represent or dissimulate the power of the state. At a smaller scale, we have the politics of the workplace or the family, which are worked out in tensions and alliances, rivalries and murders – the stuff of drama, comedy, and tragedy. The Royal Houses of Thebes and Atreus – Oedipus and Orestes – enact intensely things that go on more mildly in our own homes – the walls and rooms make meetings and separations at the domestic scale, which can be seen translated to the scale of the city, with its streets and markets. Within the individual’s unconscious there is micropolitics, which informs our moods and inclinations. In moving across the different scales, from molecular to molar, unconscious assemblages to the psychology of crowds, we cross thresholds of architectural awareness. We can think of some buildings as autonomous objects, but only by not noticing that they are always political through and through, linked into infrastructures and housing micropolitical organisms that are already crowds within themselves.

Elke Krasny

Urban change throughout the 1980s and 1990s was marked by processes of deindustrialization. Cities, and entire regions, suffered a decline in productive industrial activity. As factories or plants closed down, a new type of architecture moved in with style. Urban regeneration was premised on the promise of the icon or the landmark. Ranging from corporate headquarters to museums, universities to football stadiums, opera houses to convention centres, markets to airports, architecture served the global economy by promoting iconic experiences. How is such experience produced, and, most importantly, how is it reproduced on the daily level? 
This lecture examines such iconic moves in architecture as they complexly interconnect urban regeneration and daily reproduction. Looking at the effective and affective dimensions of such iconic moves of architecture under neoliberal capitalism, we raise the questions what urban regeneration means and how it is maintained through reproduction. Focusing on the material dimension of architecture, the economy of production and the economy of reproduction are considered as equally relevant.

Nadir Lahiji

Contemporary capitalism has opened a new world of Phantasmagoria in which the Subject is re-enchanted. Under this reactionary re-enchantment the human sensorium is anaestheticized and the Subject is depoliticized only to be subjected to a “surplus-jouissance” in the service of capitalist profit. Contemporary architecture has become an instrument in generating this surplus-jouissance. Taking the Marxist-Benjaminian-Psychoanalytical conceptual structure for my critique, this presentation will scrutinize this state of architecture by subjecting its “dreamworld” to a critical examination under the notion of Phantasmagoria – defined here, in psychoanalytical terms, as the ideological “structure of fantasy”. Under this notion, it will be argued that the subjectivization of architectural agency to the capitalist enjoyment is already an accomplished fact. The presentation will conclude by arguing that architecture must stand against the postmodern Re-Enchantment by returning, once again, to the Enlightenment Project of Disenchantment.

Robert Pfaller

In the light of the dramatically increased social inequality due to the neoliberal politics of austerity and privatization, postmodernity appears (as I have argued in my recent book Erwachsenensprache) as the ideological superstructure to this development. Its programmatic relativism, the constant “folklorisation” of the Other (that has been remarked, for instance, by Nicolas Bourriaud), and the reduction of the adult citizen to a notoriously sensitive complainer (that only has, as Slavoj Žižek pointed out, the right to complain, but no other civil right whatsoever) are the political and ethical counterparts to the economic privatization of public goods and spaces.
This raises a number of questions about postmodernity as a style in architecture: is this nothing but the expression of this ideology, or does it have at least a kind of relative aesthetic autonomy? Is the return of the ornament promoted by architectural postmodernity an obvious political crime, or is there a kind of innocence to it? How strong are the ties that link architectural form to ideological imagination and political reality? In order to answer these questions, I want to closely examine the reasons that led one of the founding fathers of modernity, Adolf Loos, to the famous equation between “ornament and crime”.

Douglas Spencer

Conceptions of architecture as spectacle or symptom, respectively, the legacies of Guy Debord’s situationism and Fredric Jameson’s Marxian formalism, still serve as default modes for the operation of architectural critique. Under-theorized in terms of the relationship between the political and the economic, over-invested in moralizing denouncements of the iconic, and premised on stagist, technologically determinist, and financially fixated accounts of capitalist development, a critique of such models and methods themselves is overdue. This paper draws upon alternative and heterodox understandings of capital in order to rethink the part played by architecture in its contemporary operation. Drawing upon the work of Ellen Meiksins Wood, Moishe Postone, and Etienne Balibar, it explores the potential for an alternative optic on the power of architecture as a power of, and for, capital.

About the speakers

ANDREW BALLANTYNE is professor of architecture at Newcastle University, UK. He became an architect and then a writer. His books include Deleuze and Guattari for Architects; Architecture Theory: A Reader in Philosophy and Culture, Key Buildings from Prehistory to the Present, and Architecture: A Very Short Introduction, which has been translated into many languages, including Slovenian. He has chaired the Society of Architectural Historians GB and been on the board of the British Society of Aesthetics. He sees buildings as belonging to cultural history, for example, in Tudoresque: In Pursuit of the Ideal Home (with Andrew Law), or Rural and Urban: Architecture Between Two Cultures.

ELKE KRASNY is a cultural theorist and curator. She works as a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. She holds a PhD from the University of Reading, UK. Her scholarship connects critical practices in architecture, urbanism, and contemporary art to questions of memory, ecology, economy, and labour. 
Exhibitions and edited volumes include Critical Care: Architecture and Urbanism for a Broken Planet (with Angelika Fitz, MIT Press), In Reserve! The Household (with Regina Bittner, Spector Books), and the exhibition Suzanne Lacy’s International Dinner Party in Feminist Curatorial Thought. Her exhibition Hands-on Urbanism: The Right to Green was shown at the 2012 Venice Biennale of Architecture. 
In 2012, she was a visiting scholar at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal to study the work of Shim-Sutcliffe Architects. In 2011, she was visiting curator at the Hong Kong Community Museum to study displacement through urban renewal.

NADIR LAHIJI is an architect and critical theorist. He holds a PhD in architectural theory and history from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of the most recent An Architecture Manifesto: Critical Reason and Theories of a Failed Practice (Routledge, 2019), and Adventures with the Theory of the Baroque and French Philosophy (Bloomsbury, 2016, 2018). He is the co-author of The Architecture of Phantasmagoria: Specters of the City (Routledge 2016). His previously edited books include Can Architecture Be an Emancipatory Project: Dialogues on Architecture and the Left (Zero Books, 2016), The Missed Encounter of Radical Philosophy with Architecture (Bloomsbury, 2015), Architecture Against the Post-Political: Essays in Reclaiming the Critical Project (Routledge, 2014), The Political Unconscious of Architecture: Re-opening Jameson’s Narrative (Ashgate, 2012). He has taught in a number of institutions including University of Canberra, the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State University, Georgia Tech, Pratt Institute, and the Lebanese American University.

ROBERT PFALLER is a philosopher and professor at the University of Art and Industrial Design in Linz, Austria. He is a founding member of the Viennese psychoanalytic research group “stuzzicadenti”. Pfaller received the award for the Best Book Published in 2014 from the American Board of Professional Psychology for On the Pleasure Principle in Culture: Illusions without Owners (Verso, 2014) and in 2007 the Missing Link Award by Psychoanalytisches Seminar Zurich, Switzerland. His publications include: Interpasivnost (Maska, 2019), Erwachsenensprache: Über ihr Verschwinden aus Politik und Kultur (Fischer, 2017), Interpassivity: The Aesthetics of Delegated Enjoyment (Edinburgh University Press, 2017), Wofuer es sich zu leben lohnt: Elemente materialistischer Philosophie (Fischer, 2011), Umazano Sveto in Čisti Um (Analecta, 2009). 

DOUGLAS SPENCER is associate professor and director of graduate education at Iowa State University’s Department of Architecture. The author of The Architecture of Neoliberalism (2016), his work critically theorizes the relationship between architecture, landscape, and the production of subjectivity. His writing has been published in Radical Philosophy, e-flux, New Geographies, Volume, and in collections such as This Thing Called Theory (2016), Architecture and Feminisms (2017), and Landscape and Agency (2017).

13 September 2018, 10:00–16:00
Venue: MAO – Museum of Architecture and Design, Ljubljana
Speakers: Andrew Benjamin, Dean Komel, Jeff Malpas, Luka Skansi, Peter Trawny

At the second symposium of the series On Power in Architecture, internationally renowned philosophers and an architectural historian will examine architecture in regard not only to its heterogeneous relationship to power using a selected case study, but this time from a phenomenological perspective.

Slovenian philosopher Dean Komel will sketch a possible phenomenological approach to the problem of “power within architecture” to rethink how architecture can play a critical role in addressing different positions of social power, rather than finding self-satisfaction as their subservient toy. Australian philosopher Andrew Benjamin will talk about architecture of the counter-measure and about possibilities for an architecture beyond nihilism. Australian philosopher Jeff Malpas will focus on architecture in the age of technological capitalism. Croatian architectural historian Luka Skansi will approach the topics of “power in architecture” and “phenomenology in architecture” through a specific case study – monuments built in Socialist Yugoslavia to commemorate the World War II battles and genocides that occurred during the Nazi-Fascist occupation. And finally, German philosopher Peter Trawny will base his case study on the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to discuss the power of the powerless and elaborate on another understanding of power in architecture.

Architecture has served throughout history as one of the most prominent tools of power, functioning as both its representation and its manifestation, embedded as it is within the public and the private realm. The symposia series aims to enable a theoretically relevant discussion on the topic while gathering renowned thinkers to propose concepts upon which to reflect on the intertwined relation between power and architecture.

Pre-event, 12 September 2018, 18:00, Faculty of Architecture, Ljubljana
A conversation between Mladen Dolar & Andrew Benjamin.

Thursday, 13 September 2018, 10:00–16:00, MAO

10:00–10:15    Opening remarks by Mateja Kurir: Architecture and Phenomenology
10:15–11:00     Dean Komel: A Phenomenological Sketch of the Origin of Architectural Work and the Question of Power
11:00–11:45     Andrew Benjamin: The Architecture of the Counter-Measure
11:45–12:30     Jeff Malpas: Spatialising Design – Architecture in the Age of Technological Capitalism
12:30–13:00     Discussion
13:00–13:45     Break
13:45–14:30     Luka Skansi: The Power of Talent –“Good Old” Architecture in Socialist Yugoslavia
14:30–15:15     Peter Trawny: The Power of the Powerless – The Favelas of Rio de Janeiro
15:15–16:00     Discussion


Organized by: Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory, Ljubljana in collaboration with Mateja Kurir

Partners: MAO − Museum of Architecture and Design; Faculty of Architecture, University of Ljubljana; ERSTE Foundation; Goethe-Institut Ljubljana; Outsider magazine
Faculty of Architecture, Zoisova 12, Ljubljana
MAO − Museum of Architecture and Design, Grad Fužine, Pot na Fužine 2, Ljubljana

Date: 21 September 2017, 10:00– 16:00

Speakers: Mladen Dolar, Hilde Heynen, Teresa Stoppani, Sven-Olov Wallenstein
Venue: Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO), Grad Fužine, Ljubljana


Architecture has served throughout history as one of the most prominent tools of power, functioning as both its representation and its manifestation, embedded as it is within the public and the private realm.

The aim of the symposium On Power in Architecture is to facilitate a critical discussion on the topic while bringing thinkers and practicioners together to propose concepts to reflect on the intertwined relation between power and architecture.

The lectures will focus mainly on philosophers and theoreticians from a materialist background and will start from a selected architectural case study.


Hilde Heynen

This lecture traces how architecture is intertwined with articulations of power and difference by reviewing the relevant literature of recent decades. Starting from the 1970s, when paradigms of neo-Marxism and critical theory informed scholars like Manfredo Tafuri and Alexander Tzonis, the paper investigates how political and social issues increasingly became central in architectural history and theory. The issue of power was analyzed in several contexts and from multiple perspectives, including those of space syntax postcolonial studies and theories of participation. These explorations led to a critical questioning of the very concept of architecture – no longer the undisputed terrain of master architects who contributed to the canon, but a contested territory that many voices claim is relevant to their cause. Part of this literature focuses on how physical spaces inscribe power constellations and differentiations onto human bodies, with consequences that directly affect everyday practices and experiences. Here the skills of architectural historians and theorists are relied upon to analyze and interpret everyday environments rather than architectural masterworks.

Discussed case studies are three parks: La Villette in Paris (architect Bernard Tschumi), High Line in New York (architects Diller Scofidio, with James Corner), and Park Spoor Noord in Antwerp (architects Secchi-Vigano).

Teresa Stoppani

Tafuri’s celebrated and often misappropriated Progetto e Utopia (Architecture and Utopia, 1973) expands upon his 1969 essay Per una critica dell’ideologia architettonica. In Architecture and Utopia’s preface Tafuri dismisses the criticism that his essay had received as 'an apocalyptic prophecy', the ultimate pronouncement of the 'death of architecture', and explains that the book aims to identify 'those tasks which capitalist development has taken away from architecture'. Far from defeatist, the book looks for a form of engagement that can see beyond 'pure architecture/form without utopia/sublime uselessness' in order to return architecture to an active role in society. This paper argues that with this work Tafuri sets the grounds for his long-term project of reinventing architectural history as a necessary voice within architecture. This would redefine the role of the historian of (and in) architecture, but also expose the complex intersections of architecture with power, thus both revealing and instigating its powerful environmental agency.
Discussed case study will focus on Tafuri’s analysis and criticism of Le Corbusier’s Algiers projects.

Mladen Dolar

In the beginning of Civilization and its Discontents Freud curiously uses an architectural metaphor to present the workings of the unconscious. Nothing gets lost or obliterated in the unconscious, as the unconscious is timeless, so the image he proposes is that of Rome, ‘the eternal city’, as the saying goes – all the various layers of the past coexist in Rome. Everything coexists, but as a ruin, like an urbanistic unconscious. Yet for the image to work one must presuppose that all the stages had their heyday of full bloom before being reduced to fragmented remains, while with the unconscious one must deal with something that ‘always already’ been a ruin to start with, something fragmented and partial ‘in itself’. But couldn’t one adopt this perspective also in their approach to architecture at large, urbanism as a whole? There is the double aspect of architecture, which displays on the one hand a side of glory, attesting to the power it seeks to promote, and on the other hand the aspect of ruin, a fragment, a lack, an absence, a distortion, a haunting. Maybe the task is how to disentangle the interlacing and the interlocking of these two aspects.

Since the presentation is supposed to relate to a particular example, I would take the strange case of KSEVT, the Cultural Center of European Space Technologies, a most remarkable building erected in a Slovene village by some of the most prestigious Slovene architectural offices, presenting an intersection of culture and cosmos, art and nature, natural sciences and humanities, the local and the global – a building that has been placed, over the last years, at the heart of an iconic power struggle.

Sven Olov Wallenstein

The lecture will attempt to bring together Foucault’s many and varied – sometimes even contradictory – statements about architecture into a systematic account of how power relations are spatialized. Important here will be to avoid a unilateral reading that focuses uniquely on forms of enclosure, incarceration, and discipline, and instead highlight that all spatialization also entails modes of resistance and possibilities for counter-movements, i.e. forms of subjectivity that, while conditioned by external forces, can never be reduced to them. Here, the interpretation of Foucault provided by Deleuze will be crucial, which will also, as I will suggest, show that many of the current interpretations of Deleuze in architectural theory are misleading.

The contribution of Wallenstein’s presentation to 'critical theory', then, will be a rethinking of how works of architecture are unavoidably implicated in structures of power, but that this on another level always calls forth ways of inhabiting and using them that bring out their latent tension – all of which may be understood as a twist on Adorno’s claim that works interiorize social contradictions as contradiction in their own form.


Hilde Heynen is a professor of architectural theory at the University of Leuven, Belgium. Her research focuses on issues of modernity, modernism, and gender in architecture. She authored Architecture and Modernity: A Critique (MIT Press, 1999) and co-edited Negotiating Domesticity: Spatial productions of gender in modern architecture (Routledge, 2005), Sage Handbook of Architectural Theory (2012), and regularly publishes in journals such as Home Cultures, The Journal of Architecture, Interiors, etc. Hilde Heynen studied architecture and philosophy at the University of Leuven, where she also received her PhD. She was a research fellow at the Radcliffe Institute (Harvard University) and held visiting positions at MIT (Cambridge, Mass.), at the AA-school (London), at RMIT (Melbourne), and at Harvard. She is currently president of the European Architectural History Network (EAHN).

Teresa Stoppani is Professor of Research in Architecture at London South Bank University, where she directs the Centre for Research in Architecture, Urbanism and Digital Construction. Her research interests are the relationship between architecture theory and the design process in the urban environment, as well as the influence of other spatial and critical practices on the specifically architectural. She is the author of Paradigm Islands: Manhattan and Venice (Routledge, 2010) and of the forthcoming Unorthodox Ways to Rethink Architecture and the City (Routledge, 2018), and co-editor of This Thing Called Theory (Routledge, 2016).

Mladen Dolar is a professor and Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana. His principal areas of research are psychoanalysis, modern French philosophy, German idealism, and art theory. Apart from a dozen books in Slovene and some hundred papers in English published in journals and collected volumes his book publications include most notably A Voice and Nothing More (MIT, 2006, translated into six languages) and Opera’s Second Death (with Slavoj Žižek, Routledge, 2001, also translated into several languages). He is one of the founders of the so-called Ljubljana Lacanian School. His new book The Riskiest Moment is forthcoming with Duke University Press.

Sven-Olov Wallenstein is Professor of Philosophy at Södertörn University, Stockholm. His recent publications include Architecture, Critique, Ideology: Writings on Architecture and Theory (2016), Foucault, Biopolitics, and Governmentality (co-editor, 2013), Nihilism, Art, Technology (2011), Swedish Modernism: Architecture, Consumption and the Welfare State (co-editor, 2010), Biopolitics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture (2009). He is currently completing Swedish translations of Adorno’s Negative Dialektik and Ästhetische Theorie, together with a book on Adorno. Wallenstein has translated works by Baumgarten, Winckelmann, Lessing, Kant, Hegel, Frege, Husserl, Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, Rancière, and Agamben, and has authored numerous books on philosophy, contemporary art, and architecture.

This symposium will be held in English. Entry is free of charge.

Conceived and organized by: Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory in collaboration with Mateja Kurir
Media support by: Radio Študent; Architectuul
Supported by: ERSTE Foundation; Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO), Ljubljana; CAS SEE, University of Rijeka