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Towards a Communitarian Architecture

Part 2 Dissertation 2003
David Ayre
University of Portsmouth, UK
“The I, or the We.” (1)

The statement above intrigues me, as in a sense, it could summarise one of the major dilemmas that we face in our post-modern condition, applicable not just to architecture but to society in general; that is everyone for themselves, or everyone for the greater good.

During the last century the balance has shifted increasingly towards that of the individual. One could say that in general Western society has not been interested in the rethinking of architecture as a social and civic tool, but rather as a fashionable wallet-flashing product for the wealthy. We live in a world where consumerist pressures leads to an architecture conceived as a luxurious fashion accessory. The commodification of dwelling for example, neglects local identity, expression, and most importantly, the ‘community’. The ‘star’ architects who are swept up in the global economy continue to create the novel shocking, competing amongst themselves for the most audacious designs, and all the time for the most affluent clients worldwide.

The thesis works on the premise that architects must strive for an ‘inclusive’ architecture; that is an architecture which adheres to a multiplicity of complex social, environmental, contextual and economical issues. Deriving many of its concepts from leading architectural practitioners, theorists and philosophers such as Alvar Aalto, Giancarlo De Carlo and Karsten Harries, the thesis investigates the validity in following a communitarian approach to design in order to create an ‘inclusive’ architecture for an ‘inclusive’ community. In discussing society’s increasing shift in balance to the favour of the ‘individual’, the dissertation investigates what possibilities an embracement of a ‘communitarian’ architecture would present. In particular, the dissertation identifies three key trends of a communitarian approach to architecture; participation in architecture, an architecture which is particular to its context as opposed to the universal tendencies associated with modern building, and lastly but not least, the ethical agenda of architecture.

(1) Beck, Giddens, Lash. (1994). Reflexive modernisation: Politics, Traditions, Aesthetics in the modern social order. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 143.

David Ayre

David has produced a very thorough and well researched dissertation. His subject matter has come out of a preoccupation he has had over the last few years that good architecture come out of a profound understanding of a particular culture and the needs of the users.

He is an architectural student with a social conscience, and through his dissertation he has been able to explore at a theoretical level certain attitudes and approaches. His first diploma year was spent in Cincinnati, where we have an exchange programme. This allowed him not only to become absorbed in another culture, but also to look afresh at his attitude toward designing in the UK.

His dissertation focussed firstly on a clearly argued case for communitarianism, exploring and critically analysing approaches of several theoreticians, threading together an argument for himself as a point of departure for design.

This was backed up with case studies of people such and Giancarlo de Carlo and Sam Mockbee, where the architects concern for the community at a very profound level has been very evident.

The dissertation was both very clearly written and argued and also very well presented.

The careful layout of the pages and well-chosen illustrations enabled the reader to enjoy a very coherent and well-researched document.

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