(Im)possible Instructions

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Architects instruct (un)built environments using drawings, specifications, and snagging lists that foremost pertain to construction. But can such architectural instructions also support the entangled interactions that our “broken world” necessarily involves? In her plea for a more caring and democratic architecture, Joan C. Tronto notes that the problem is not that architects’ do not care, but that they care wrongly. Architects, she writes, care for “things” but should rather be “caring by participating in the ongoing relations of those who are cared for.” (Tronto, 2019: 27). I bring Tronto’s call to current challenges in the transformation of Northern European PostWW2 large-scale housing areas. Here, I conceptualize architectural documents as material instructions that do not only act as commands for construction but also enhance situated ways of knowing and participating in socio-material situations.
While instructions are central to architects’ communicative processes, their standardized and object-oriented purposes are often at odds with residents’ particular and localised social processes. To link these incongruent processes, I adopt a lingering approach associated to caring participation and conditioned by the time it takes to do “paperwork, the domestic work, care work, diversity work” (Ahmed, 2019: 206). In the book What’s the Use? Sara Ahmed shows, how 20th century utilitarianism led to and restricted somethings’ usefulness, and she shows, that to diversify something can even be to refuse it’s proper use. Taking this possibility to architecture, I refuse to use instructions properly. Instead, I analyse architectural documents by intersecting notions of care as “human trouble” (e.g. Tronto, Puig de la Bellacasa, Ahmed, Krasni, Frichot) with archival- and document studies (e.g. Yaneva, Hull, Eichhorn). From here, this paper exemplifies techniques for making documents work for more democratic and caring purposes following: 1.Urgent minor matters of an office archive compiled as a motley collection of participatory techniques and genres. 2. Plan drawing acting in siting-processes with residents over time; 3. Residents’ lists and letters of complaints used to transfer information across document genres, and 4. Idle talk as it is translated from oral interactions to paper. These (im)possible instructions–engaging those who are cared for–act in both restrained and open-ended ways in the architectural design process.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRadical Entanglements : Architectures, Societies, Environments, Politics
EditorsTorsten Schröder, Weije Zhong, Sophia Banou, João Manuel B. Meneses de Sequeira
Number of pages1
Publication date2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventRadical Architecture Practice for Sustainability - Online (Eindhoven University of Technology), Eindhoven, Netherlands
Duration: 11 Nov 202212 Nov 2022
Conference number: 2


ConferenceRadical Architecture Practice for Sustainability
LocationOnline (Eindhoven University of Technology)

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