Marx:Architecture:Influences and Interpretations

 

Marxism quintessentially divides people into two broad categories and attempts to explain based on their relationship to how things are made. Most people are called “workers” because they work in factories or offices or farms for money. They belong to the “working class”. Another group, that  are not as big as the working class are “capitalists”, because they own the factories, land and buildings that the workers have to work in and also own all of the tools the workers have to use.

 

Marx calls Capitalists the “Ruling Class” because they live off of the work of all the workers.

 

There has never been a clear outline explanation for Marx:Architecture. What then would constitute the relationship between the terms ‘Marx’ and ‘Architecture’? His text are yet suggestive towards a full range of architectural and spatial principles.

 

Engels breaks down Marx’s project as coming out of the synthesis of three strands of

European thought: economics (British), politics (French), and philosophy (German).

 

There are first the texts that deal directly with an urban thus, implicitly architectural subject matter, such as the section on the country and the city in the German Ideology of 1845, and in the 1848 Manifesto, or the constant references and comments on the processes and effects of industrial urbanisation. There are also texts on housing and urbanism by Marx’s collaborator Engels.

 

Marx can thus be understood as both:

1. A theorist of human production in general; and

2. A theorist of capitalist production in particular.

 

Walter Benjamin (1936)

 

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In a sense most of Benjamin’s most famous work roots from the Marxian thought. In a famous passage towards the end of  ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Benjamin writes:

Building has been man’s companion since primeval times. Many art forms have developed and perished…[But] architecture has never been idle. Its history is more ancient than that of

any art, and its claim to being a living force has significance in every attempt to comprehend the

relationship of the masses to art . . . [The] mode of appropriation, developed with reference to

architecture, in certain circumstances acquires canonical value. For the tasks which face the

human apparatus of perception at the turning points of history cannot be solved by optical

means, that is, by contemplation, alone. They are mastered gradually by habit.

 

by this logic —that the ‘mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of

existence . . .determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well’. We may derive the basic layout of the architectural as spatial practice.

Paul Valéry, Pièces sur L’Art, 1931

Original Title: Le Conquete de l’ubiquite

Title of the Translated Copy: The Conquest of Ubiquity

*Ubiquity is a synonym for omnipresence, the property of being present everywhere.

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“Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours. But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.”

Notes:

 

See David Murray and Mark Neocleous, ‘Marx Comes

First Again, and Loses’, Radical Philosophy, 134

(November/December, 2005), p. 60.

 

See David Cunningham, ‘The Concept of the

Metropolis: Philosophy and Urban Form’, Radical

Philosophy, 133 (September/October, 2005), p. 13.