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Architecture as a tool of capital

I just stumbled upon an interesting Architectural Review article from last year called: Architecture is now a tool of capital, complicit in a purpose antithetical to its social mission. The author is Reinier de Graaf, who is an architect and partner at the firm OMA.

The focus of the article is on inequality; capitalism vs. socialism; Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (which is now on my reading list); and on how Modernism lost its social mission and got repurposed as a tool that just serves capitalist interests. It went from an ideology to simply an architectural style.

Here is an excerpt:

“Once discovered as a form of capital, there is no choice for buildings but to operate according to the logic of capital. In that sense there may ultimately be no such thing as Modern or Postmodern architecture, but simply architecture before and after its annexation by capital.”

Given that I am initially trained as an architect, but that I work as a real estate developer, this article hits home for me. But unlike the author, I am not as fussed by this intertwining of capital and architecture. In fact, I have always believed that the more architecture can understand its economic milieu, the more likely it can affect positive change.

Of course, there’s the question of whether that economic milieu is even the right one in the first place. I’ll echo this blog post (on the limits of capitalism), by saying that I consider myself a capitalist, but not an absolute capitalist. Capitalism isn’t perfect.

I like Reinier’s description of income vs. wealth (borrowed from Piketty):

He identifies two basic economic categories: income and wealth. He then proceeds to define social (in)equality as a function of the relation between the two over time, concluding that as soon as the return on wealth exceeds the return on labour, social inequality inevitably increases. Those who acquire wealth through work fall ever further behind those who accumulate wealth simply by owning it.

What are your thoughts?

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