Special Subject: Design Studies — Domesticity for New Humans

Permission of instructor

This course will consider life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness through domesticity as an architectural, ethical, and epistemological problem.  It poses the study of the nature we have and the nature we want as a means to complement the understanding of technology as physical and computational with one that is biological and political.  While we will revisit certain architectural, cinematic, and utopian models of domesticity from the early and middle eras of the last century, this course is not to be confused with a seminar on housing. Instead, the focus is on enlarging the space for critical and architectural thinking to include new technologies of the self, objects, dwellings, and affairs. 

Far beyond an interior, the lens of domesticity includes the management of enemies, life forms, and environment through codes and interventions that change the status of matter and material, flora and fauna, and social contracts. It speaks to the spatial preconditions of the properly political. It collects the spiritual, intellectual, chemical, and perceptual aspects of brain and mind that allows designers to operate and be operated on. It asks what has been and remains the role of architecture and design in domesticating the unfamiliar. 

Material is organized in three modules that cover the scales of object-environment, world-citizenship, and self-subject. The first module builds on the context of the domestic projects of early and mid 20th century practitioners through Hannah Arendt’s distinction between the social and the political. The second module takes on the scale of citizenship through the idea of domestic affairs, drawing from Peter Sloterdijk’s spherology amongst others. The final module examines contemporary theories of subjectivity ranging from neuroscience, cognitive capitalism, to Hardt and Negri’s classification of populations at risk, and considers how we will come to be defined by the 21st century as the century of biology. 

The course is constructed around discussion, presentations, and individual meetings, as well as visits by guest lecturers, practitioners, artists, and science writers. Deliverables produced individually or in groups may include drawings, uncanny objects, games, performances, and "showrooms" for new humans, in addition to or in lieu of written text. Additional readings will include seminal works on theory of mind by Sigmund Freud, Norbert Weiner, and Donna Haraway, architectural texts by Beatriz Colomina, Anthony Vidler, Spyros Papapetros, Sanford Kwinter, and Zeynep Alexander, and criticism on technology by Alexander Galloway, Judy Wajcman, and Judith Butler.

Ultimately, the course speculates from a philosophical and design point of view on what it will mean to be human in 100 years. It rethinks our inheritance of building, dwelling, and thinking through a new vocabulary of voxels, vocationalism, and vitalism. For example, how do 20th century experiments with axonometry, social housing, home economics, futurism, shock-and-awe, stocks and bonds, and psychoanalysis compare with the current century’s experiments with data visualization, autonomous vehicles, Siri and her ilk, isolationism, entertainment-on-demand, cryptocurrency, and cognitive behavior therapy? Institutionally, it offers a critical and disciplinary entry to understanding MIT’s initiatives on the Future of Work and the Future of Intelligence, pushing back against the computation driven models of each that surround us.