Special Subject: Architecture Studies — Cosmopolitans and Cosmopoliticals. Architectural and political imagination after the global (and its pandemics)

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In recent years the notion of cosmopolitics has been proposed by thinkers such as Etienne Balibar, Chakravorty Spivak, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, or Isabelle Stengers as an alternative to the Enlightenment-based idea of cosmopolitanism. While the latter has historically fostered a universalist agenda which in many ways merely camouflaged the worldwide imposition of Western socio-economic and spatial interests, cosmopolitics proposes a critical response to existing globalization, by emphasizing how crucial the recognition of differences is for the constitution of a pluralistic, ecologically sensitive, and equitable world. For its proponents, cosmopolitics emerges once cosmopolitanism has run its course. Their insistence in the value of difference not only cherishes the cohabitation of diverse human and non-human entities. It also intends to acknowledge and mobilize the various agencies these diverse entities have as a way to counter the most deleterious effects of the globalized world.

During the 20th century, modern architecture’s embracement of cosmopolitanism allowed our discipline to elaborate a vast repertoire of tools to think and project the world scale. Yet, these tools have also been instrumental for implementing socially and ecologically damaging spatial structures across the earth, as the current pandemic does not but dramatically attest. The increasing need to face, even reverse, the resulting global hazards has propelled a necessary, critical re-examination of architecture’s contribution to globalization. It has also fostered a renewed interest in understanding how spatial constructs can help to shape planetary phenomena. As a result, designers are often claiming cosmopolitical discourses as a new framework for their practices. See, as an example, Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Albena Yaneva’s What is Cosmopolitical Design? (2015)

The goal of this course is to explore contemporary architecture’s capacity to treat the local impact of planetary phenomena (such as widespread urbanization, migratory movements, the effects of climate change or the current pandemic) as catalysts of novel processes of global structuring. Our way to do so will be to study the intersections and overlaps between cosmopolitans and cosmopolitical discourses and practices. We will pursue this objective through a dual analytic strategy. Every week we will debate a crucial question for contemporary cosmopolitical discourses through a collective reading discussion. This method will allow us to understand the different modalities of cosmopolitics, and how they relate to architectural design. Additionally, our weekly discussion will be introduced by a lecture presenting how architects faced that same question through a cosmopolitan framework during previous phases of modernity. In this sense, rather than establishing a clear divide between cosmopolitans and cosmopoliticals practices, the course asks for the continuities and overlaps between both frameworks in order to recognize and evaluate the instruments architecture has to operate after the global, and after its pandemics.