TIM LUKE AND BENJAMIN BRATTON: The Terrors of Design

New Sciences of Protection Conference: Plenary 3 with Tim Luke (Design as Defence) and Benjamin Bratton (Dissimulation and Terrorism)

Tim Luke and Benjamin Bratton discussed the architecture of safe living in both its actual and virtual dimensions. ‘Architecture’ is concerned with both the concrete material structuring of a space, but also with the projection of form, with a particular social-political-technical imaginary. ‘Architects,’ Benjamin Bratton reminded us, are concerned with both actual and possible cities. Discussing the architecture of designs for safe living thus involves a double-referent: to the actual architecture of the design and to the promise of safe living which is always to-come.

Tim Luke discussed the attempts to design a safe campus at Virginia Tech University following the notorious ‘campus shooting’ where 32 people lost their lives. In particular he discussed how the tendency to emphasize the aesthetic dimension of a design hides how user-design interactions are also productive of particular kinds of behaviour. This promotes a disengagement and detachment from anything but the aesthetic aspect of design, resulting in particularly acute problems when the issue is the design of safe living, or saving life designs. The visibility of high-tech and centralized solutions to the problem of designing a safe campus undoubtedly provides an aesthetic assurance of safe living for students on campus. Yet Luke argued that the valorization of design-as-defence is producing a pacified subject who is actually discouraged to respond to danger, even when the purportedly saving life designs are clearly malfunctioning. The faith put in this architecture of safe living engenders a dependency-on-design; collective action is literally designed-out; and individuals are enjoined to either act alone or as quiet victims. Unless some way of re-engaging users with the non-aesthetic dimensions of design-as-defence is found, and with the profound fallibility of saving life designs, design as defence will remain a disempowering and ultimately ineffectual endeavour.

In ‘Dissimulation and Terrorism’ Benjamin Bratton interrogated the interrelations between terrorism and the architectures of safe living. Today architects are literally being asked to ‘design out terrorism’ (see “Architects to ‘Design out Terrorism,’ The Daily Telegraph 2007,) Yet the contemporary relationship between design, architecture and terrorism is a more intimate one. Terrorism makes use of existing architectures of safe living; it uses the concreteness of these architectures to inscribe itself on to the world. The act of terrorism also has a projective architecture of its own, whose conditions of existence of course include the removal of existing architecture. Terrorism is an exceptional violence wrought on an existing architecture and also, a posited counter-architecture itself. Bratton’s key manoeuvre was to demonstrate how the exceptional violence of terrorism solicits an exceptional response, with the consequence that responses to contemporary terrorism also adopt a terroristic form. Exceptional architectures of safe living are constructed in response to the threat of terrorism, constantly uprooting existing architectures of living in the process. Counter-terrorist design comes to validate and normalize the state of emergency brought about by terror and continually concretizes it in its (exceptional) designs for safe living. Terrorism has ceased to become simply a threat to the architecture of the social, but productive of the social architecture itself. In response to this Bratton urges that it must be ensured that this war on terror is only fought, if it must be fought at all, as a provisional moment. It is imperative that the normalization of terror through the architectures of counter-terror design be resisted. Without this resistance there is no telling that this terror will pass and a very real danger that we will dress our cities in its hysterical fashion

Thank you to our fabulous Joseph Rigby for this great summary

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2 Responses

  1. […] Posted by Tim Stevens on 18 July 2008 New Sciences of Protection on The Terrors of Design: […]

  2. Very interesting. I’ve linked to this post here and here.

    Btw your Telegraph link’s broken – try this one

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