Between furniture and infrastructure: expanding disciplinarity

Holbrook, T 2014, Between furniture and infrastructure: expanding disciplinarity, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Architecture and Design, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Between furniture and infrastructure: expanding disciplinarity
Author(s) Holbrook, T
Year 2014
Abstract The challenges presented to society by rapid urbanisation and climate change directly call for the broad synthetic spatial knowledge that lies in the province of architecture and urban design. Curiously, in the face of such challenges, the discipline of architecture seems to have entered a period of self-imposed myopia. In recent years, architecture has lost ground in many of those areas that once lay within the disciplinary realm. The societal value ascribed to the spatial imagination is diminishing, and with it the value of operating as a generalist. The familiar rise of international multidisciplinary firms illustrate a shift towards regarding planning and urban design as a problem-solving activity. The multidisciplinary model privileges the instrumental knowledge of engineering, and the managerial routines of traditional planning and project management. The model depends not on synthesising different sorts of knowledge from within the discipline, but rather the consensually mute operation of diverse specialists contributing to the demands of a particular project without overarching synthetic authorship.

Furthermore, the closed system thinking of specialists maps very easily to the emergent tasks of late capitalist environments: the establishment of privatised and invisible infrastructures and controlled, risk-managed versions of the city, with many claims made upon it. If the model of multidisciplinary consultancy is a consequence of increasing corporate power, the weakening of the social contract matches the fragility of the concept of a vital civil society, the health of which would be indicated by participatory infrastructures and negotiative, agonic public space. From these observations the thesis argues for a generalist spatial design practice, supported by evidence of a particular and distinctive way of working. Holbrook's work from the last two decades provide illustration of how the architectural imagination can engage positively with highly complex situations, and establish a bridge between the scales of strategy, planning and infrastructure and the concrete experience of the resulting environment. Case studies are drawn primarily from the work of Holbrook's practice 5th Studio, working in East Anglia, England - one of the densest concentrations of overlaid infrastructure, historic and natural conservation anywhere. 5th Studio has always regarded its approach as prospective and propositional and the research has validated and formalised its spatially entrepreneurial mode of inventing projects. The thesis concludes with an interview with the critic Ellis Woodman and a transcribed discussion with Shelley MacNamara of Grafton Architects.

Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Architecture and Design
Keyword(s) infrastructure
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Created: Fri, 18 Jul 2014, 14:13:17 EST by Denise Paciocco
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