17: The Architecture of Neoliberalism



At stake in neo-liberalism is nothing more, nor less, than the form of our existence - Dardot and Laval

Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul - Margaret Thatcher

Who is not a neoliberal today? - Wendy Brown

Neoliberalism is the name for a particular political philosophy and set of beliefs, and the political programmes informed by them, which claim to understand something about human nature and economics, and which claims that their understanding gives them superior insights into how to use government mechanisms in order to maximise human flourishing - Jeremy Gilbert

The text's primary role is to reveal and unmask the Neoliberal techniques of power disguised in several proponents of 'avant-garde' architecture. The means to prove this thesis is a convoluted text full of cross-disciplinary intellectual fortitude from a capable author who is never afraid to criticize famous architects with articulate breakdowns and long-reaching analyses of the Neoliberal art of governance.
The ideology of no ideology. Although rarely mentioned, Neo-liberalism is not the natural progression from industrialized capitalism, it is in fact a contrived and held up belief system that actively creates wealth elites. A system first envisioned at the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947 attended by economic luminaries such as: Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Karl Popper and Ludwig von Mises is now propagated through the cunning use of media and intellectuals, what Hayek described as the second-hand dealers in ideas.1

For neoliberalism the market is not the object of a policy of laissez-faire, but, instead, the very mechanism through which the social order is maintained - Douglas Spencer

The main critiques can be summarized thusly: subsumption of all categories of life to the free-market, privatization of services, the necessary ignorance from the common individual (what is commonly called the 'unknowability of the totality of the process' regular people not being able to understand the complexity of the system itself, even less to effect change) neoliberalism itself deemed as the 'natural state of affairs' despite being the opposite; and finally, the production of subjectivity:, i.e. student-entrepreneur, citizen -consumer (Foucault's neoliberalist truth games) and the idea that centralized planning will always lead to totalitarianism.

An architecture of affect performs as a power of aestheticization - Douglas Spencer

Architecture has sought to sanitize the madness of theory, to dispossess itself of its theoretical demons. Theory has been worked over until it can be put to work for and within neoliberalism. The 'smooth' and the 'folded' have been instrumentalized in the affirmation of flexibility and compliance, 'complexity'employed to dissimulate neoliberal imperatives as the laws of nature - Douglas Spencer

Another crucial issue that is addressed throughout this book is the contemporary revulsion of theory and its mischevious alignment with a new post-phenomenology theory of 'affect'. Perhaps started famously by Michael Speaks, the expulsion of criticality from academia and practice is proposed by some quite vociferously (Robert E. Somol and Sarah Withing text "Notes around the Doppler Effect and Other Moods of Modernism” is also mentioned.) Speaks's position is clear, theory gets in the way of productivity negatively, design can be advanced solelly by the act of making, producing, fabricating.
All the collage techniques and semiotic analysis developed in post-modernism and deconstruction seems ultimately have been, wasted time, no semiotic readings only material immediacy is accepted now
Deleuze and Guattari (and Leibniz) were of course instrumental to bring the ideas forth of topological complexity, continuous variation, and smooth and striated space. Concepts that were crucial for the development of the early years of digital architecture(i.e. Kipnis's New Architecture, and Lynn's folds), yet Spencer points out that the instrumentalization of philosophy by recruiting Deleuze is itself contradictory for a group of people that consider themselves post-theory, post-linguistic. 
Of course if whichever architect that spouses these types of arguments is in error,  then by extension the philosophers that were also ought to be, specially, Manuel de Landa's new materialism, Bruno Latour's Dingpolitiek, Lavin's kiss, Niklas Luhmann's Autopoiesis.
Tha main critique being subsumption of theory into materialism, and the alignment with diverse theories such as: complexity theory, far-from-equilibrium, chaos theory, self-aggregatory and emergent theories, etc...

Private enterprise assumes responsibility for social regulation through the territorial expansion of the market form. Subjects and populations regarded as problematic to its project are, wherever possible, not to be excluded but incorporated- Douglas Spencer

What is advertised in these architectures (ZHA's BMW plant) is a Weltanschauung. The world view of neoliberalism in phantasmagorial form - Douglas Spencer


The critique towards architects Foreign Office Architects, Thom Mayne, Rem Koolhaas, and Zaha Hadid is felt tremendously. Perhaps never forgiving fully Zaha Hadid for the controversy around worker deaths in her Qatar stadium with her now famous quote "It's not my duty as an architect" (consistent as seeing architecture as a commodity) their BMW plant in Leipzig and Schumacher's Free-market urbanism are also criticized heavily for their overt alignment with the techniques and language of corporate managerialism, as well as how they think today's complex societal ordering is reflected perfectly in their buildings (without ZHA ever offering real argumentation of these grandiose  socio-cultural ideas). Manfredo Tafuri referred once to Mendelsohn's architecture as: Advertising Architecture. The idea that a building can be a better proponent of the own architect's agenda rather than the spatial resolution and discourse it engages in, it seems the same accusation is thrown here at ZHA.
The submission of previously held arguments on different contexts applied to a different site  with a subpar political regime (CCTV in Beijing) is fruitful for Spencer in catching OMA flagrantly in intellectual dishonesty. According to Douglas, the CCTV building in Beijing is more of a 'Hyperbuilding' than a proponent of Bigness if one is to follow Rem's own ideas. CCTV's parti diagram actually originated in their project for Universal studios project in L.A. Spencer argues that it is more about managing OMA's image rather than the political ambitions they seem keen to dispel  (OMA's continuously discloses that CCTV's loop organization helps to avoid creating hierarchical orders in their building). 
This can be perhaps attributed as a common example of the difficult jump from theory to practice, from a radical manifesto (Delirious New York) to the subsuming to a terrible political regime in practice (China). 
To the supposed transplantation of scales between natural systems and social order and cybernetics, the reader might be surprised to find innocuous names such as Claude Shannon and Norbert Wiener being referenced negatively. FOA's ideas and more precisely, Alejandro Zaera Polo's ideas written on his essay: Politics of Envelope (flat onthology, and heterarchical order) do not fare favorably.
Foreign Office Meydan Retail Complex in Turkey is analyzed as not more than a commercially driven urban transformation, architecture as real state and and a pitiful consumerist enclave. FOA's Ravensbourne College is dispelled to to its managerial vocabulary and for the coercion on the creation of the student-entrepreneur. Students as the consumers of education, education as a commodity. 
Post-structuralism and deconstruction cannot, beyond a rather limited scophe, be readily instrumentalized by architects as the means to service the construction of the built environment according to the managerial end entrepreneurial principles of neoliberalism - Douglas Spencer


Zaha Hadid

London Aquatics center

Borrowing from Maurizio Lazzarato's idea of immaterial labor, the knowledge worker, the new global migrant produces labor that arises from information and cultural content. Industrial capitalism used the muscles of the population, in the post-industrial version, it is the very soul and core of the worker, his/her your language, creativity and mind. 
Managerial strategies are deployed continuously to extricate more productivity out of these types of workers without an increase in reward. The mechanism of control is now internalized by the worker, desiring productivity him/herself, the worker is now a part of alienated labor.
To describe the techniques of power and the art of governance Spencer relies heavily on a great amount of authors such as : Michel Foucault's: The Birth of Biopolitics, Jean-Francois Lyotard's: the Postmodern Condition, Friedrich Hayek's Law, legislation and liberty, Dardot and Laval's: The new way of the world and Philip Mirowski's Never let a serious crisis go to waste, yet his reading leaves longing for a more balanced view of the criticism being levelled and more importantly, a rebuke from these architects that are supposedly negating the chains of the free individual.

Complement this reading with The politics of parametricism by Matthew Poole and Manuel Shvartzberg.



1. The Intellectuals and Socialism By Friedrich Hayek - Mises Institute

Douglas Spencer

The architecture of Neoliberalism

Bloomsbury press

ISBN 9781472581549