Time situated, embodied and performed

I have already written about the session I was organising with archaeologist Lesley McFadyen at this year’s TAG conference here. So, just before Christmas TAG19 happened.
Hosted by the Institute of Archaeology UCL in Denys Lasdun’s wonderful if internally somewhat tired-looking Institute of Education,[1] we were honoured to be joined by, in the order of their presentations, these people and their research:

Session ProgrammeSession Programme

Brought together because of our shared interest in archaeological / architectural intersections, the threads running through and across our respective disciplines proved both more profound than I had imagined and were also at times other than I would have guessed. Some of us had gathered before to talk about similar interdisciplinarities and I posted about that meeting here.
I loved that many, perhaps all, of the papers dealt with situated or embodied time. As an analogy it doesn’t quite hold together but I conjectured during the session that for many of the speakers the buildings and other kinds of artefact they presented were like clocks – sometimes stilled, sometimes erratic, weird and elastic, sometimes mendacious clocks. But I also enjoyed that for the speakers architecture and archaeology tell stories creatively but also in ways which seemed compelled to disturb accepted narratives. Is it the job, I asked the speakers, of the archaeologist / architect to disrupt these normative disciplinary narratives? There was vigorous nodding.

Paper1JH_smallfrom Jonathan Hill, A Monument to a Ruin

Jonathan Hill in his paper A Monument to a Ruin based on his recent book The Architecture of Ruins[2] argued that early architect/archaeologists saw the ruined remains of ancient cultures as “an opportunity for the present to reinvent the past”. He argued simultaneously that “archaeology [was] a stimulus to design” but that they were also analogous to each other, a relationship that I have also argued for elsewhere.[3] Colleen Morgan live-tweeting from the session noted a “nice turn of phrase” of Jonathan’s which I missed at the time, “in architecture” he had said, “there’s often a nostalgia for the recent past’s idea of the future” signalling a temporal fluidity an account of which, I think, spread across all of the papers and which became more apparent as the session wore on.
I asked the room if they felt that since the practice of architecture, according to Jonathan, was a form of ruination and that archaeology was a creative discipline they – archaeology and architecture – were really the same discipline. I couldn’t quite get the room to go that far, though the close, really close, resemblance between some practices in each discipline is certainly a position I have taken.[4]

Paper2MHE_smallfrom Marianne Hem Eriksen, House-Dreams of the Viking Age

“Did […] the Scandinavian populations of the Iron and Viking Ages — dream of houses too?” asked Marianne Hem Eriksen in her paper House-dreams of the Viking Age: Undisciplined explorations of architecture, personhood, and dreaming in the past. For her dreaming is simply (and not so simply) “another way of telling the built environment”. I would have asked her (and will ask her given the opportunity) whether “telling” in this context was – or could be – a form of designing. Is the dreaming of houses propositional? Dreaming is often understood to occur, like Jung’s unus mundus, “outside of time”,[5] a connection with Dominic Walker’s identification of the “timeful and timeless” which I will come to later. I particularly enjoyed the nicely unsettling revelation that in 1953 psychologist Calvin Hall collected the dreams of 10,000 Americans.[6] Read more by Marianne about the domestic architecture of Viking Scandinavia here.

Paper3JF_smallHalema cooking, March 2015, from Judit Ferencz, The Graphic Novel as an Interdisciplinary Conservation Method in Architectural Heritage

In The Graphic Novel as an Interdisciplinary Conservation Method in Architectural Heritage: A Book of Hours for Robin Hood Gardens Judit Ferencz recognised something powerful and untapped in non-textual narrative as it relates to the conservation of buildings. In particular of the less regarded parts – at least amongst architects – of the lifecycles of buildings; demolition, disuse, ruination. Judit’s appropriation of the format of the medieval ‘book of hours’ to “tell” architecture (just as Marianne “tells” buildings through dreaming) re-contextualises what she describes as a “time of waiting for demolition” such that “the entire life cycle of the estate [is] brought to life”. As I have posted previously regarding non-textual forms of making or procuring (telling, I guess) buildings; in that case through diagrams. I would argue that architects through the RIBA plan of Work tend to perpetuate the procurement of buildings as linear productions, archaeologists on the other hand through the chaîne opératoire which diagrams the production of lithic artefacts embrace the circular processes inherent to it.[7] Judit’s lighter touch engages more profoundly, I think, with the lives affected by these otherwise quite abstract processes.

Paper4RF_smallForum, from Rose Ferraby, Traces and Voids

While for Rose Ferraby in Traces and Void: Architectural spaces and the archaeological imagination just as archaeological practice might be cast as the removal of layers to reveal the objects of that practice, in her art practice this becomes, in an intriguing twist, the adding of layers. Her art practice, it seems, is a form of archaeology in reverse.
Rose raised an issue which many non-archaeologists (or at least archaeologist-manqués like me) are endlessly fascinated by; how much of a problem is it that archaeologists make stuff up? Or, at the very least, tell seemingly authoritative stories from fragmentary, often very fragmentary, evidence. As Rose more eloquently put it, “archaeologists work with fragments; the seedling suggestions of forms and materials from which re-imagined spaces and architectures can grow”. For me this is the whole point; how good a story a can you tell? – a position and practice which feels very analogous to design practices in architecture. Again, for Rose, this “creative practice and experimentation can bring new modes of thinking through the interplay of archaeology and architecture”. For example, Rose’s use of Edward Burtynsky’s quarry photography emphasised her reading of archaeology, art practice and other making practices as fascinating reversals or inversions of one another. This doesn’t even touch on Rose’s innovative and often moving use of audio and visual techniques to “tell” archaeological sites and their contexts – check out Soundmarks – or as Jen Baird more eloquently described it in a tweet as; “an especially captivating paper with the most beautiful and evocative geophys images I’ve ever seen”.

Paper5TR_smallfrom Tanja Romankiewicz, Metamorphosing Architecture

“When is an architecture complete?” provocatively asked Tanja Romankiewicz in Metamorphosing Architecture.[8] Playfully quoting Louis Sullivan’s famous dictum “form ever follows function – this is the law”.[9] Tanja proceeded to systematically unpick what archaeology actually reveals about architectural function, leaving form enticingly fragmented and temporally yet productively uncoupled from itself. Tanja further described how, in the bronze age roundhouses she researches “houses morphed and remorphed with the energies happening inside and around them, and are best described as form-shifters – metamorphosing architectures” for which “new, dynamic, multi-perspective views on ancient architecture are needed, which in turn can help designing our own dynamic architectures today and for tomorrow”. For Tanja function and form change dynamically, dramatically and performatively with time – her intense, poetic performance of her presentation nicely reflected this.

Paper6KK_smallfrom Kevin Kay, How Buildings Learn, Depend, and Extend, photo Jason Quinlan, Çatalhöyük Research Project

In a perfect rejoinder to Tanja’s paper Kevin Kay too argued that buildings embody “tempo, temporality, maintenance and change” they learn, he argued, they have biographies, they are nexuses of communities, and that perhaps ‘building’ time isn’t constant; fluctuating in unexpected but scalar ways. In How Buildings Learn, Depend, and Extend: Drawing out the politics of space-making Kevin maintains that architects must acknowledge and work with the “vitality through time” of their buildings and that archaeologists should work more creatively with “data that is itself deceptively ‘dead and buried’ – but must once have lived”. It is something of a truism in architecture that buildings move; they expand and contract seasonally with the weather, they subside as foundations settle with age etc. Yet Kevin’s analysis, looking through the lens of the millennia old Çatalhöyük, outlines an altogether more radical project: memorably for me and again echoing in particular, Tanja’s paper, Kevin described how for him in his research “relations and communities pulse in and out of a structure through time, spaces extend through one another”.

Paper7DW_smallfrom Dominic Walker, The Orkney Island Re-Forestry Commission

In The Orkney Island Re-Forestry Commission. A Monastic Building to Celebrate the Beginnings and Endings of Humanity, Dominic Walker, argued for “an architecture that is both timeful and timeless”, a position which for me begins to invoke not just a propositional, but also a kind of prophetic power. Dominic posited that “the greatest unrealized project of architecture is its own origins […] unrealized in the sense that there has been no truly indisputable theory of the beginnings of architecture”. Dominic understands, as the archaeologist speakers in our session also understand, that telling stories about those origins; inventing multiple origins (and endings) from out of the fragments with which we work in both disciplines is precisely how the projects of our disciplines are “realized”. A position, for me, most explicitly argued in Rose’s paper.
For Dominic “the idea of origins was therefore inextricably linked to beginnings as well as endings”. In this account and in Dominic’s work, beginnings and endings are  problems to be satisfied in, what seemed to me, melancholic mode, stitching ever-recurring ends back into their beginnings.

Paper8SB_biggerfrom Samantha Brummage, Architecture and Artefacts in the Colne Valley

Samantha Brummage’s project through Architecture and Artefacts in the Colne Valley: Place attachment in prehistory is amongst other things to embrace the a-temporality of some types of find, within their landscape, knitting them back into a bigger architectural context. For Samantha there is a temporally charged potency to the landscapes she researches, a potency which she describes as emerging “through interactions between past (memories) and future (intentionality), between subjectivity and sociality (individual people and wider groups)”. Within these landscapes “certain spots became affectively laden; they gained familiarity through the use of particular routes, knowledge of resources, contact with others, signs of human practice and dwelling”. This Spinozan interaction between body and surroundings where “the power of acting of the body itself is increased, diminished, helped or hindered”[10] is for Samantha important in Colne Valley which she reads as a nexus of “memories and intentionality” of individuals and groups, whose results are material remains, concentrations of which speak of intensities of affect. In particular spot finds, in my reading of Samantha’s paper, seem to be non-durational but which can be connected back to their larger contexts – so bringing them back into time.

Paper9KF_smallfrom Kate Franklin, Ambivalent Architectures

In Ambivalent Architectures: Infrastructure, hospitality and the power of care on the medieval Silk Road Kate Franklin argues for an “agency of architecture in housing the conditions by which sovereignty and hospitality are mutually produced”. Referencing the work of Maria Puig de la Bellacasa,[11] Kate argued for a revitalised politics emerging from the “power defined in caring for others, selves, guests and fellow travellers.” For Kate the infrastructures of the Silk Road act as armatures or catalysts for the mutual production of sovereignty and hospitality. These “built infrastructures both outlast projects of power, and also contort and subvert those projects”. This a-temporal infrastructural architecture “frames” and enables these “contingencies of care”.

Kate described the acts of hospitality she outlined in her talk as “everyday/cyclical/infinite” recalling for me now, as it did then, of Jonathan’s “recent past’s idea of the future”, Marianne’s propositional dreaming “outside of time”, Judit’s illustrated “time of waiting”, Rose’s “seedling suggestions” and Tanja’s “when is an architecture complete?” followed inexorably by Dominic’s “architecture that is both timeful and timeless”. In between there was Kevin’s “puls[ing] in and out of a structure through time” then after, Samantha’s “past (memories) and future (intentionality)”. Time situated, embodied and performed.

I have loved all of the TAGs I have been involved with; the hospitality of those from that sister discipline of my own is always a source of great pleasure to me. But this was the first session I helped organise and to do it with Lesley McFadyen has been a great privilege. I can’t wait to see what we all do next.


[1] Its building between 1970 and 1974 was controversial and bitterly contested, and can be read about here: https://c20society.org.uk/botm/institute-of-education-london/

[2] Jonathan Hill, The Architecture of Ruins: Designs on the Past, Present and Future, 1st ed. (London ; New York: Routledge, 2019).

[3] Alessandro Zambelli, Scandalous Space: Between Architecture and Archaeology (Baunach: AADR Spurbuchverlag, 2019).

[4] Alessandro Zambelli, “Everything Is Everything,” Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 2, no. 2 (2015).

[5] C. G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy, 2nd ed., The Collected Works of C G Jung (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970), 505.

[6] Calvin S. Hall, The Meaning of Dreams, The Meaning of Dreams. (Oxford, England: Harper, 1953).

[7] Alessandro Zambelli, “Occlusions of the Operational Sequence: A Coincidental Conversation between Robert Matthew and André Leroi-Gourhan in Six Diagrams,” in Architecture and Anthropology, ed. Adam Jasper (London: Routledge, 2018).

[8] Soon to be published as Dynamic prehistoric architecture: an archaeo-architectural analysis of Bronze Age and Iron Age building in northwest Europe by Oxford University Press.

[9] Louis H. Sullivan, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered,” Lippincott’s Magazine March (1896): 408.

[10] Benedictus de Spinoza, Ethics (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 2001 [1677]), 98.

[11] María Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds, Posthumanities (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017).

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