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Flows of Capitalism, Flows of Architecture

Tim Gough
p. 96-114


How can architecture, a discipline so tightly intertwined with money, resist neoliberalism? Is architecture inevitably consigned, with Tafuri or Aureli, to a stoic or eremitic resignation? Or, with Sorkin, to a series of disconnected tactics? This paper takes a hint from Fredric Jameson to suggest that Deleuze and Guattari’s positive transformation of Marx’s quintessentially capitalist notion of surplus value can allow us to rewrite the ontology (and epistemology) of architecture as a differential and multiple reticulation. Architecture conjugates all sorts of things (“flows”, in the terminology used here) to create a surplus value beyond (or before) the capitalist surplus value that is only one negative instance of a broader positive phenomenon. This non-essentialist and non-formalist idea of architecture allows us to respond to Spencer’s criticism of the neoliberal “architectural Deleuzism”, and shows how effective political action is entirely feasible within the broad discipline of architecture.

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DOI: 10.17454/ARDETH03.06

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Neoliberalism and architecture

1Fredric Jameson, in his 1982 lecture ‘Architecture and the Critique of Ideology,’ juxtaposes Manfredo Tafuri’s Marxist critique in Theories and History of Architecture and Architecture and Utopia with the postmodernism of Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour’s Learning from Las Vegas, and comes to the following conclusion:

Is it possible that these two positions are in fact the same, and that as different as they may at first seem, both rest on the conviction that nothing new can be done, no fundamental changes can be made, within the massive being of late capitalism? What is different is that Tafuri’s thought lives this situation in a rigorous and self-conscious stoicism, whereas the practitioners and ideologues of postmodernism relax within it... (Jameson, 1986: 461)

2For Tafuri, architecture inevitably operates within the hegemony of capitalism, and is necessarily intertwined with it in such intimate manner that there is no possibility of effective critique or political action from within architecture (however defined). As Jameson points out, this stance is predicated on the hope of a future total revolution that would be the dialectical counterpart and overthrowing of the similarly total scope of current capitalism. Until then, the political capacity of architecture is strictly limited, and for Tafuri ‘there can be no qualitative change in any element of the older capitalist system – as, for instance, in architecture or urbanism – without beforehand a total revolutionary and systemic transformation’ (Jameson, 1986: 452). On the other hand, for Venturi et al, and postmodernism in general, this inevitable intertwining is taken as a positive possibility for a creativity that at once celebrates and enables the capitalist enterprise: ‘The commercial strip, the Las Vegas strip in particular – the example par excellence – challenges the architect to take a positive, non-chip-on-the-shoulder view. Architects are out of the habit of looking nonjudgmentally at the environment, because orthodox Modern architecture is progressive...’ (Venturi, Brown, Izenou, 1977: 3).

3More recently, Douglas Spencer, who makes reference to Jameson’s article, essays the same ground (Spencer, 2011). Although the personalities are different, the possibilities are similar, but pushed to extremes. The total scope of capitalism has been confirmed, beyond the dreams of either its 1980s adherents or critics: the neoliberalism ushered in by Augusto Pinochet’s Chile and Margaret Thatcher’s UK has achieved global scope, be it in the guise of totalitarian capitalism, ‘democratic’ capitalism or (with Trump and Putin) oligarchic capitalism. With this, architectural resistance appears all the less possible. Spencer’s unenthusiastic references to Brutalism and Modernism reiterate Tafuri’s scepticism and posits no clear strategy for a contemporary architecture of capitalist opposition (Spencer, 2014: 88). The place of architectural postmodernism has been taken by an architecture that more effectively reflects neoliberalism, again well-essayed by Spencer. These include Alejandro Zaera-Polo, who, as Spencer puts it, thinks it ‘probably best not to speak any longer of large totalities such as capitalism or society’ (Spencer, 2014: 83; Zaera-Polo, 2008: 101); or Patrik Schumacher, who sees ‘no better site for a progressive and forward-looking project than the most competitive contemporary business’ (Schumacher, 2005: 79). Schumacher here redefines the terms of the debate in order to emasculate any attempt at social criticality in architectural discourse or avant-garde design. As Venturi et al. noted in the quotation above, in the 1980s the term ‘progressive’ architecture invoked a socially aware and left-orientated practice; for Schumacher, this meaning of the term must be ruled out, and the word appropriated by the discourse of neoliberalism. In the 1980s Venturi and Scott Brown did at least keep one eye on the question of social engagement, and felt it necessary to make a slightly apologetic reference in the second revised edition of Learning from Las Vegas to Scott Brown’s article ‘On Architectural Formalism and Social Concern: a Discourse for Social Planners and Radical Chic Architects’. One finds little sign of such scruples in today’s putative architectural avant-garde.

4In the face of these two alternatives – the resignation of Tafuri or the acceptance of Venturi, Scott Brown, Zarea-Polo and Schumacher – Jameson briefly suggests another oppositional route via Antonio Gramsci’s strategy of zones of culture resistance to capitalist hegemony – a ‘war of position’ and tactics rather than the decisive and strategic Leninist ‘war of manoeuvre’ (Gramsci, 1992: 217-219). This “war of position” needs to be distinguished from one of Gramsci’s other key ideas of “passive revolution”, which refers to the ways in which the bourgeois effect non-revolutionary transformations in order to secure their dominant position (Callinicos, 2010). It is the task of the properly progressive architect to make counter-proposals within their local situation, some situation which they make ‘other’ to the situation of capitalism: ‘the very existence of such an ensemble in some other space of the world creates a new force field which cannot but have its influence’ (Jameson, 1986: 455). Such a situation, for Jameson, might in involve the construction of buildings (he cites Stalinallee in East Berlin) or it might involve Utopian proposals or architectural ideas (Jameson, 1986: 454). Jameson does not develop this thought in any detail, but it is possible to see how architecture might operate at this molecular level and how, therefore, architects can take action. Douglas Spencer’s writing is already an example of this at the level of ideas, and not the only one. Elsewhere, although the educational apparatus of architecture is being ever more closely integrated with neoliberalism and the production of what Maurizio Lazzarato has called ‘indebted man’ (Lazzarato, 2012) via student loan systems in the States and the UK, it is probably still possible to introduce pedagogic projects which propose some level of political engagement or questioning of the system under which they operate via proposals which undercut capitalist assumptions, perhaps in addressing the marginalised and the precariat in ways which do not subsume them into this same debt machine. In these locations, as elsewhere, what must be fought against is the tendency of capitalism to play the ‘truth game’ of naturalising its position by establishing what Roberto Mangabeira Unger long ago termed the ‘False Necessity’ of neoliberalism. What is needed, he posits, is an anti-necessitarian social theory (to paraphrase the title of one of his books): we must not give in ‘to the ideas and attitudes that make the established order seem natural, necessary or authoritative’ (Unger, 2004: xx).

5For Pier Vittorio Aureli, by contrast, the possibility of resistance is related to ‘The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture’ of the archipelago, and operates not at the level of ideas or utopias but with architectural form, which for Aureli represents the reality of architecture properly defined. The task of the architect is to ‘confront the forces of urbanization’; Aureli uses this term ‘urbanization’ to name the closed organisational logic of capitalism. This confrontation is achieved by ‘opposing to urbanization’s ubiquitous power their [the archipelagos’] explicitness as forms, as punctual, circumscribed facts, as stoppages’ (Aureli, 2001: xii). Aureli looks at Palladio, Piranesi, Boullée and Ungers – the last being the source of the notion of the architectural archipelago – and shows in each case ‘how the project of a specific architectural form is at once an act of radical autonomy from and radical engagement with the forces that characterized the urbanization of cities’ (Aureli, 2011: xii). Here is posited – and we can see it clearly in Aureli’s beautiful drawn architecture too – the possibility of resistance within constructed architecture itself (as Jameson saw in the Stalinallee). But we can immediately anticipate an objection to this: is not the reduction of architecture and its possibilities of resistance to questions of architectural form precisely that – a reduction to a limited area of concern which disturbs neoliberalism not one bit. In contrast to Zaera-Polo or Schumacher, architectural form can for Aureli become a resistance to organisation rather than a celebration of it, but at the cost of shrinking its ambition. This tendency is taken to its logical conclusion in Aureli’s idea of an essentially eremitic architectural practice, a practice withdrawn from the world into a notional hermit’s cell, inspired, as Spencer shows, by Franciscan monastic life (Aureli, 2013; Spencer, 2017). This represents the end-point of Tafuri’s stoicism: if there is no effective architectural resistance to be found against the capitalist hegemon, then a withdrawal into the monastic cell, and the production of an architecture of pure form, is perhaps the most honest and realistic of responses.

6Michael Sorkin makes arguments, largely of a Jameson/Gramscian type, in the afterword to Peggy Deamer’s Architecture and Capitalism. Noting that ‘the inevitable nexus of architecture and capital is one of its core fascinations’, he goes on to outline nine possible tactics for how architecture might ‘live without capitalism’. He begins, pace Aureli, by dismissing the possibility that architectural form might do the job: ‘Architectural form has completely lost its power to be dangerous and only its absence – or violent destruction – threatens anyone’ (Sorkin, 2017: 217-220). What might do the job are respectively: the political demand for redistribution; a Ghandhian refusal to play ball; a celebration of the informal not as a ‘state of exception’ but rather, with Ananya Roy (2005), as an idiom practised outside the hegemony of neoliberalism; the demand for a space of occupation; a newly reawakened tactic of the flaneur; a celebration of the body’s corporeality and the possibilities of the visionary; a return to socialism, a demand for a larger state; and finally – tongue-in-cheek – a becoming pure mind, defeating property by means of a digital future. This list of possibilities should not be dismissed, and indeed as a series of political manoeuvres some of them have the potential for effectiveness, or failing that represent at least a call to moral action. However, in respect of whatever specificity we may assign to architecture, Sorkin’s list seems to fall short. In what way are these tactics architectural in intent? For sure, the architect can deploy them, but what is architecture such that this deployment would form a part of the discipline or the phenomena of it?

7We perhaps therefore need to be more specific about what is meant by architecture. Are we referring to the academic discipline? the politics of space? the architectural profession? a building? a set of buildings? Or the creation or production of these things?

Surplus value

8Returning to Jameson and Spencer, there is a hint in their work as to how architecture and capitalism might be characterised through the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. In a long footnote, Jameson picks up on the possibilities of their concept of the rhizome outlined in A Thousand Plateaus, published two years before Jameson’s lecture. In Spencer, Deleuze is framed as a missed, or misused, opportunity: he pejoratively gives the work of Schumacher, Zaera-Polo and others the name ‘Architectural Deleuzism’ (reworking a term from Ian Buchanan, 2000). This is not entirely to dismiss the philosophy of Deleuze, but rather to show how it has been misused in the name of a formalism of flow – ‘the smoothed forms and undulating surfaces that characterise the projects of practices such as Reiser + Umemoto, [Lars] Spuybroek’s NOX or Ali Rahim and Hina Jamelle’s Contemporary Architecture Practice’ (Spencer, 2014: 88). The reduction of architecture, and specifically a putative avant-garde architecture, to the question of form is, for Spencer, a sub-set of the generalised political move to extirpate the left-wing politics from the work of Deleuze and Guattari. In this he sees Manuel De Landa’s de-politicised interpretation as being particularly pertinent to architectural debate, given the influence De Landa has had on the aforementioned formalist reception of Deleuze in architectural theory and practice. Spencer notes that De Landa effects a consistent de-Marxification of Deleuze (Spencer, 2014: 92), and points us to Eliot Albert who succinctly states that ‘De Landa’s misreading of Marx thus becomes... a grotesque misrepresentation of Deleuze and Guattari’s work’ (Albert, 1998). This de-politicised Deleuzian strain of architectural theory was perhaps most effectively promoted by Sanford Kwinter, whose seminal Architectures of Time cast Deleuze as a scientistic formalist whose interest in, for instance, the political and minoritarian side of Kafka was merely a result of the supposedly baleful (i.e. political) influence of Guattari (Kwinter, 2001: 115). By contrast, Albert points us back to Jameson who, he notes, states that ‘Deleuze is alone among the great thinkers of so-called poststructuralism in having accorded Marx an absolutely fundamental role in his philosophy’ (Jameson, 1997: 395).

9For Jameson, the positive quality of Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia (the overall name for the two volumes comprised of Anti-Oediopus and A Thousand Plateaus) is the way it maintains Marxism as a problematic. Daniel W. Smith argues that the whole of Deleuze’s work (in contrast to that of, say, Alain Badiou) is ‘problematic’ (Smith, 2003), and it is within this problematic that he and Guattari give their definitive characterisation of capitalism, and with it neoliberalism, as a politics of flow:

Decoded flows – but who will give a name to this new desire? Flows of property that is sold, flows of money that circulates, flows of production and means of production making ready in the shadows, flows of workers becoming deterritorialized: the encounter of all these flows will be necessary, their conjunction, and their reaction on one another – and the contingent nature of this encounter, this conjunction, and this reaction, which occur one time – in order for capitalism to be born... (Deleuze, Guattari, 1983: 223-224)

10What is a ‘decoded flow’? They later state:

At the heart of Capital, Marx points to the encounter of two ‘principal’ elements: on one side, the deterritorialized worker who has become free and naked, having to sell his labor capacity; and on the other, decoded money that has become capital and is capable of buying it... (Deleuze, Guattari, 1983: 225)

11This is the Marxist heart of the ‘decoding’ of capitalism. The status of the worker is decoded such that she loses all value and meaning, aside from that of pure labour to be utilised. The status of money is decoded into capital and freed, again, from meaning – a process which continued with the increasing abstraction of money through the development of capitalism into neoliberalism. What gets this whole concept of flows going is the main idea of Marxism, the notion of surplus value, which Marx deals with in Part Three of Capital entitled ‘Production of Absolute Surplus Value’ (Marx, 1930: 171-322). The capitalist is the one who extracts a surplus value from the use-value of the worker’s productive capabilities. The value to the capitalist, making use of the worker, of the worker’s time is greater than what it costs him, and therefore there is an exploitative production of surplus value, a process of ‘creating value’ (Marx, 1930: 193). In creating this additional value money is transformed into capital: ‘the trick [of capitalism] has at last been successful, money has been changed into capital’ (Marx, 1930: 189), and in volume two of Capital Marx shows how this surplus value moves onwards through the system of the circuits of money capital, productive capital and commodity capital (Marx, 1978: 109-196)

12Eliot Albert points us to a key quotation, at the beginning of Anti-Oedipus – Capitalism and Schizophrenia, in relation to surplus value (Albert, 1998), where Deleuze and Guattari state the following:

In a chain that mixes together phonemes, morphemes, etc., without combining them, papa’s mustache, mama’s upraised arm, a ribbon, a little girl, a cop, a shoe suddenly turn up. Each chain captures fragments of other chains from which it ‘extracts’ a surplus value, just as the orchid code ‘attracts’ the figure of a wasp: both phenomena demonstrate the surplus value of a code.... If this constitutes a system of writing, it is a writing inscribed on the very surface of the Real.... (Deleuze, Guattari, 1983: 39)

13It is evident from this passage that Deleuze and Guattari both generalise the concept of surplus value, and make it positive, as part of what Alberto Toscano has called “in the great operation done on Marx in the first chapter of the Anti-Oedipus” (Toscano et al., 1999: 125). This means that the underlying abstract workings that allow capitalism to be effective can be assessed positively. There is always a Nietzschean undercurrent to Deleuze, an avoidance of all ressentiment, as outlined in his early book Nietzsche and Philosophy. He is suspicious of the depreciation of life, of the Real: ‘For the speculative element of negation, opposition or contradiction Nietzsche substitutes the practical element of difference, the object of affirmation and enjoyment’ (Deleuze, 1983: 9). Deleuze and Guattari’s insight is to understand that, if Marx’s notion of surplus value is critical to an understanding of and the reality of capitalism, then this notion must perforce have a general positive import from which the specific negative phenomenon that Marx highlights must derive. I say ‘perforce’, in the sense that this is a question of forcing, a question of a choice that Deleuze and Guattari make, a bias they have or a Spinozian prejudice for the positive that is evident throughout their work and that comes into play in a number of locations – for instance, in relation to the interpretation of Foucault where Deleuze will transform and positivise Foucault’s notion of power by saying that it ‘produces reality before it represses’ (Deleuze, 1988: 25).

14Thus it is always necessary, for Deleuze and Guattari, to delve below the negative and critical positions of a Foucault or a Marx – to delve beneath the Foucauldian concept of ‘power’ as essentially repressive and beneath the concept of ‘surplus value’ as essentially capitalist. Jameson noted a change in valence between Tafuri’s negative stoicism and the postmodernist’s positive taking up of capitalist themes. There is a similar change here, not to support the capitalist hegemon but rather the opposite. This change in valence is undertaken not merely because in this philosophy all essentialism is to be deprecated, but more substantially in order to find, with Nietzsche, the underlying non-essential positive flow that gives politics-as-repression and capitalism their possibility. This flow is non-essential because it is differential; that is, it starts from the affirmation of difference(s) inherent in the relationships (or power or surplus value) prior to the selection of the positive terms of those relationships (the political subject or the worker and the capitalist). This is why, as Deleuze and Guattari state vis-à-vis Kafka, ‘[c]riticism is completely useless’ (Deleuze, Guattari, 1986: 58). Marx and Foucault are critical (amongst other things), and that is necessary, but is only a preliminary step. It is preliminary because the moment of critique is reactionary: it remains on the same level as that which it wishes to attack. But the enemy, with Kafka, must be fought below (or above), on a different level. The call is to find the underlying, positive flow, the flow which has been hitched up to capitalism and to repressive politics; do not, our authors tell us, be satisfied with criticising that which makes use of it!

15The transformation effected here by Deleuze and Guattari is that surplus value becomes ‘the surplus value of a code’. What does this mean? It is clear that this code has nothing to do with meaning. In this respect, Deleuze and Guattari’s concern is quite different to that of, say, Henri Lefebvre, whose The Production of Space locates the codes of space within a representational ontology entirely foreign to our authors’ concerns (Lefebvre, 1991: 1-67). For Deleuze and Guattari, what it has to do with are chains, multiplicities or flows that relate to each other and to other multiplicities or flows, interpreted within an avowedly non-representational philosophy. For example, the chain, multiplicity, or flow that makes up the orchid ‘attracts’ the flow that makes up the wasp. This gives surplus value, by the fact of synthesis – of what they call the ‘great disjunctive synthesis’ (Deleuze, Guattari, 1983: 44). The orchid seduces the wasp, the wasp gains the pleasure of nectar, the orchid gains the possibility to reproduce, and surplus value is thereby created. In this synthesis one of the flows interacts with other in ‘endlessly ramified paths’ (Deleuze, Guattari, 1983: 44). The paths are ramified because the interplay of the wasp and the orchid constitutes for neither of them the total of their interplays; each has an indefinite number of other symbioses within which they play (the wasp with the air, with its co-workers, with its nest... the orchid with its leaves, its mycelia, the rain, the sun...). For Deleuze and Guattari, following Spinoza, these syntheses are nothing other than the Real, and this Real is a sort of writing, but not a writing with meaning or signification, but rather a writing that produces desire. That is, it produces difference or power, the milieu or element within which these syntheses occur and which are the ‘object of affirmation and enjoyment’.

16The negative Marxist surplus value of capital becomes here a subset of a more general reality of the surplus value of code. In turn, the notion of flow, which characterises capitalism in its flows of labour, urbanity, property and money, is also shown to have a general ontological value as a ‘flow or a nonpersonal hylè’, an element or ether within which or on which things ‘take’ as so many after-effects of difference.

17It is this general ontology of flows which we should refer to in relating these thoughts about capitalism to the question of architecture and its possible response to capitalist flows. As noted in section one above, there is a general sense in which the ontology of architecture, within discussions about its relation to capitalism and elsewhere, remains unclarified and un-thought. The concepts of capitalism (flow and the creation of surplus value) are generalised by Deleuze and Guattari such that they can form the elements of a general ontology – or rather, the general ontology of flows outlined in Capitalism and Schizophrenia. This ontology does not derive from capitalism. Rather, capitalism is so successful precisely because it responds to and works with the Real, albeit in a negative way. Despite this capture, it is still possible – and necessary – to start from this general ontology of the Real and to ask, in that light: what is the ontology of architecture?

Architecture as flow and haecceity

18If architecture is a multiplicity, if it is itself flows, what differences, what syntheses or symbioses go to effectuate it? We can take a clue from the wasp and the orchid, where two flows (each making up the individual wasp and orchid) meet briefly to extract a surplus value of code. The flows which make up the individuals which we can distinguish as architecture, in all its various meanings as profession, production and inhabited environment, are equally multiple. Architecture works with, and works over, economic flows, flows of material, flows of thought, flows of memory, flows of history, flows of technology, flows of concepts and ideas, and of course political flows. This list could be extended indefinitely, because it is derived not from any essentialist notion of what architecture is but rather from the empirical reality of architecture. (Recall that Deleuze calls himself, many times, an empiricist (Deleuze, Parnet, 2007: xii).) To compile and extend this list we need only ask: what is it that architects (be they academics, historians, designers or critics) and architecture as an entire and broad discipline do, what do they engage with, in reality, in the Real? The concerns of the empiricist, and the implications of an empirical philosophy, are in strong contrast to a tendency for architecture to define itself essentially. To give just a few examples of this essentialising thought: with Alberti, architecture is essentially ideational (Alberti, 1991: book eight); with Laugier, essentially shelter (Laugier, 1985); with Pevsner, essentially an aesthetically considered building (Pevsner, 1957: 23); for Aureli and Kwinter, essentially form. Deleuze and Guattari, following Spinoza, have an entirely different strategy: they start not from the essence, but from the Real.

19In addition, architecture always works with and works over flows of people and social flows – that is, it works with us, be we architects, critics, inhabitants, victims or philosophers. In Deleuze and Guattari’s terms, architecture is an ‘haecceity’. Traditionally, this word means something like the ‘thisness’ of a thing. Our authors give it a more specific meaning. In a beautiful passage, they state:

There is a mode of individuation very different from that of a person, subject, thing, or substance. We reserve the name haecceity for it. A season, a winter, a summer, an hour, a date have a perfect individuality lacking nothing, even though this individuality is different from that of a thing or a subject. They are haecceities in the sense that they consist entirely of relations of movement and rest between molecules or particles, capacities to affect and be affected. (Deleuze, Guattari, 1987: 261)

20Architecture is just such a haecceity, or such an individual. It is a mode of individuation utterly different from the solidity of a subject, object or substance. Architecture, as flow, is something more like a summer, an hour, a particular date in which we are entwined and which almost pre-exists us, but allows us to come into being at the same time as we help create that very individuality of architecture. There are no pre-existing subjects and objects; these are after-effects, abstractions after the event. The subject – which is supposedly us – and the object – which is supposedly architecture – are terms of a lesser ontology which does not stay true to the flowing reality of the world, and which therefore misrepresents the nature of the Real:

We must avoid an oversimplified conciliation, as though there were on the one hand formed subjects, of the thing or person type, and on the other hand spatiotemporal coordinates of the haecceity type. For you will yield nothing to haecceities unless you realize that that is what you are, and that you are nothing but that. (Deleuze, Guattari, 1987: 262)

21But how do flows become haecceities? If architecture is somehow made up of economic, political, material, thoughtful, historic, memorable and social flows, and then in turn flows with us or with you, what makes up the solidity of architecture? But this is to put the question in the wrong way. There is no solidity of architecture – neither a formal solidity, nor a material one, nor indeed a political or economic one. Deleuze and Guattari do not ask us to create solid elements out of flows; rather their cry is more straightforward and more realistic: ‘conjugate the flows’ (Deleuze, Guattari, 1987: 11). In other words, create surplus value by linking the flows into an haecceity – a haecceity ‘that is what you are’ – by precipitating out from the flows a particular, constructive individuality, but without imputing to this individual a stasis or a solidity. Architecture is too often seduced by the building, by the phenomenal solidity of the objects which it supposedly creates, as if this solidity is an essentially positive quality in itself that should therefore determine the ontology – the mode of being – of architecture. Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy of flow, of becoming, presents the most cogent refutation of this view.

22What the architect should properly intend to create, therefore, is not a building, not a solidity, but this difference, this individual or haecceity or particular surplus value of architecture that consists of a synthesis or conjunction, within which the subject and object are not pre-determined, and which takes into account the responsibility of architecture to engage with a multitude of flows – including the political and economic ones which seem dominated by capitalism. By doing this, by undercutting the formation of subjects and objects and creating a space for something other than these pre-formed vessels into which capitalism, above all, pours us, an adequate response to the neoliberal hegemony might be essayed. The counter-argument to the eremitic formalism of Aureli or de-politicised architectural ‘Deleuzism’ starts from a re-politicisation of the discipline and fact of architecture. It also starts from an engagement with economics, be that the economics of a building project, the broader economics of the distribution of assets (such as housing) within society, or the economics of the marginalised, the immigrant or the ‘citizen of the world’. The conjugation of flows that occurs in and as architecture includes politics, just as it includes economic questions or poetic ones; it cuts across the established strata or habits into which thought is commonly solidified, which is in itself a political question – a question of how these habits and strata are policed and kept in their place, particularly but not only within the academy. Likewise, the counter-argument to Tafuri’s stoicism rests in understanding politics, and particularly the hegemonic quality of capitalism and neoliberalism, not as a solid body of fact which cannot be gotten around, but as mutable flows which can be redirected and whose quality as flow interacting with other flows is made explicit (Deleuze, Guattari, 1986: 47). If the haecceity of architecture inevitably interplays with the flow of money, this does not rule out political action on any number of fronts, by engaging and conjugating other flows that call into question the overarching power and ‘necessity’ of capitalism. In one sense this is a policy (with Sorkin) of tactics. His list of anti-capitalist possibilities cited in section one should be reframed; they are not a series of isolated tactical positions, but rather need to be folded into an overall strategy of multiple flows which allows that political action can advance in many locations at once, hidden from the enemy whose reduction of reality to a single ‘truth game’ blinds them to the effectiveness of the other conjugated flows.

How therefore to act?

23How might this operate in practice? A concrete example, amongst an indefinite number of possible examples, relating to those marginalised figures of capitalism whose position is nearly always, according to essentialist notions of architecture, consigned to the periphery or exterior: does architecture, qua architecture, have a responsibility to the worker? For instance, to the worker’s safety on the building site? (Spencer gives a well-known example of this question in relation to Zaha Hadid architects. Spencer, 2016: 73.) Or their economic situation? The answer depends on your underlying ontology of architecture. For William Morris, a Marxist for whom the interrelation (following Ruskin) of the worker with the work of architecture was a key architectural (as well as political and moral) issue, the answer was unequivocal: architecture cannot be great architecture unless such things are taken into consideration. But the current hyper-competitive and neo-Darwinist ideology of neoliberalism posits, in necessitarian manner, that the conditions of the worker are a supposedly natural outcome of the economic forces which traverse and make up the workplace. To point to the conjunction of real flows which create the situation of exploited labour; to take the stance, be it in an academic piece of writing, in an architect’s office, in a meeting with a client, or indeed in a press release, that this exploitation is not an inevitable outcome; to promote a difference that makes a difference: these are real political and moral acts that will have an effect, whether or not architects are required by law to consider such matters, and whether or not it is fashionable to do so.

24If, with Morris, there can be no great architecture without consideration of the flow of labour, I wish to conclude by returning to Aureli, for whom there is no great architecture without the autonomy of form. It is difficult to imagine two further extremes of architectural thought: labour, and form. But these are not two opposed concepts of architecture. Rather, they are two of the indefinite number of flows which make it up. The consideration of form, and the making-autonomous of form, is surely as much one of the flows which characterises the Real of architecture as the flow of labour. It is simply, if we are to take Deleuze and Guattari and the ontology of flows seriously, that this autonomy of form must not be solidified into what is essential to architecture. Neither must anything else. There is no essence of architecture: this is what the surplus value of flow tells us, which far from consigning us to the ineffectual gives us the very possibility of action on the Real.

25Jameson is therefore not wrong in the final paragraph of ‘Architecture and the Critique of Ideology’, where he returns to the idea of a ‘properly Gramscian architecture’ waging a ‘gradualist’ war of position rather than a revolutionary overturning of the entire ‘massive being’ of capitalism. Except that within an understanding of architecture as the individuation of flows, we do not reduce effective political action to the negative status of the ‘gradual’ but rather acknowledge the positive possibility that all action occurs within and amongst multiplicities. There is in reality no massive being of capitalism, if by that is implied a solid block that must be gradually hacked away, or destroyed in one act of revolution. Certainly, there is a massive effectiveness of capitalism, but this derives not from its solidity but from its ability to harness flows for the creation of surplus value. But we will not block such flows, neither within architecture nor outside it, by means of solid or essentialist ontologies: instead, we are called by this philosophy to acknowledge the effectiveness of flows and to conjugate them in a manner which calls into question the false necessity and the operation of capitalism. This is not a gradualist capitulation, but rather a harnessing, to better effect, of the underlying flows from which capitalism draws it strength.

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Bibliographical reference

Tim Gough, “Flows of Capitalism, Flows of Architecture”Ardeth, 3 | 2018, 96-114.

Electronic reference

Tim Gough, “Flows of Capitalism, Flows of Architecture”Ardeth [Online], 3 | 2018, Online since 01 May 2020, connection on 19 June 2024. URL:

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About the author

Tim Gough

Kingston University London, School of Art and Architecture –

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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