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  • Thermal performance: the politics of environmental management in architecture

Dutson, Claudia, 2017, Thesis, Thermal performance: the politics of environmental management in architecture PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

How do architects address the ambiguity of practice, being on the one hand tasked with making buildings that perform well in terms of energy use and environmental strategy, and on the other facilitating the production of
capital, through their service to ensuring that the performance of the occupants (efficiency, productivity and wellbeing) is satisfied?

In this PhD by practice, I use the theoretical concept of ‘the performative’ through both the written thesis and project to interrogate the various ways in which thermal management becomes entangled with management processes. The context is specific: the workplace at a moment
of convergence between smart technology with architecture; where notionally, agency is given over to autonomous environmental systems to do the right thing, and work environments that are embedded in performative-linguistic company cultures that urge their occupants to ‘do
the right thing’. In other words – where machines do things with fans and boilers, and humans do things with emails, meetings, performance reviews and corporate culture. I invoke Lucy Schuman’s question ‘who is doing what
to whom?’ to draw attention to the way that actions are elicited from employees through discursive and constitute organisational practices.
At a point where new-build non-domestic buildings, which are
specifically designed to perform environmentally well, are failing to do so- I invoke Isabelle Stengers’ ethical proposition ‘what are we busy doing?’ to ask whether architects’ actions are fundamentally compromised by this
entanglement. I propose a strategy for architects to address their practice in relation to these propositions, and trace the actions as they migrate through discursive fields – sustainability, organisational management, theories of
motivation, workplace politics, technological innovation, activism and resistance.
The narrative of the written thesis is asynchronous, and is
interconnected with the project in multiple ways, it is structured in such a way so as to introduce strategies of encountering the various discursive fields which form the context of study. The project work, on the other hand, immerses the reader directly within these fields. The database that reveals the multiple realms that embed the concepts of power, economics, desire, love, productivity and war into the architectural concerns for comfort and
energy use; while the performance video places two subjects constituted by management, whose passions are put to work and situate them within a discursive environment latent with the full cultural significance of its metaphors in the workplace of the knowledge economy.

The first part of the written component of the thesis opens up discussions about performance and action – which are generally applicable for the discourse of environmental performance, as mediated by the occupant and the use of technology, within the contemporary workplace. I move into the second part of the written thesis, which places the context specifically within the conceptual domain of thermal management, elaborates on the implications of taking a performance oriented approach to ‘heat’, and reveals how performance and the domain of heat converge on issues of productivity, subjectivity, and wellbeing.
The two actors who perform in the video can only continuously improve their performance, every action can be subverted or appropriated, presenting the urgency for my conclusion in the written thesis, that as we,
in architecture, are expected to also act entrepreneurially – the question is not how we do so subversively, or as a mode of critique. We should instead pay attention to Stengers’ and Suchman’s questions, and paying attention to what is brought about, and for whom, and focus our work on care for precarious, exhausted and hyper-active subjectivities that are produced through these actions.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Architecture > K100 Architecture > K110 Architectural Design Theory
School or Centre: School of Architecture
Funders: AHRC
Date Deposited: 26 Jul 2017 16:25
Last Modified: 26 Jul 2017 16:25
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/2847

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