• London in-between: Ritual, habit, and collective space

Dell'Aglio, Francesca, 2024, Thesis, London in-between: Ritual, habit, and collective space PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

The current architectural debate has reduced the discussion concerning our cities to a mere infrastructural and domestic discourse. It has forgotten their secular, collective meaning. Françoise Choay and Joseph Rykwert, in the second half of the 20th century, spoke about the city as an anthropological form, wherein – if anthropology is conceived of as the study of the human race, its culture and society – architecture is nothing but the direct traces that society leaves behind. These traces can be identified as rituals: collective, repetitive and rhythmical series of movements, which have often been understood as paradigms that generate physical forms. However, the paradigmatic nature of rituals has also facilitated the deterioration of the city into a prescribed agglomeration of secure and anonymous buildings made of private or pseudo-public space. Rituals have thus generated a standardised and collective forma vitae that spans from our domestic to our collective sphere, slowly minimising their meaning to that of habitual actions.

The contemporary misunderstanding between rituals and habits has inevitable consequences for architecture: the repetition of behaviours can produce predictive and standardised forms, yet a latent margin between ritual and habitual exists. There is only one character that ritual possesses over habit: rituals are collective temporary actions, which happen within a liminal condition. Rituals can therefore be intended as temporary and unpredictable actions, capable of manifesting in the space of the city and altering its status quo. A ritual produces a break in the loop of the ritual and habitual cycle, explores alternative social meanings and questions the indisputable standards that architecture obstinately and recursively puts into form.

This condition is most evident in London, a city in which this monotonous form of everyday habitualness has seen a long and complex evolution that dates back to 1666. This was not only the first moment when the capital had to face the prospect of reconstruction and commenced its slow transformation from a city constructed at first in timber, then in bricks and stone, to a city made entirely of steel, concrete and glass. But it was the moment when collective outdoor spaces, as we know them today, started appearing across the city. From the fall of Charles I’s tyranny to the slow rise of what Michel Foucault calls biopower, this research selects a series of moments throughout the history of London when a clear formalisation of the dispute between ritual and habit had spatially emerged. These case studies are read starting from the collective life that was shaped within their boundaries, bringing to light the coexistence of powers that have affected their evolution and the role of the architect in the project of the city. The intention of this research is not to find a solution to the problematic way in which we design our city as a compromise between investors, developers and builders, but rather to propose that which should be considered once again as an anthropological urban form, wherein the architect can hopefully find again an active and participative role.

The thesis begins from these premises, re-asserting that rituals are crucial to the meaning of architecture, but only if separated from the monotony of their repetition and conceived of as the constitution and perpetuation of quotidian social relations between the human body and its environment. Rituals can still act as space-making devices that are highly relevant to the discourse about architecture and the city, and must be reconsidered today as we face an unprecedented expansion of construction that risks superseding the act of building with the act of thinking.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Architecture > K100 Architecture
School or Centre: School of Architecture
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ritual; Habit; London; Collective Spaces; Anthropology
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2024 15:13
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2024 15:13
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5875
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