Affective Architecture: Encountering Care in Built Environments
Linda Kopitz
Architecture, Affective Architecture, Care, Built
Environments, Affect, Imagination
Krisis 42 (1): 29-42.
Between urban sprawl and a return to the rural, between technological advancements
and historical preservation, built environments become a productive sphere to explore
imaginations of a shared future on a changing planet. At the same time, contemporary
architectural writing increasingly appears to extend further than considerations of envi-
ronmental care – particularly in relation to spaces and places frequently criticized for
their “uncaring” neoliberal politics. This article will argue that architecture is increas-
ingly infused and saturated with aective connotations of care. Approaching global
examples critically allows for a further exploration of the interdependency between
spaces, places, and communities that care. In this understanding, care becomes, quite
literally, structural.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 License International License (CC
BY 4.0). © 2022 The author(s).
Affective Architecture: Encountering Care in Built Environments
Linda Kopitz
Between urban sprawl and a return to the rural (cf. Taylor 2023), between technologi-
cal advancements and historical preservation, built environments become a productive
sphere to explore imaginations of a shared future on a changing planet. At the same
time, contemporary architectural design increasingly appears to extend further than
considerations of environmental care, particularly in relation to spaces and places fre-
quently criticized for their “uncaring” neoliberal politics. The starting point for this
article was precisely a space like this: a photograph1 of a room with the oor and
walls covered in blue fabric, empty except for three white lounge chairs in the shape
and (presumed) softness of a pillowy cloud, and two white oor lamps, standing del-
icately on wooden legs. Eliciting ideas of sleepiness and calmness and serenity, the
room appears to keep the bustle of the outside world out with long, white, owing
curtains. Somewhat surprisingly, this room is one of the oces of a German tech
start-up specializing in safety and security systems – superimposing the exploitative
aspects of a 24/7 start-up-culture with the connotations of serenity of the bedroom as
the presumably most private room within the home.2 Blurring the boundaries between
relaxation and eciency, mindfulness and productivity under a larger schema of caring
values, this layering of connotations is neither accidental nor – as I will argue here –
unique. If “space and its making are political (Gámez and Rogers 2008, 22, emphasis
in original), a deeper engagement with the architectural process, from the initial idea
to the built structure, is paramount to understanding the social, political, and cultural
connotations of space-making.
As both concept and practice, “care” is as interdisciplinary as it is intangible – tra-
versing practical concerns in healthcare to philosophical approaches and political discus-
sions, from caring for the (human) bodies directly around us to caring about more abstract
concepts like the environment or the world at large. Tracing care in architecture allows
us to think dierently about not just what care means but also where care can be located.
Here, I am following an understanding of care as both an imaginary and a practice – or, as
the members of the Care Collective phrase it: “Care is our individual and common ability
to provide the political, social, material, and emotional conditions that allow the vast
majority of people and living creatures on this planet to thrive – along with the planet
itself (2020, 6). In the absence of one universal denition of care, approaching care as a
constantly shifting and changing imaginary, an “ability”, allows for an engagement with
possibility and, for the purposes of this article, with architecture as a site of becoming.
If “architecture can creatively and critically invest in the potentiality of spaces
yet to come” (Frichot and Loo 2013, 3), paying attention to the concept of care in the
process of designing and building also has the potential to ultimately create more caring
spaces. Drawing on award-winning examples ranging from the workspace re-imagined
as “hub and home” to governmental buildings (re-designed to “radiate transparency”),
I argue in this article that architectural design is increasingly infused and saturated with
aective connotations of care by: 1) blurring the boundaries between corporate and
the private; 2) emphasizing nature and natural materials in built environments; and 3)
highlighting the embodied experience of spaces.3 At the same time, the potential of
architectural writing to both ground the intangibility of care on the one hand, and
strategically employ care as a rhetoric – a ‘care-washing’– of neoliberal processes on
the other, highlights the ambivalences in these processes. As Frichot and Loo suggest:
“Architecture invests in words, or all the things that can be said and written about a
built (or unbuilt and speculative) form, as much as it engages in its seemingly central
task, which is to design, form and construct indisputably material edices, spaces and
objects” (2013, 4). To arm this understanding of architecture as embedded in practices
of not just place-making but simultaneous meaning-making, I draw on examples from
across the globe, consciously blending the boundaries between dierent projects to
trace how the notion of care, intermingling with other values like openness, dialogue,
and transparency, has been employed in the framing of a Taiwanese meatpacking factory
as much as the Swiss headquarters of a luxury brand, in a judicial building in Singapore
just as in a German start-up company.
By intentionally establishing connections between not only dierent types of
buildings and dierent architectural approaches but also dierent geographical regions
and dierent requirements, I aim to emphasize the underlying notion of care that has
become prevalent in architectural practices over recent years. What might at rst glance
come across as a random selection of examples actually follows an algorithmic logic that
doubles as the methodological process for this article: the diverse projects and contexts
cited here are all categorized under “Commercial & Oces” (which quite strikingly
also includes institutional buildings) on the curated architecture platform Architecture
Daily4, thus collectively reveal the prevalence of care as valorisation in both corporate
and public architecture. Approaching these examples from a critical media studies per-
spective – taking into account the visuals, as well as how they are described and embed-
ded into the website – teases out conceptions and contradictions in the architectural
inscription of care. Activating Hays’s understanding of architecture as a “specic kind of
imagination – an intimate blend of sensing, imaging, and conceptualizing” (2010, 357),
the methodological approach to these examples is similarly an exploration of the play
between thinking about and sensing through built environments. The repetitive format
of these marketing materials – following the same (or at least highly similar) structure
and bound by the expectations and aordances of the same website – foregrounds the
connections between these seemingly accidental examples.
It is important to note that, while the examples discussed here might qualify as
responses to Gámez and Rogers’s “call for an architecture of change” (2008), they neither
necessarily or intentionally, nor actively or convincingly, oer alternative approaches
to contemporary questions. While acknowledging that “architecture as product and
process is always embedded in social dynamics” (2010, xi), Till similarly points out that
the engagement of (most) architects with these dynamics remains somewhat lacking.
Authorship also plays a relevant role in this context: as marketing materials, these texts
and images are carefully selected, curated and structured to tell a specic story about
the concept-becoming-concrete. The disclaimer “text description provided by the
architects”, prominently positioned at the top of each page, further underlines this
conscious interpretation of design by the architects who quite literally construct these
meanings. Prompted through the restrictive and recurring, established and expected
format of Architecture Daily to put the “unspoken” conditions of architectural design
into actual words, the complex positions of practitioners that are “clearly complicated
by [architecture’s] dual role as art and industry” (Jobst 2013, 73, emphasis in original)
become tangible. Tronto famously argues that “using care as a critical concept will
require a fundamental reorientation of the disciplines of architecture and urban plan-
ning” (2019, 26). How, then, can we move from an “Architecture of Change” to an
“Architecture of Care” – and more specically one encompassing the political, social,
material, and emotional conditions of care as mentioned above? Tronto’s answer to this
question is the call for an architecture willing and able to share the “responsibilities of
caring for our world” (2019, 28). In this article, I elaborate on this answer by suggesting
that shifting the emphasis from caring for to caring through and caring in can expand the
direction and scope of care as both a concept and a practice.
Despite the architectural projects discussed here being framed in Architecture
Daily through their outstanding excellence, there is an undeniable similarity in these
(re)designs: there is an undercurrent of genericness that resembles what Koolhaas
(1998) has described as the “generic city”, albeit on a smaller scale. Yet, it is precisely
the common prevalence of an explicit and implicit discourse of care that makes these
examples a productive starting point to demonstrate how architecture not only shapes
the conditions of a space spatially, but also our understanding of that space guratively.
Moving from the physical setting – and the absence of physical boundaries therein –
of a caring space in the rst section “Hub/Home”, via the caring materiality of natural
building materials in the second section “Material/Intangible”, to the negotiation of
embodied caring connections in the third section “Emptiness/Encounter”, this article aims
to challenge our understanding of the capacity of buildings.
1. Hub/Home: Traversing Boundaries between the Corporate and the Private
While situating the animating concern for their book “The Room of One’s Own”,
Aureli and Tattara argue that “the separation between house and workspace is in decline
as production unfolds everywhere” (2016). At the same time, it should be noted that
this unfolding of production everywhere is not a unidirectional move: while we mostly
talk about the blurring of clear boundaries between work/life as it comes to work
entering the private sphere, the opposite also appears to be true. With the aectively
charged imaginary of the “home” – in the sense of the private, but also the safe and the
serene – infusing the workplace in the examples discussed here, the unique aordances of
the “home” simultaneously become embedded in the neoliberal logic of productivity. If
“architecture, as both process and form, can be understood as the result of a multiplicity of
desires – for shelter, security, privacy and boundary control; for status, identity and repu-
tation; for prot, authority and political power; for change or stability; for order or chaos”
(Dovey 2013, 134) – the negotiation of these desires in the design of corporate buildings
becomes particularly interesting. Positioning the neoliberal workplace as a caring space
through the aective connotations of the home, as I argue in this section, underlines an
understanding of architectural writing as embedded in processes of meaning-making.
With a “spatial organization where limits between workspaces and common
areas are diused”, the oces of the informatics company iGarpe-GPISoft in San
Javier, Spain5 are exemplary of this understanding. Structurally, the building organizes
both open spaces, partially separated seating areas and closed oce – with “closed”
meaning separated by wood-framed glass here – around an open atrium to establish
“direct relationships between the team”. A collaborative, balanced work life becomes
not an attitude or approach achieved through and embedded in corporate culture,
but rather an architectural challenge to be achieved with open oor plans rather than
through managerial decisions. Going even further, the common areas of the Spanish
informatics oce are specically “conceptually considered as domestic spaces”, envel-
oping moments of relaxation within structures of productivity, private conversations
within the corporate context. The new building of the T-HAM PABP meat processing
factory, located in Southern Taiwan,6 the largest one in the country, similarly states an
intention to “upgrade the working environment of their factory workers and their
daily working experience” as one of the main animating concerns in the architectural
process – albeit in fourth place, preceded by priorities to increase productivity, expand
production capacities, and maintain corporate standards. In what might be one of the
least-caring industries imaginable – both in environmental impact and labor conditions
– the reconceptualization of the factory to be “neither a shed, nor a fridge-like box”
highlights an attention to the well-being of employees inside as much as to the (public)
perception from the outside. The light-lled spaces for social interaction in the front
of the building in addition to access to the rooftop has not only “made the factory
workers’ daily experience much more pleasant”.
Here, again, the link between design and desire becomes imminent. As
Ballantyne argues, “most buildings most of the time are commissioned with the expec-
tation that one’s current needs will be better accommodated than they were before
the move into the new building” (2013, 194). While there certainly is an expanding
dialogue between design as a practice and as a form of resistance to social, political,
and environmental issues,7 the emphasis on care as governing principle and guiding
value becomes undermined by a near constant linking between “better motivation and
improved product quality” here. In neoliberal logic, “happy” workers will be willing to
stay longer in these enhanced working environments – both in terms of working hours
as in professional career duration – and channel the architecturally augmented “moti-
vation” into their labor. Following Tronto’s suggestion that “even if caring needs are
recognized, they are often in conict with each other” (2019, 30), the negotiation of the
dimensions and hierarchies of care through architectural writing become particularly
interesting. If “neoliberalism is uncaring by design” (The Care Collective 2020, 10), it
is interesting to see how design itself attempts to re-inscribe caring values into clearly
neoliberalist processes. Notably, this also extends from a spatial organization to other,
seemingly purely aesthetic choices.
Writing about Luis Barragán’s emotional approach to architecture, Van den
Bergh points out an “architectural mise en scène of space and light, material and color,
of smell and sound, movement and time” (2006, 1). Strategically using the same strate-
gies that are also used in more private contexts – warm lighting to create an atmosphere
of calmness, for instance – blurs the lines between the private and the corporate even
further. Using their own architectural and design practice as a case study in humanistic
architecture, Richard Mazuch and Rona Stephen conclude that “visual monotony can
contribute to physiological and emotional stress” (2005, 50). Interestingly, the color
palettes in the examples here consciously break this visual monotony, eectively shifting
the attention from a potentially monotonous work to a visually stimulating environ-
ment. These aesthetic choices, meant to “regulate privacy and assure comfort” (as in the
iGarpe-GPISoft oces) and raise “the morale and pride in the workforce” (as in the
T-HAM PABP factory) are also strategic choices embedded in existing power dynam-
ics. While undoubtedly adding another layer to the problematic absence of recognition
of domestic work, the blurring between these spheres within both the home and the
workplace also blends the ideologies connected to these spaces under a neoliberal
umbrella. If the “domestic space as a space of retreat and intimacy unburdened by
working relationships” (Dogma 2016) is (re)situated in the sphere of productivity, the
separation between work/life becomes even more challenging than already assumed.
This emphasis on care could also be understood as a dual defense against critical con-
cerns raised about “social exclusivity in the design and production of the built environ-
ment” (Jenkins 2010, 19) on the one hand, and about exploitative work practices on the
other. This ambivalence further points to a necessary carefulness when reading care in
built environments, highlighting the importance of the context and contextualization
of these examples.
If socio-cultural concerns – from politics and economics to desire – indeed con-
stitute architecture’s “perennial sites of negotiation” (Grosz 2001, xvi), an exploration of
the implicit and explicit emphasis placed on care within presumably “uncaring” spheres
becomes paramount for a more nuanced understanding of the complex relationship
between the built environment and the bodies moving in and through it. Clearly, the
shift of the connotations of “home” from the private to the private sector is cause for
concern. At the same time, there is a recursive element within the discourses presented
here: these examples partially reverberate the modernist architectural conviction that
fundamental social and political change can be implemented (solely) by design. The con-
tradiction that Gámez and Rogers see “between the goal of social change and those of
market capitalism and institutionalized power” (2008, 20) could arguably be transferred
from modernist architecture to the present, from urban architecture to corporate archi-
tecture. With a quite optimistic tone, Bell suggests that for communities and individuals,
the process of designing the built environment has the potential to “solve their struggles
by reshaping their existence” (2008, 14). This approach to understanding architecture as
a proactive strategy in tackling social, cultural, political, and environmental issues reso-
nates with a framing of architectural choices as “creating a kind work environment”8 or
embodying “autonomy, freedom, solidarity”.9 Traversing the boundaries between the
corporate and the private, then, also traverses the complicated line separating a re-imag-
ination of the workplace from a mere “care-washing”. Caught between the promise
of care and the premise of capitalism, contemporary architectural writing appears to
perform a bridging between these contradictory demands by inscribing values into
structures – and, quite notably, the materials used to build them.
2. Material/Intangible: Tracing Care in Built Environments
Existing research on the connection between architecture and wellbeing frequently
focuses on the architectural and interior design of (mental) health facilities.10
Consequently, the role of architecture in these spaces is reduced to a supporting one for
clinical practitioners in a top-down hierarchy that re-inscribes existing power discrep-
ancies between patients and healthcare professionals. Instead, this article consciously
stays away from both private residences and healthcare facilities to trace the aective
potential of care in buildings where care is not conventionally a primary consideration.
Conceptualized as “the feel and emotional resonance of place” (Du 2013, 217), this
approach also connects and intersects with Birdsall et al.s exploration of how “values” are
mediated and experienced through the senses in urban, public spaces (2021). Speaking
about the shifting paradigms in architecture from the 1980s to now, Hayes argues for
an “ontology of the atmospheric—of the only vaguely dened, articulated, and indeed
perceptible, which is nevertheless everywhere present in its eects” (2010, 358). The
“atmospheric”, then, closely relates to the ideas of aective dimensions of care as an
architectural value proposed here. This section proposes that materiality plays a decisive
role in conjuring these caring, atmospheric spaces – particularly through the emphasis
on natural building materials.
A case in point: the Swatch and Omega Campus in Biel, Switzerland,11 encom-
passing the headquarters, factory, and museum of the renowned watch manufacturer,
is one of the largest hybrid mass timber structures worldwide. The choice of timber as
the main building material is contextualized by the architects as simultaneously caring
for the environment – as the material “holds much promise for the future” – and for
the well-being of employees – as “wood environments are known to contribute to
greater occupant happiness”. Underneath this reasoning, however, there appears to be
yet another logic: while the use of wood is framed as a vehicle for care on the one
hand, they are framed as an incentive for productivity on the other. What architect Luis
Barragán poignantly referred to as “emotional architecture” (see Bergh 2006) strives for
deeper sensory resonance, which could also be understood as a step away from a more
technology-driven approach to both the design process and its results. Interestingly,
technology also moves into the background in most of the descriptions – almost as if
highlighting smart technologies and smart materials is diametrically opposed to the
emphasis on the natural, the pure, the caring. The previously mentioned Taiwanese
meat processing factory, for instance, is covered in textured tiles made from clay mim-
icking “the fertile agricultural lands of this southern county” – a typical Taiwanese
cladding material evoking a sense of heritage and continuation of tradition, a sense of
the “known” in an accelerated, globalized industry. Not coincidentally, the natural mate-
rial also helps to maintain the building’s internal temperature, which is of the highest
importance to ensure an adherence to the strict quality standards of producing export-
able meat products. This dual function of natural materials in providing comfort while
at the same time enhancing productivity can also be traced in other examples. Instead of
an intangible and immaterial atmosphere, then, the focus is squarely placed on organic
material as embodiment of care. Common to these examples is their introduction of
natural elements, both in building materials and interior design, while at the same time
opposing the growth and uncontrollability of nature with clearly designated “natural”
areas. In doing so, the design draws on the calming eects of nature experiences (as for
instance Franco et al. 2017 have discussed), while at the same time entrapping these
experiences within the spatially planned structure of the built environment.
Transferring ideas about the rural idyll to the urban sphere, the integration of
plants within these corporate architectures resembles what Boer has called “scripted
environments” (2018). A similar aesthetic – a ground oor quite literally grounding
plants, which extend into a vertically open oor plan – can be found across the exam-
ples categorized in Architecture Daily, from the oces of the Spanish electronic and
informatics company discussed earlier to the administrative spheres of the Chinese
Guangming Public Service Platform. Harting et al.s terminology of “urban nature”
“admits the presence of nature even in those human environments that some consider
the antithesis of the natural” (2014, 208). In what is – somewhat optimistically – called
a “garden” in these architectural instances, the plants are not potted but still spatially
distanced from the rest of the space: placed in strategically located cutouts of the oor
paneling, centering the looming and lush palm trees as the middle point of an open
atrium or dividing paths with a succulent-laden barrier, this “natural” presence within
the “urban” remains nonetheless somewhat separate. Franco et al. (2017) emphasize
the multi-sensory aspect of nature experiences, which in turn links the well-being of
nature with the importance of not just vision, but all senses. If “perhaps touch is not
just skin contact with things, but the very life of things in the mind” (McLuhan 1994,
108), the haptic could be assumed to play an integral role in creating the experience
of (the benets of) nature within the built environment. In the examples discussed
here, the integration of natural materials as well as organic bodies nevertheless remains
restricted to the visual: out of (physical) reach, the natural needs to be “felt” rather than
“touched”, it appears. Through the shifting and changing charge of both materials and
spaces created with and by these materials, the “feel” of nature can interestingly also be
found outside of notably green and/or natural buildings.
With its imposing walls of curved aluminum panels and glass, the Guangming
Public Service Platform,12 a dual oce and administration building in Shenzhen, China,
does not immediately evoke connotations of nature and the natural from the outside.
Nonetheless, framed quite poetically as resembling a “vessel oating on the mountain”,
the perforated material not only lets fresh air into atrium spaces, but also creates intricate,
ower-like patterns from the inside. DeLanda proposes thinking about form and struc-
ture not as something imposed from the outside, but rather “as something that comes
from within the materials, a form that we tease out of those materials as we allow them
to have their say in the structure we create” (2004, 21). Despite the material hardness
of both glass and aluminum plates in this example, the built structure teases a softness
out of them, allowing the building to become a owing, breathing counterpoint to the
stillness of the skyscrapers around it. This understanding requires an openness to both
the aordance of the materials in themselves and their connectivity or, in the words of
Hale, “connecting, not cutting o; cultivating and following the ows of force rather
than imposing upon space the sentence of a closed or even ‘nished’ object for static
contemplation or inhabitation” (2013, 127).
This is precisely what I mean by tracing care in built environments: with an
emphasis on natural materials, particularly wood and stone, and owing forms, partic-
ularly circles and waves, the examples discussed here insist on care as something that
leaves traces, which in turn accumulate to aectively charge the spaces created with and
through these materials. In “The Cultural Politics of Emotion”, Ahmed begins with the
suggestion that “bodies take the shape of the very contact they have with objects and
others” (2004, 1). Following this understanding, charging the built environment with
“care” has the potential to envelop the bodies within these spheres and spaces with(in)
care. This also underlines how the caring connotations of the home, as discussed in the
previous section, can become entangled with the aective materiality of nature through
the (re)imagination of conventionally non-caring spaces. As an intangible, almost infec-
tious, force, care appears to move from the building materials to the built structure,
infusing the open space between these materials and structures as well as aecting the
bodies moving around and within them. Shifting our attention from what is there to
what is not there – the human body – the following section further complicates an
understanding of care as simultaneously grounded yet intangible.
3. Emptiness/Encounters: On the Absence of the Body
“Architecture and urbanism are always concerned with the future” (2019, 12), Fitz and
Krasny write in the introduction to Critical Care. Fundamental in (literally) building
the future, architecture is at the same time also concerned with the imagination of
more livable futures – for our environments, but also our own bodies, our own selves.
Whereas the discursive negotiation of natural building materials and their relation to
both sustainable and aective experience, as discussed above, is more concerned with
the former, the positioning and movement of the human body within such charged
spaces should not be overlooked. Between a striking emptiness and the promise of
more meaningful encounters, this section explores how the absence of the body adds a
further political dimension to the architectural imagination of caring spaces. Replacing
the clear lines of the “cubicle oce” or the “assembly line”, the design of the examples
discussed in this article quite literally opens up new conceptions of how public and
private infrastructures “work”. At the same time, the emphasis on transparency and
visibility could also be understood as a perversion of the panopticon as a “socio-spatial
diagram of one-way visibility wherein practices and subjectivities are produced to meet
the anonymous gaze of authority” (Dovey 2013,137), particularly in the corporate/
public settings discussed here. Rather than an unidirectional visibility, the control
through an invisible authority becomes dispersed to everyone in the room as well as to
the room itself – again juxtaposing previously discussed senses of privacy and serenity.
Framed in clear contrast to historical perceptions of the juridical complex and
its architectural embodiment, the Singapore State Courts,13 which comprise district
and magistrate courts in fty-three vertically stacked courtrooms and fty-four hearing
chambers, extend this idea of openness: the design eschews a reecting facade in favor
of a series of open terraces, naturally completed with lush planted gardens, and “the
court tower as a result appears light, open, and welcoming”. Yet, precisely by perform-
ing an architectural openness, these spaces remain highly structured and streamlined,
especially with regards to the implicit potential for interaction. The spatial division
of the Singapore State Courts into two separate towers – the one in the front accom-
modating the courtrooms and the one in the back the juridical oces – is specically
designed to “not only bring light deep into the building but help keep the circulation of
the judges, persons-in-custody, and the public separate”. Following the understanding
that “architecture is always and everywhere implicated in practices of power” (Dovey
2013, 133), the structural inscription of dierent spheres underneath a layer of welcom-
ing openness keeps the existing practices of power in place.
The Huis van Albrandswaard,14 the oce building of the Dutch municipality
of Albrandswaard, similarly plays with the idea of interaction through spatial connec-
tivity: “The cafeteria for the civil servants is merged with the sports cafeteria of the
connecting gym. This encourages more interaction between council members and
citizens”. However, this architectural choice ultimately does not encourage dialogue,
but rather a sense of mirroring by portraying civil servants as “just like us” while not
actually providing meaningful access to mutual civic exchange. Interestingly, the munic-
ipal building is one of the rare examples of a featured project depicting people within
the photographs, and yet only underlines this point: the only (human) body featured in
the selection of thirteen photographs is a municipality employee. Framed and half con-
cealed by the walls of a towering wooden cubicle, the employee, already small within
the vast openness of the room itself, is looking down at a laptop screen opposite an
empty chair, evoking connotations of an inaccessible, impersonal bureaucratic apparatus
more than an interactive sphere. Although open spaces can be a potential critique on
the crowdedness and business of modern life – recalling “silence as an architectural form
all its own” (Hays 1984, 22) – the silence in this image rather detaches the building
from the life both inside and outside its walls. Assuming that creating caring spaces for
communities is only possible through discourse, the absence of an engagement with the
existing dynamics, particularly within governmental buildings, is striking.
Writing on the urban as increasingly post-political sphere, Boer argues that
“inhabitants are treated as consumers rather than citizens, who also need to work
increasingly eciently, which fuels the demand for smooth, friction-free urban spaces”
(2018). This notion of a friction-free sphere can also be applied to the examples dis-
cussed here: in the absence of interaction, of encounters, of engagement, the productive
and potentially disruptive possibility of friction is also undermined in favor of a smooth,
continuous progression of existing processes. Provocatively, one might even ask whether
this quietness might allude to the “ideal” of a society that does not disagree with exist-
ing power structures and dynamics. Expanding on Dovey’s proposition of understand-
ing buildings as an “assemblage of socio-spatial ows and intersections” (2013, 131),
the architectural choices discussed here can be read as conscious attempts to direct
these ows and shape these intersections towards continuation rather than interaction,
towards docility rather than possibility. While there are certainly aesthetic reasons for
purely architecturally focused photography, the tension between the visuals of empty
spaces and the discourses of a public sphere for encounter and interaction is palpable.
In this context, it is relevant to place these architectural photographs at a spe-
cic phase of the architectural process. Instead of “render ghosts” (Bridle 2014), virtual
inhabitants of rendered and (yet) unbuilt spaces, the examples discussed here leave us
with just the architecture, just the building, just the physical specications of an unoc-
cupied space. As Palacios puts it: “Render ghosts will not survive and will disappear
without leaving traces. An empty space is waiting for us to occupy it. We will take their
place” (2013). The architectural photographs discussed here, then, appear to capture the
in-between of virtual renderings – lled with rendered ghosts – and the actual “life” in
and of these buildings. In this sense, these projects have moved beyond the imaginary
space between existence and non-existence, assuring us that these spaces do not need to
be lled with the eerie humanity of render ghosts to manifest their potential as a caring
space. In the absence of either virtualized or real interactions, the emphasis on care as
an intangible yet ever-present aective force within these spaces becomes particularly
remarkable. Detached from the speed of construction and capitalism, these architectural
photos present a specic moment in time in which the aesthetic represents the utopian
ideal of the architects writing these designs. Expanding on Ahmed’s exploration of “how
emotions circulate between bodies, examining how they ‘stick’ as well as move” (2004,
4), we might understand buildings as a type of body as well – a material and ideological
body, holding the potential to (quite directly) inuence the positioning, the stillness, and
the movement of other bodies. If emotions can “stick” to this architectural body as well,
then grounding the intangible idea of care in specic materials and design elements
through a language of transparency and dialogue can infuse the space as a whole with
its aective force even in the absence of (human) bodies. Just like the presence of render
ghosts in virtual renderings, their absence in the photography of completed buildings,
the very emptiness of these built structures, holds potential – a potential to re-imagine
social, urban, political spheres in a dierent way.
4. Conclusion
In the afterword to their overview of architectural theory, Hays and Sykes propose a
similarly atmospheric thinking about architectural thought and practice as involving
not just (techno)logical decision-making, but aective dimensions as well: “Writing the
new architecture means writing with the body as much as the mind, apprehending the
atmospheric and the ecological as feeling and aect as well as thought – folding and
refolding the situation, thickening and articulating it into narrative structures, squeezing
it to yield its social precipitate” (2010, 359). “Writing” architecture, here, should be
understood as the writing both of and about the design, as in the examples raised in
this article. The blurring of boundaries between the corporate and the private – work
and life – through both aesthetics and argumentation is exemplary of this duality. On
the one hand, the idea of a private sphere distanced from the expectations and pres-
sure of work is enveloped within the corporate setting through spatial (for instance
the integration of secluded-yet-visible areas) and material choices (with a particular
emphasis on softness). Focused on materiality, the architectural writing of the sensory
resonance of care – in wood and in plants, through organic materials and owing
structures – opens our minds to how an abstract concept such as care can be grounded.
On the other hand, the aective potential of these choices appears not to be self-evi-
dent, as the architectural descriptions still need to explicitly point out the atmospheric
experience of a kind, caring sphere. Although not explicitly referenced by Sykes and
Hays, the link to the Deleuzian fold situates this dual process of “writing architecture”
as a multi-sensorial dialogue between the building and the body. Similarly, Grosz urges
us – again at the intersection between architecture and philosophy – to “explore the
possibilities of becoming, the virtualities latent in building, the capacity of buildings to
link with and make other series deect and transform while being transformed in the
process” (2001, 73). This attention to possibility also draws a connection between the
blurred boundaries of caring space discussed in the rst section “Hub/Home”, the caring
materiality of natural materials as both sustainable and aective choices in the second
section “Material/Intangible”, and the negotiation of embodied caring connections in the
third section “Emptiness/Encounter” of this article.
Expanding the directionality of care from a caring for to a caring through mate-
riality, the idea of embedding caring in built environments becomes a possibility here,
thus transforming our understanding of the capacity of buildings. At the same time,
the immediate linking between dimensions of care and themes of productivity and
performance, eciency and docility, complicates this potential for an “architecture of
change” (Gámez and Rogers 2008, 22). As “valuation can be seen as both produc-
tion and performance of values” (Birdsall et al. 2021, 351), exploring how the idea of
“care” is employed in the framing of architectural design projects also broadens exist-
ing discussions of urban (re)development. If “value assessments are often articulated
through performative means”, as Birdsall et al. (2021, 351) propose, the performance
of care becomes at the same time value-driven and value-driving. In this regard, both
the framing of architecture and the architecture itself can be understood as modes of
expression to ascertain care as a value embedded in the architectural process and its
result. Ballantyne states – almost matter-of-factly – that “it is inevitable that there are
interactions between buildings and people. It is the point of building” (2013, 183). Yet,
the interaction between corporate buildings and the people moving in and through
them remains somewhat vague or absent in architectural writing, therefore reinserting
“the point of building” towards neoliberal logics in what could be seen as a corporate
“carewashing” (The Care Collective 2020) of sorts.
As “segmented assemblages resonate with other assemblages at similar and dif-
ferent scales” (Dovey 2013, 135), the examples discussed here should nonetheless be
understood as situated within their respective urban environments and their practices
of power. Following an understanding of the city itself as “a (collective) body-prosthesis
or boundary that enframes, protects, and houses while at the same time taking its own
forms and functions from the (imaginary) bodies it constitutes” (Grosz 2001, 49), the
interrelation of the body, the building, and the city in a complex entanglement of
aordances and limitations becomes even more notable. Frichot and Loo suggest that
“architecture has renewed its investment in social concerns and a politics of space,
becoming increasingly open to new and vibrant material understandings of a fragile
world that is intricately and globally interconnected” (2013, 5). However, it remains to
be seen whether this “renewed investment” becomes more than lip service instigated
by the aforementioned dicult positioning of architecture between art and industry,
between calls for community practices and commercial interests. At the same time, the
potential of architecture as both theory and practice to create a more caring, more
transparent, more connected world in and through the built environment should not
be underestimated. Approaching existing and emerging architectural projects critically
allows for further exploration of the interdependency between spaces, places, and
“communities that care” (The Care Collective 2020, 50). In this understanding, care
becomes, quite literally, structural.
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by CSMM for Bosch Security and Safety Things
GmbH – are available here: https://www.cs-mm.
2 Less optimistically, one might also draw a
connection between this fabric-covered room and
the inescapability of a padded cell.
3 As an important disclaimer: I do not mean to
suggest that architecture has not ”cared” in the past,
but rather aim to highlight the crucial distinction
between caring as an architectural practice (by
architects) and the inscription of caring values into
built environments (through architectural writing).
4 See
5 See
6 See
7 For a further discussion of this, see for instance
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8 …as the combination of materials, textures
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11 See
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13 See
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