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Performance Architecture: A Performative Architectural Practice



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Schweder, Alexander 


Performance Architecture is a term that emerged from my creative practice to suggest that the architectural activities endeavored within it are influenced by concepts and histories from performance studies. This writing takes aspects of my artistic activities and recontextualizes them as academic research to develop concepts shareable across its fields of inquiry that enable new ways of evaluating it. Particular attention will be given to my performative renovations, in which domestic spaces are renovated by changing its actions rather than materials. In so doing, this thesis discovers the potential of my interdisciplinary practice to be the possibility of encountering unfamiliar subjective affects that emerge as subjects and spaces interact.

Following arts-based, practice-led and practice-based research precedents, this thesis articulates a methodology for practicing architecture through performance. Judith Butler’s writing, suggesting that subjectivity is formed performatively by iteratively enacting social norms, is the philosophical point of departure of this new methodology. However, for the formation of subjectivity to become intelligible as an outcome of architectural practice this thesis qualifies, critiques, and problematizes Butler’s performative concepts by putting them in tension with the thinking of other theorists and selected projects from my artistic practice. Analyzing these works through both theory and critical self-reflection observes performative subject formation also occurs somatically. Acknowledgement of this addition is noted when term performance architecture is nuanced by the term performative space making as the thesis develops.

Tracing the arc of this shift reveals how migrating attitudes and concepts acquired during my education and professional experience in architecture were detrimental to practicing architecture through performance. Using language developed by this thesis, hierarchical ways of working and assumptions about both the architect’s abilities and the client-participants’ needs are critiqued in comparison to collaborative approaches of theater. Refining performance architecture’s concepts also portray the profession’s object oriented metrics of success as a mainstay of architecture that has not been serving users of space as well as it might. Indeed, these ways of working are found to stymie the emergence of certain kinds of subjectivity that performance architecture as a methodology seeks to liberate and nurture. Further theorization of concepts from performance practices, such as the everyday, agency, renovation, and role-play, allows critical engagement with six performative renovations newly developed for this research. Scrutiny of these performative renovations discovers qualities of practicing architecture performatively and expands the discourse connecting performance and architecture. A key insight invigorating thoughts on future practice is that performance architecture operates emergently along non-linear routes around what this research calls unperformable acts. Additionally, significant revelations show that outcomes of this new practice are most compelling when power relations between architects and clients are equalized and that new subjectivities are encountered through a flow of attention between somatic and symbolic experiences.





Steemers, Koen


Performance Architecture, Architecture, Performance Studies, Subjectivity, Performative Renovations, Arts-Based Methodology


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge