Since its inception, KoozArch has committed to exploring architecture beyond its built form, arguing that the potential inherent in design cannot and should not be limited to the creation of objects and buildings. Through a radical editorial strategy based on four conceptual pillars (tool for critical thinking, research for action, ground for virtual world-making and re-use, repair and regeneration), KoozArch proposes that challenging the foundations and limits of architecture—as a profession, as a theory, as a way of understanding the world—is the only way to expand its reach and ensure its relevance in the current world, without losing sight of its essence and objectives. Precisely in an effort to establish which structures should architecture question, which influence should it expand, which transcendence should it maintain and which is its fundamental raison d'être, KoozArch inaugurates its first bimonthly editorial series with the title Agents Provocateurs: agitate normality.
KoozArch proposes that challenging the foundations and limits of architecture—as a profession, as a theory, as a way of understanding the world—is the only way to expand its reach and ensure its relevance in the current world.
At this point in the game, the socio-environmental, socio-economic, and socio-political crises that afflict our planet and our species have changed the parameters—the rules of the game, so to speak—that govern our daily lives. It is worth remembering we are active participants, not to say the main responsible parties, of such crises.
In this context, it is a reality that the role of architecture on the global stage has diminished since the end of the previous century. It is no news that the identity of architecture and those of us who practice and study it has been in crisis for some time now. Accepting the truth of this scenario, but aware that the path to building a new paradigm begins with critical thinking and joint reflection, inclusive of different voices and therefore multidimensional in scope, KoozArch proposes to start by asking: what is the agency of architecture today?
What is the agency of architecture today?
Within sociology, social movement and criminal justice studies, as well as in the social imaginary, the term agent provocateur has been used to describe a person directly involved in an undercover operation. As put by Professor Gary T. Max in "Agents Provocateurs as a Type of Faux Activist"1:
"When authorities or elites are challenged by a social movement, they may ignore it or respond with a variety of tools—from cooptation to redirection to repression—with many points in between. One extreme form of the latter is provocation. The idea of the agent provocateur entered popular consciousness in the 19th century as Europe experienced dislocation and conflicts associated with industrialization and urbanization. The concept initially referred to an activist secretly working with authorities who might provide information, sow suspicion and internal dissension, and/or provoke violent actions that would turn public opinion against a social movement and offer legal and moral grounds for its repression."
Aware of this definition—historically associated with secret police and other secret agencies close to the ruling powers that seek to infiltrate non-governmental organizations in order to gain control and dismantle any type of unwanted resistance—KoozArch asks: what if things were reversed? What would happen if the only way to disrupt the status quo, to shake up all those detrimental ideas and harmful ways of doing—which even after having demonstrated their anachronism and unsustainability are still being taught, learned, practiced, and perpetuated in our built environment—is to initiate change through provocative action and agitation, no longer from the outside, but from the inside of the trench?
What would happen if the only way to disrupt the status quo, to shake up all those detrimental ideas and harmful ways of doing is to initiate change through provocative action and agitation from the inside of the trench?
With the clear intention of disrupting the language and conceptual constructions associated with the term, KoozArch redefines the agent provocateur and places it in a sphere where their activism is not superficial or deceptive but visibly provocative and at the same time coherent with their values, true to their spirit.
Agents provocateurs questionconventional pedagogy and practice and challenge the limits and meanings of design. Against the archetype of the self-isolated architectural genius, they propose and thrive in collaborative efforts. They are interdisciplinary—they can’t be subsumed under the finite umbrella of architecture.
Agents provocateurs uncover institutionalized racial, ethnic and gender inequalities and push for long-term viable solutions. Their practice investigates injustice, within human and other-than-human rights. Their research impacts diverse geographies, both the historically colonized and historically colonizing. Their projects weave through multiple scales: local, continental and planetary.
Agents provocateurs acknowledge the climate crisis and investigate alternatives to unsustainable extraction and ecological destruction. Their approaches are unconventional, yet they bring about change, imagining alternative scenarios and more inclusive futures for all.
It is with this ambition and through a series of commissioned essays, conversations and drawings that our forthcoming series, spanning the months of May and June 2023, aims to inspire and invigorate our readers and help us all imagine new possibilities for the present and future of architecture. In curating the series, we have intentionally avoided thematic lenses, rather expecting the flexible practices of agents provocateurs to overlap in their investigations, challenges and proposals. The practices we have invited to participate are transdisciplinary by nature, so our readers can identify more than a single scope of action in all of their research and projects.
In this way, KoozArch inaugurates its first editorial series with a variety of voices in order to provoke a cultural and ideological change. Today, the architectural profession faces challenges that go far beyond the production of plans, the choosing of building materials, or the design of beautiful sustainable forms. With the help of thinkers and practitioners whose work understands that the foundations of practice need to mobilise, KoozArch promises to question the regular, the common and the simple, going beyond the built over the next few weeks.
Agents provocateurs are here to play their part: creative provocation is their agency, they transcend and reach beyond the discipline.
Sometimes impossible to transform themselves due to the economic and political structures that surround them, but at the same time, often complicit in situations that perpetuate sociospatial inequality and conceptual lethargy, architecture and design need to be reimagined from the inside. Agents provocateurs are here to play their part: creative provocation is their agency, they transcend and reach beyond the discipline.
1 Agents Provocateurs as a Type of Faux Activist in Snow, David A. 2013. The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements. Malden, MA: Wiley.
Cover: Qinhuangdao Coal Terminal, China. Source: www.over-view.com
Image 01 - Courtesy of Malkit Shoshan.
Image 02 - MOULD, Architecture is Climate. Diagram drawn by Sarah Bovelett. Comissioned by e-flux and the Jencks Foundation as part of their Chronograms series. 2023
Image 03 - Spaziale. Courtesy of Fosbury Architecture.
Image 04 - OMA, Islamic Arts Biennale. Photo: Marco Cappalletti.
Image 05 - Slides from William Balée’s photographic archive, from An Architectural Botany, 2018-2022. Courtesy of Paulo Tavares
Image 06 - Self portrait with megaphone. Courtesy of Suzanne Dhaliwal
Image 07 - Courtesy of Société d'Objets Cartographiques (SOC)
Image 08 - Courtesy of Kiel Moe.
Image 09 - Non-Extractive Architecture: On Designing without Depletion. Curated by Space Caviar at V-A-C Zattere. Photo: Marco Cappelletti