Architecture, Collaboration, and Knowledge Production

Architecture, Collaboration, and Knowledge Production (July 10 talk, Washington DC)
Patrik Svensson


Why would anyone want to block the newly installed glass window in their office door (meant to enable easier access for people and support collaboration)? What is the use of a large floor screen in a humanities lab? Do beanbags make us more creative? Can collaboration be enhanced through open office environments, labs or studio spaces? How can we recruit the imaginative power of space and infrastructure? Can we design spaces that will guarantee high-quality (or even stellar) work?

Space and infrastructure condition knowledge production, manifest conceptual underpinnings and activate certain expectations. For example, the teacher owns a third of the space of an “agrarian” or “industrial” classroom” (Scott-Webber, 2004) and is not fettered to a single position. Students are normally aligned in rows and expected to be seated. The presentation infrastructure in such and other scholarly environments typically consists of a centrally placed single screen and slide software used to show a single slide at time, thus enacting a singular, central perspective with little material support for collaborative making, retention and alternative narrative strategies such as scale and juxtaposition (Robles-Anderson & Svensson, 2016). Similarly, traditional departmental hallways, seminar rooms and humanities centers enact certain ideas about academic work through their architecture and infrastructure. Space and infrastructure do not determine academic work, but rather suggest and enable (sometimes strongly) certain interactional modalities that are in turn embedded in an institutional, epistemic and social context.

This talk will briefly explore the connection between architecture, collaboration and knowledge production through 1) mapping conceptual underpinnings to architecture and infrastructure, 2) suggesting that we need to have a much stronger vision for humanities infrastructure, and 3) pointing to the importance of experimental practice as a way of supporting emergent work practices and sentiments in the humanities and elsewhere. A basic argument is that we need to have or develop an idea about what we want to be and that space and infrastructure can help us to get there. Shannon Mattern writes that the “architectural design process provides an unparalleled opportunity for institutional closet-cleaning and psychoanalysis” (Mattern, 2007). Particular attention will be paid to collaborative work practices and to the integration of physical and digital materiality. The talk will be supported by photos and film material throughout as well as a few case studies.


Mattern, S. (2007). The new downtown library : designing new communities. Minneapolis Minn.: University of Minnesota Press.

Robles-Anderson, E., & Svensson, P. (2016). “One Damn Slide After Another”: PowerPoint at Every Occasion for Speech. Computational Culture, (5).

Scott-Webber, L. (2004). In sync : environmental behavior research and the design of learning spaces. Ann Arbor  Mich.: Society for College and University Planning.

Photo: The Graduate Center, CUNY (Lisa Tagliaferri)/Patrik Svensson. From “Unflattening and Enacting Visualization”, June 9, 2016.


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