Master of Architecture II Spring 2019

Professor Diana Agrest 

The Body: Corporeal Boundaries and Spatial Intersections
The subject of the body has deep roots in Western architecture theories from the texts of the Renaissance reading of Vitruvius. From Alberti to Francesco di Giorgio Martino and Filarete, the body has been a referent, a tool, and a construction in which the body (of man) is both a rhetorical construction having perfect proportions and harmony, and an embodiment of nature and thus God, consistent with the transfer of the center from God to man. We can fast forward to the culture of disembodiment brought about as a result of cybernetics, information, mediatization, and, in general, virtual reality, in a world that becomes a simulacrum and in which the body becomes in its many forms of representation a simulacrum itself.

In the long stretch in between there are all forms of architectural constructions of the body from Ernst Neufert's "Architects Data" of 1936 to The Modulor by Le Corbusier of 1945 and 1955, or the implied control of the body in the earlier Radiant City of 1930 through the question of healthy bodies through sun, air, and open space. One could certainly say a lot about these narratives of control of the body in space related to the body as such as a machine in a prevailing technocratic ideology and the body as a tool for consumption and control of the space of habitation. But while these are meant to be social tools, one could still ask, what body is the body in question?

And then there is the question of the places and spaces affected by and/or affecting the body and the modes of control such as the institutions famously studied by Michel Foucault in History of Madness and Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison and the dimension of pleasure in The History of Sexuality. But again, what body? The question is that of difference as opposed to the universalization of an abstract (male) body. Differences of all kinds, starting with questions of sex and gender which touch on the most profound forces that travel through fluids and synapses traversing the whole body via billions of possible routes, rhythms, and outcomes, each unique. And all this contained in the counterintuitive package of a ridiculous structure holding organs like a Christmas tree submerged in a fluid medium and all wrapped up in skin!! 

But this body is affected if not completely determined by socio-political, economic, cultural, and ideological environments and enacted in diverse places and modes of habitation. This brings us back to the question of what bodies are we talking about and where are these bodies? 

Or one could look at the body, in its corporeality and the pushing of the limits of the body itself as in athletic activities and competitive sports, becoming at once actors being the subject of the spectacle, as in the Olympics, rock climbing or cave explorations. Or the overcoming of its boundaries through the means of possible extensions, from those related to the senses to parts of the entire body through the possibilities afforded by constantly changing and advancing technologies that have expanded from the mechanical to the digital. All forms of prosthetic devices, some remedial and some just expansive, per se,  become actually cyborgs as Donna Haraway so vividly prognosticated.

This studio critically explored the different ways in which the body as an object of study can be interpreted through the intersection of its own boundaries with different spatial conditions, discourses, and disciplines. This exploration was developed in different contexts, new narratives and potential conditions through which a process of transformation unfolds. 

These M.Arch II projects simultaneously addressed the specific object of study as described above and its relation to architectural discourse today. 

—Diana Agrest

< Back to Selected Graduate Design Studio Projects



Projects & Links

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.