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Edinburgh Research Explorer Architectural Agents: The Delusional, Abusive, Addictive Lives of Buildings, by Annabel Jane Wharton Citation for published version: Williams, R 2015, 'Architectural Agents: The Delusional, Abusive, Addictive Lives of Buildings, by Annabel Jane Wharton' Times Higher Education, pp. 52-53.

Link: Link to publication record in Edinburgh Research Explorer Document Version: Publisher's PDF, also known as Version of record

Published In: Times Higher Education Publisher Rights Statement: © Williams, R. (2015). Architectural Agents: The Delusional, Abusive, Addictive Lives of Buildings, by Annabel Jane Wharton. Times Higher Education, 52-53.

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5/21/2015

Architectural Agents: The Delusional, Abusive, Addictive Lives of Buildings, by Annabel Jane Wharton | Books | Times Higher Education

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Architectural  Agents:  The  Delusional,  Abusive,  Addictive  Lives  of Buildings,  by  Annabel  Jane  Wharton 21  May  2015  |  By  Richard  J.  Williams Richard  J.  Williams  on  an  entertaining  study  that  takes  in  Las  Vegas,  Jerusalem  and  the  online  worlds  of  Second Life Annabel  Jane  Wharton’s  provocative  and  entertaining  book  shows  how  buildings  may  have  “agency”,  and  how “agency”  may  be  destructive  as  much  as  constructive.  The  “delusional,  abusive,  addictive”  lives  of  the  title  are cases  of  agency  gone  wrong,  from  New  York  to  Jerusalem  to  Las  Vegas  to  Second  Life.  It  has  a  moral  programme that  becomes  clear  as  the  book  goes  along:  if  buildings  misuse  their  agency,  we  should  be  able  to  stop  them. Put  like  that,  the  concept  of  architectural  agency  may  raise  a  few  academic  eyebrows.  While  we  might  invoke architectural  agency  in  our  everyday  lives  (who,  at  some  level,  doesn’t  buy  into  the  notion  of  “sick  building syndrome”?),  we  steer  students  away  from  anything  that  smacks  of  anthropomorphism.  After  all,  buildings  are inanimate  objects  whose  meanings  are  just  arbitrary  things  we  project  on  to  them. Or  are  they?  It’s  a  problem  that  Wharton  deftly  gets  around  by  invoking  archaic  legal  concepts  (such  as  the medieval  English  deodand)  that  suppress  anthropomorphism  in  favour  of  a  sense  that  things  in  themselves  simply have  power  over  individuals:  they  do  not  have  to  be  conscious  to  have  agency. Wharton  then  sets  off  on  a  tour  of  some  difficult  sites,  starting  with  the  Cloisters  museum  in  Manhattan.  Here, agency  means,  simply,  murder.  In  creating  one  building,  the  Cloisters  destroyed  others,  including  the  French  abbey of  Bonnefort-­en-­Comminges.  All  museums  have  this  tendency,  Wharton  argues,  the  Cloisters  more  than  most. The  Jerusalem  case  studies  exemplify  that  city’s  appalling  history.  The  first,  the  Rockefeller  Archaeological Museum,  is  a  perpetrator  of  violence  in  its  de  facto  erasure  of  Jewish  history,  and  the  second,  the  American  Colony Hotel,  a  pacificatory  agent.  These  studies  are  extremely  rich,  and  it  is  one  of  the  book’s  great  strengths  that  they show  how  these  are  of  far  more  than  local  interest.

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/books/architectural-agents-the-delusional-abusive-addictive-lives-of-buildings-by-annabel-jane-wharton/2020235.article

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5/21/2015

Architectural Agents: The Delusional, Abusive, Addictive Lives of Buildings, by Annabel Jane Wharton | Books | Times Higher Education

The  latter  chapters  explore  Las  Vegas,  and  then  the  online  worlds  of  Second  Life,  now  a  minnow  in  the  gaming world,  and  action  adventure  games  such  as  Assassin’s  Creed.  Wharton’s  unease  in  these  environments  is  clear. To  her  immense  credit,  however,  she  doesn’t  become  proscriptive  –  instead,  she  immerses  herself  in  them, showing  with  humour  and  grace  how  they  function,  and  leaving  us  to  make  up  our  minds.  The  account  of  Vegas  is probably  the  best  thing  written  on  the  city  since  Robert  Venturi  and  Denise  Scott  Brown.  Not  only  does  it  show  how far  the  city  has  evolved,  but  just  how  complex,  and,  how  big  it  is  (the  Venetian  hotel  alone  has  more  hotel  rooms than  the  entire  city  of  Venice). The  account  of  Second  Life  has  Wharton,  beguilingly,  take  on  a  virtual  identity  (“Benevolent  String”)  and  engage  a taxi  driver  in  conversation  around  the  Israel  Department  of  Tourism’s  crude  rendering  of  the  Dome  of  the  Rock. The  book’s  conclusion  is,  unusually,  the  bit  that  does  the  theory,  with  reflections  on  agency  in  Henri  Lefebvre, Bruno  Latour  and  others.  Leaving  it  last  in  fact  gives  us  readers  some  agency.  Having  had  the  evidence,  as  it  were, we  can  see  how  well  the  theories  fit.  And  what  it  shows  up  is  the  limit  of  existing  theory.  As  Wharton  argues, extending  a  point  made  by  Bernard  Tschumi,  buildings  always  exceed  theory,  and  that  excess,  as  it  were,  provides the  space  for  agency. Does  Architectural  Agents  work?  Well,  not  entirely.  There  is  something  arbitrary  about  the  choice  of  case  studies, and  the  concept  of  agency  provokes  more  than  it  convinces.  Still,  it’s  good  to  be  made  to  think  about  architectural determinism,  when  it  is  still  in  such  use  in  the  everyday  world.  And  as  a  piece  of  writing,  this  really  is  a  tour  de force,  richly  imaginative,  and  full  of  warmth  and  insight. Architectural  Agents:  The  Delusional,  Abusive,  Addictive  Lives  of  Buildings By  Annabel  Jane  Wharton   University  of  Minnesota  Press,  344pp,  £91.50  and  £26.00   ISBN  9780816693382  and  3399   Published  15  May  2015

 (URL=http://www.tslshop.co.uk/thed-­ tsl/THEDOA76/?utm_source=THE&utm_medium=Books&utm_content=THEDOA76&utm_campaign=freetrial)

Reviewer: Richard  J.  Williams  is  professor  of  contemporary  visual  cultures,  University  of  Edinburgh.

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/books/architectural-agents-the-delusional-abusive-addictive-lives-of-buildings-by-annabel-jane-wharton/2020235.article

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