P7-06 Architectural Anthropology: Exploring Disciplinary and Material Boundaries


Marie Stender
The Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg University


Laura Helene Højring
The Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg University


Laura Helene Højring
The Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg University


Kirstine Brøgger Jensen
The Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg University

First we shape buildings, and then they shape us, as Churchill is often quoted. The relationship between human beings and their built environments is however not a one-way, ended process, but rather an on-going entanglement worthwhile scrutinizing. Some anthropologists refer to this field of research as “Anthropology of architecture “ (Buchli 2013) or “Ethnography of architecture” (Yaneva 2009), while others have suggested closer interdisciplinary collaboration through terms like “Architectural anthropology” (Amerlinck 2001) or even “Anthropology-by-means-of-architecture” (Gatt & Ingold 2013).

A key difference between architecture and anthropology can be understood as one of temporality: Whereas anthropologists tend to focus on lived lives and local realities, architects and designers look forward and seek to add something new to the world. Design-anthropologists have sought to overcome this difference through various methods of co-design and intervention (Gunn, Otto & Smith 2013). Design anthropology has established itself as a sub-discipline in research as well as practice, but this is not yet the case for architectural anthropology. Should architectural anthropology be similarly developed or rather collaborate across disciplinary boundaries in different ways? How can qualitative anthropological approaches contribute to contemporary architecture? And just as importantly: What can anthropologists learn from architects’ understanding of spatial and material surroundings?

Recent theoretical developments in anthropology stress the role of materials and things, but if things can speak, as post-humanist approaches have suggested (Holbraad 2011), what tools do anthropologists actually have to hear what they are saying? What methods and approaches can anthropologists employ to understand and maybe also contribute to architectural design and the shaping of built environments? Boundaries are a suitable empirical starting point for the discussion as boundaries is of common interest for anthropology and architecture: Boundaries between inside and outside, between public and private, between different neighbourhoods, social spheres and groups are consolidated or transformed by way of architecture and urban design.

Other themes of the panel can include but are not restricted to:

  • Anthropological theories and methods applied on architecture
  • Creativity, power and materiality in architectural design-processes
  • Vernacular architecture and architecture as a global commodity
  • Transition and time in built environments
  • Architecture as technology and artefact
  • Public space, marginalized citizens and socially vulnerable neighbourhoods
  • Space and place in everyday urban life
  • Architectural (poetic) methods as a mean to explore and represent social practice and sensory experience

IUAES2015 panel session #6 #7 [Room 221]
16 July 2015, 13.30 – 15.00 hrs., 15.15 – 16.45 hrs.


What to Learn from Architectural Fieldwork?: Seeking to substantiate refurbishment of social housing areas in Denmark
Kirstine Brøgger Jensen

Learning from Hong Kong In Between
Geralidine Borio

Penumbra Materialities: the Anthropology of time-space in the nocturnal city
Nick Dunn

Architechtural Anthropology – Fieldwork among buildings?
Marie Stender

Maribor is the Future! Grass-rooted Creative Spaces as Generators of Urban Heartbeat in the Post-industrial City

Collage Technique: How to produce knowledge through visual representations
Laura Helene Højring