Each building, once erected, spatially structures certain parts of the world for us, and we can either adopt this structure, or reject it. For example, a building directs our gaze through lines of sight, or through pictorial or graphic elements, e.g. in a museum. Moreover, semiotic as well as spatial cues help us to understand the social situation we happen to be part of: A restaurant’s dining room, for instance, is different from its kitchen, which is why waiters (who understand the cues) behave differently, depending on whether they are in the dining room or the kitchen. Buildings also convey the way in which we can relate to each other communicatively, e.g. a lecture hall is spatially different from a seminar room (so are the discussions), and they pre-figure courses of action, for instance when we’re shopping in a supermarket. Rather in terms of their materiality, buildings create atmospheres that affect us (for example in a stadium or a church building) or they simply get in our way of which prisons are good examples. The panel is intended to explore whether social and cultural science perspectives on architecture can help to inspire an interdisciplinary spatial research. In terms of social theory, it seems to be most fruitful to understand buildings not only as passive expressions of the social in the non-social world of objects, but as material products of human social actions that act back on them. This opens up a wide range of empirical questions that form the background for addressing the methodological problems this session is actually aimed at. With regard to processes of planning and erecting a building empirical projects might ask: How do architects intervene in a place with their design? How do administrative regulations and the building industry pre-structure design work? Once a building is erected and ‘there’, empirical projects look at what it ‘does’ by standing where it stands and ask: How does it direct gazes and movements? What meaning do people ascribe to a building, both through using it practically and through talking, discussing or fighting about it? Has it become a symbol of something? And, finally, with regard to its use, empirical projects ask: How is a building actually used? By whom? For what? Is it being used according to its original idea? Or is it being reused or even alienated? If yes, what happens to the original idea? What levels of meaning are attributed to the building with a possible new use? While these questions could provide some empirical background for the debate, the focus of the session will be on the reflection of methodological problems associated with architectural research and on methods that could help to better understand the social significance of buildings.
I therefore invite papers that present and discuss – the connection between the theoretical conceptualization of architecture and methodological questions associated with this – methods that help to capture the materiality and/or spatiality of architectural objects – arts- and design-based methods that explore buildings (or aspects of them) – spatial methods that help to understand floor plans and the arrangement of rooms – methods for analyzing visual and textual discourses about the meaning of buildings – methods for analyzing the (sometimes conflicting) (re-)uses of buildings – methods that help to capture the atmospheric qualities of buildings – methods that help to understand the semiotic elements of buildings.