School buildings as performative machines: the new architectural devices of control

Benjamin Blackwell, Albena Yaneva: School buildings as performative machines: the new architectural devices of control. In: Social & Cultural Geography, 2024.


The past two decades saw a growing attention to the role of design for the geography of education and simultaneously shifted architectural attention towards the understanding of different forms of pedagogy. Yet, careful empirical engagements with the material architecture of contemporary school buildings and the experiences they mediate are still scarce or missing. Focussing on how mechanisms of control are imagined and practiced in the design and use of school buildings, this article fleshes out a picture of the performative spatial machinery of schools. It will do so drawing on designers’ accounts, plans and visions for a Building Schools for the Future (BSF) building in Liverpool, UK and on accounts of the experiences of different school dwellers. Overcoming the dualist understanding of education as an activity that happens in objective frames of learning (the static architecture of the schools) or the subjective interpretations of users (the perception of teachers and students), we trace specific practices of ‘dwelling’ in the school building and identify architectural and designerly techniques for modulating control. Instead of dissipating or reducing control, or merely reproducing the classic forms of power, this versatile and porous type of architecture, we argue, multiplies and diversifies the forms of ‘polycentric’ control exercised through various intersecting lines of
sight and sound.

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