2015 Fall Conference


2015 ACSA Fall Conference: Between the Autonomous & Contingent Object
October 8-10, 2015 | Syracuse, NY
Host School: Syracuse University School of Architecture
Co-chairs: Roger Hubeli & Julie Larsen, Syracuse University
Conference Press Release
Abstract Book
  Conference Program


Sometimes when we set out to fix what is broken, we can argue not only about what the fix should be but what the original problem was. The ongoing debate on architecture's position between autonomous discipline and cultural product is rearing its head once again to decipher where ‘architecture’ is ‘broken’ and how it should be ‘fixed’. It seems timely, given the 30th Anniversary of K. Michael Hays’ essay in Perspecta 1984, ‘Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form’ that we revisit the debate on the tension between autonomy and contingency. Hays acknowledged that, “Authorship can resist the authority of culture, stand against the generality of habit and the particularity of nostalgic memory, and still have a very precise intention.” [1] Without reverting backwards, what can this debate offer for the current discourse on the design and production of the architectural object? 

From the proponents of the autonomous or the post-critical, that embrace Tafuri's assertion to ‘not worry, [but] just do architecture' [2] to those who embrace Stan Allen’s notion to see architecture as ‘messy and inconsistent’ [3] because we always must ‘negotiate a reality’ [4] - that creates a cultural product influenced by issues of materiality, the economy, the environment, and other contingencies, we are now coming back to Hays and asking - Is there actually an in-between? As we see architecture returning its focus to the object, is it only to be read as an autonomous proposition or rather as contingent on external environmental conditions, or both? 

So, what is at stake with either position?
Does the development of the architectural object need to be autonomous to control the final form or ‘image’ we want to convey? If architecture retreats to an autonomous production of form without considering contingent issues such as the environment or the economy, will it become too self-referential and unable to engage with ‘real-world’ issues?  And if architecture neglects what some would call the “disciplinary discourse” and relies solely on contingent issues to justify form, do we lose integrity as a discipline as we distance ourselves from the core? Or can contingencies, such as energy consumption, the environment, or technological advancements enhance the final form without losing the integrity of a designer’s intended ‘project’?

That sounds like the makings of a debate, so lets have it. [5]

For or Against:
There is an ‘in-between’ to the Autonomous and Contingent Object 

The Debate
With a focus on the architectural object, this conference aims for submissions that offer material for debate through both papers as well as projects. We will attempt to include as many project sessions pertaining to design and architectural objects as paper sessions. The conference invites session topics that will, in fact, debate the relevance of autonomous production of form vs. contingencies that inform a ‘project’. The goal of the conference is to use a debate-style, cross-examination to find the potential of a new architectural object that can be informed by the tension between opposing views and changing realities that offer new, dynamic conditions.

The Merger
Rarely will designers/thinkers/makers not find some common ground, so the debate sets up a possibility for a third option to emerge where architecture contends with todays assemblage of contingent influences but still remains formally and spatially autonomous. Whether as practitioners, academics, or both, many designers focus on the relationship between architectural form and the contingencies that generate productive architectural projects, from the economical to the tectonic to the ecological. We also invite proposals that are engaged with contingencies that become productive, not a hindrance, to the object.

The Concluding Remarks
We will conclude the two-day conference ‘debate’ with a round-table ‘spontaneous’ discussion that will potentially spur a heated discussion of where we stand today, how we move forward and where the potential lies for the architecture discipline. What are we aspiring to and where do we go from here? We see this final debate as a means to define a new future, new possibilities, and new trajectories for the discipline, for pedagogy, and for the profession of architecture. 

Call for Participation

The 2015 Fall Conference co-chairs invite abstract submissions that address the range of topics related to ‘autonomy’ and ‘contingency’ in relation to the architectural object. View fill information on the Call for Abstracts page.

+ Registration
+ Location + Lodging
+ Schedule / Debate Groups
+ Keynote Speakers
+ Roster


For questions please contact: 

Eric Wayne Ellis
Monique Thomason
Director of Operations and Programs
Programs Manager

[1] Hays, K. Michael. Perspecta Vol 21 (1984) Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form p.27
[2] There is no criticism, only history, Interview with Manfredo Tafuri, conducted in Italian by Richard Ingersoll and translated to English, Design Book Review, no. 9, spring 1986, pages 8–11.
[3] Allen, Stan. Practice vs. Project, in Practice: Architecture, Technique and Representation, (London: Routledge, 2009)
[4] ibid
[5] Inspired by the words of John Donovan of Intelligence Squared