How to design a basic human right

Architecture's Standardization in the UNHCR–Handbook for Emergencies – ongoing Dissertation by Hannah Knoop

Sketch by Ludovic van Essche, UNHCR Handbook for Emergencies, 1982, p.22.
In December 1982, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published a small blue book of 200 pages and 16 sketches. It became one of the most influential guides to the architecture of settlements in emergencies to this day, the UNHCR Handbook for Emergencies. In the 1980s, other organizations such as the United Nations Disaster Relief Organization (UNDRO), Oxfam, and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), among others, also initially published guidelines for emergencies. The UNHCR Handbook is notable in this regard for its numerous authors and consultants, the complexity of its use, and its influence as a primary object of study.
Established in 1950, UNHCR's mandate is to protect the human rights of refugees and stateless persons as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). But how does a claim to rights arise from the Declaration (1948) and how does it materialise? How is Article 25 (1) of the UDHR and the basic human right to shelter spatially defined and respected in an emergency situation? My hypothesis is that the written form of the handbook should be recognised as an act of design. In addition to the United Nations, several Euro– and US-American organisations played a central role in the drafting and circulation of the Handbook. They thus sought to define standards for the design of the Human Right to Shelter. It is time to examine how those seeking protection as a target group have likewise shaped the context of the Handbook.

Are you a Model?

With Teresa Fankhänel (University of Michigan/Broad Museum), Anna Luise Schubert (Center for Documentary Architecture), Lisa Beißwanger (Universität Koblenz), Chris Dähne (TU Darmstadt), Christiane Fülscher (FH Dortmund)

What does it mean to call something a model? Which implications, projections or desires are called to the table? With architecture as a discipline working with substitute media and through displaced methods (architects, in fact, do not build buildings), this project puts the model front and center in an assessment of architectural thinking and doing. Where the introduction of BIM (building information modeling) has presented a key change in architectural praxis and hence, its future archives, an historical and epistemological investigation into modeling is necessary. It is precisely such technological shifts and new practices that call the architectural model as seemingly stable object into question. Rather than placing the model in categories lodged on either side of dichotomies such as analogue vs. digital or representational vs. conceptual, this project investigates the role of the model precisely on and between such dividing lines—there is a renewed urgency to discuss this when much hope (and investment) is placed in seemingly perfect simulation models, be it economic, meteorological or medical. After the international conference at TU Darmstadt in November 2022, we are now working on an edited volume to be published by Jovis Verlag in the spring of 2024. By looking at architectural models, this volume analyses model-making, model-seeing and model-being as epistemological processes: models both project and confirm, speculate and simulate. Through models, spatial imagination becomes manifest in different scales, travels through different textures and materials in a cyclical series of translations, tests, and (partial) reproductions. In short, it is through models that architecture materializes its expression of the possible.

Coded Objects, Paper Architectures

Located in the seams between what conventionally gets called “architecture history” (monographic accounts or analysis of large-scale buildings) and history of science and technology, this project benefits from its disciplinary overlap. Treating algorithmic thinking as inseparable from an aestheticized rationalism uncovers a profound aesthetic and epistemic convergence between seemingly opposed historical movements and actors. At the same time it investigates the question of "paper architecture" not as radical revolution of representation, but as the (equally radical) formation of bureaucratic administrative processes on standardized paper sheets. This project brings to the fore the urge to question a ready dichotomy of design and bureaucracy, and of “neutral” technology and morality. Placing a history of algorithmic thinking in spatial vicinity to the making of architecture and the history of science promises to unveil uncomfortable friction and productive affinities necessary for this history to bear on the present.This research project aims to construct a portrait of algorithmic thinking as a set of both human and aesthetic negotiations alongside the technical collection and commutation of data points through prescribed programs. We investigate several case studies of the 19th and 20th century, where architects together with bureaucrats tried to devise methods to automate design. This project employs three modes of scholarly expertise: rigorous, in-depth individual archival research to prepare the case studies, intensive interdisciplinary exchange in an international symposium to work out shared terminology and test methodologies with other scholars, and, lastly, a series of publications as public contribution to a discourse that urgently needs historical scholarly attention.

Coded Objects - The Forms of Proto-Algorithmic Thinking

In cooperation with the KHI Florence

At a moment when the design and distribution of information through algorithms has become a domi- nant driver of world politics and economy, the formal and material implications of algorithmic thinking often remain unnoticed or unchecked—as do concurrent shifts of agency and attempts to program society through spatial and formal measures. Hence, the research group will look at the space of coding not as abstract technology or remote activity, but at the programming of spaces through (designed) objects. It is imperative to investigate the form that drives the production of seemingly non-aesthetic processes—and the analysis of forms emerging in the focal point of material and data. With form as epistemic entry point, the multi-disciplinary research group will probe information systems and data as (and through) objects of design, while investigating the role of material forms in automated pro- cesses. In short, this project will focus on proto-algorithmic thinking as material and spatial practice.

Architecture of Resistance

With Senior Research Fellow der Humboldt Stiftung Prof. Dr. S.E. Eisterer (Princeton University) und Dr. Mirjam Zadoff (NS Dokumentationszentrum München)

Prof. Dr. Sophie Hochhäusl is Assistant Professor for Architectural History and Theory at Princeton University and Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at our department .

For her book Memories of the Resistance: Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky and the Art of Collective Dissidence, 1919-1989, she will make Schütte-Lihotzky's writings from her time in the resistance available to an international readership for the first time. In addition, we are establishing a long-term working group on the question of "Architecture of Resistance" together with the NS Documentation Center in Munich under the direction of Dr. Mirjam Zadoff. We are investigating the spatial and architectural dimensions of resistance-a field of research that is only slowly forming. We see this topic as a foundation for both strengthening academic transatlantic ties and engaging in conversation with a broader public about the role of architects in times of political oppression.

Radical Pedagogies

With Beatriz Colomina, Princeton University; Ignacio G. Galán, Columbia University/Barnard; Evangelos Kotsioris, MoMA

Radical Pedagogies is a multi-year international collaborative research project. After exhibitions at the Lisbon Triennial 2013 and the Venice Architecture Biennial 2014 (where it received a Special Mention from the Jury under Rem Koolhaas) the eponymous book with more than 110 global case studies was published with MIT Press in 2022. Currently an installation at MUGAK San Sebastian and an extended database are in the works. Edited by Beatriz Colomina (Princeton University)Ignacio G. Galán (Barnard College/Columbia University)Evangelos Kotsioris (MoMA New York) and Anna-Maria Meister, the project explores a series of pedagogical experiments that played a crucial role in shaping architectural discourse and practice in the second half of the twentieth century. As a challenge to normative thinking, they questioned, redefined, and reshaped the postwar field of architecture. They are radical in the literal meaning stemming from the Latin radix (root), as they question the basis of architecture. These new modes of teaching shook foundations and disturbed assumptions, rather than reinforcing and disseminating them. They operated as small endeavors, sometimes on the fringes of institutions, but with long-lasting impact until today.

Impact research in architecture and urban planning

DFG Network

The conception of architectural and urban planning as well as of public open spaces such as parks and squares is usually associated with ideas regarding the social, cultural, political and identitary effects to be achieved. So far, however, there has been no specification of the actual fields of impact and of research methods and theories that can be made productive for this purpose. The network "Impact Research in Architecture and Urbanism: Interdisciplinary Theories and Methods" responds to this clear need for definition work on the concept of the effects of the built environment and bundles disciplinarily scattered knowledge, each of which focuses on specific fields of impact: on conscious and unconscious perceptions by individuals, on individual or collective patterns of behavior and use, and on the effects that architecture unfolds in spheres such as economic, social and cultural.



The Architectural Imagination at the Digital Turn

Nathalie Bredella: The Architectural Imagination at the Digital Turn, Routledge, London, 2022.



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ARCH+ Nr. 239
Infrastrukturen der Externalisierung                       
Guest -Editing by Dennis Pohl

OASE #106

Table Settings

Hannah KnoopBeyond a Game of Tetris Thoughts on Labour, Work and Action in Architecture, in OASE #106, Table Settings. Reflections on Architecture with Hannah Arendt, 2020, 96–103.


Geregelte Verhältnisse

Georg VrachliotisGeregelte Verhältnisse. Architektur und technisches Denken in der Epoche der Kybernetik, Bauwelt Fundamente, 162, Birkhäuser, Basel, 2020.