Architecture in Secular and Post-secular Conditions. On the Aesthetics of Objectionable Matter

Anna Petersson

Project Period: 2012
Type: Senior Research Project
Program Area(s): Material Conditions/Critical Projections


Objects of memorialisation that appear in public space often become charged with affect. They may even lead to conflict, in the sense that the deceased in every culture is attributed a “proper” physical location governed by secular norms as well as religious rules. This is why for instance the fatal motor vehicle accident of a well-known reverend of the Swedish Church in 2005, gave rise to a dismissed memorial proposal at the very site of the fatality. This dismissal was based on official regulations related to the proper expression and location of memorials in the planning and design of urban space. At ”wrong” spots in urban environment memorial places may thus become controversial or objectionable.

In the late modern context, there is a general lack of faith in public institutions, such as governments and established religious associations, and a rising focus on individualisation and privatization. Religious belief tends to be regarded as a private business. (Howe 2009). Discourse on the cosmopolitan “postsecular city” has examined the role of the city as scene for people’s expressions of, and exposure to, societal religio-secular change. (Baker and Beaumont, 2011). The secular society is often associated with modernity and democracy. However, in the political realm, “secular” also means a “silent” preference of (one) religion. “Secular citizens” must meet and “learn” from “their religious fellow” and vice versa. (Habermas 2008). This statement actualizes issues that have relevance for architecture and planning, for instance: Who teaches, and who formulates the secular and the post-secular norms in a design context?

In an investigation of chapels and cemeteries, as well as spontaneous memorial places, this project will investigate the role of material culture in secular and post-secular conditions.

Researcher(s) Bio and Publications