Architectural Practice and Spatial Justice. Towards a Theoretical Framework for a Critically Engaged Architectural Practice

Maria Ärlemo

Project Period:
Type: Affiliated PhD research
Program Area(s): Critical Historiography/Critical Projections


Architectural practices in Sweden are presently, and have been for some time now, heavily influenced by a neoliberal logic that implicitly promotes an understanding of justice as the product of market forces. This is a questionable understanding of justice, as it can be demonstrated that the implementation of neoliberal policies has instead produced increased socioeconomic and spatial polarization.

This paper explores the potential for an alternative understanding of justice to inform critically engaged architectural practices. More specifically, it explores the potential for the notion of “spatial justice” as elaborated by Edward Soja and Mustafa Dikeç to inform a simultaneously complicit and dissident architectural practice. In the attempt to operationalize the notion of “spatial justice”, it draws on Jacques Rancière’s conceptualization of the relation between politics and aesthetics, and – inspired also by Ananya Roy – ultimately proposes that architects act and practice as double agents.

The potential for the proposed theoretical framework to inform critically engaged architectural practices will be explored and discussed in relation to the ongoing – and, to a large extent, forthcoming – renovation of socially deprived large-scale postwar housing areas in Sweden. Although, as an integral part in the construction of a welfare society, these areas were built to provide qualitative and affordable housing to “all” in the 1960s and 70s, they have over the years come to house an increasingly socioeconomically disadvantaged population within a progressively more polarized Swedish society. Due to a racialized process of segregation, they have also to a large degree come to house people with foreign backgrounds. Today, half a decade after its construction, this housing stock is designated for major renovation. This assignment situates the architectural profession at a juncture that manifests the structural problems of our time. How, therefore, should architects approach this complex and delicate task?

Researcher(s) Bio and Publications