Industries of Architecture is an edited volume that emerges from an Architectural Humanities Research Association (AHRA) conference of the same name, held in Newcastle, United Kingdom, in 2014. The conference gathered an unusually wide-ranging collection of scholars, design practitioners, governmental representatives, filmmakers, and other construction-engaged professionals to foreground the too often sidelined “industrial, technical, and socio-economic contexts in which building is constituted.”1 The conference organizers, also the editors of the book, argue that “industry is never just a matter of technology, but always also a matter of social organization and social relations” (2). Because the editors assume such a capacious definition of industry, they are forced to corral the heterogeneous short essays in the collection into eight very broad categories like “the construction site,” “economy,” “law and regulation,” and “technologies and techniques.” Individual texts within these categories range from essays on architecture’s engagement with standardization in the early and mid-twentieth century, to topics rarely touched in humanities scholarship, like the spatial effects of finance capital, the day-to-day impact of building codes on architectural practice, and most importantly, on- and off-site labor conditions.
The wide scope of practice-based inquiries included in Industries of Architecture marks the ascendance of an orientation toward economy, governance, and labor in architectural scholarship advocated by Italian neo-Marxist architectural historian Manfredo Tafuri some forty years ago. Tafuri urged his scholarly peers to focus on “the dialectic . . . between concrete labor and abstract labor,” by “putting primary emphasis . . . on the function of the work itself within the relations of production.”2 If Tafuri is the invisible guiding hand, the specter haunting this endeavor is Marx himself. Many of the contributing authors to Industries of Architecture demonstrate abiding interest in architecture’s labor, both concrete and abstract, and more than a few call for architects to disrupt the smooth advance of late capitalism. Yale professor Peggy Deamer speaks directly to this imperative in her essay when she writes, “if we architects cannot identify as workers, we fail to politically position ourselves to combat capitalism’s neoliberal turn” (146).3 Sérgio Ferro, a Brazilian émigré architect in political exile in France since 1971—a revelation in these pages—pushes the labor agenda even further to include equal concern for construction workers.