Building as Service

****Basic travel and accommodation links provided at the end of this post****

JULY 26th-JULY 28th, 2018

Confirmed Speakers:

Conference promises to ask provocative questions about the ethics of nation-building at a location no less than the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, USA.

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The fact that buildings are so strongly associated with various power holding empires, nation-states and other forms of civilization is widely recognized in the study of both the history of people and their buildings. From Pericles’s Acropolis to Niemeyer’s Brasilia, architecture has long been associated with political figures and institutions. Buildings such as the British Parliament, the Russian Kremlin, and the U.S. Capitol stand out not just as iconic architecture, but also as representative of the politics, institutions, and culture of the nation. The connection between architecture and politics is evident, yet precisely how are political concepts captured in the form and function of buildings?

A strong link between the buildings and the political philosophies of a nation-state or other ruling body is the building’s use. We know that buildingsserve the establishment and maintenance of a governing body, but do they contribute to maintaining a particular ideological belief system? Or is the connection more explicit, such as a wall, literally dividing two peoples whose belief system itself remains autonomous from association with buildings?

Taking the stance that buildings hold both deterministic effect and autonomous disassociation, how do architects and politicians act? Considering the contemporary context, to what extent should architects design public structures intended to capture the social and political ethos of the people? Do architects have an obligation to address the socio-political in their work? Is this kind of moral obligation misplaced? Is it rather that the work of architects is already tacitly, inextricably part of the political process? And to what extent?

On the other hand, do rulers utilize building to achieve their political goals and ideals? Is building fundamental to realizing ideological goals or a mere part of the process? Are there styles or typologies particularly conducive to establishing and maintaining power? Is the association of contemporary democracy with classical Greek and Roman architecture appropriate or warranted? And is the style’s reverence intrinsic or learned? Could the Romanesque not equally as well serve the same purpose?

Assuming that buildings are already intrinsically enmeshed within the governing body’s authority, can a single building work against that same authority? Can a building undermine an entire regime? Some may argue that the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Communist rule over Eastern Germany, but how much weight can a building hold on the integrity of a governing body? How effective, for instance, are efforts to rebuild Iraq? Considering that American contractors are building structures programmatically and aesthetically at odds with the resident socio-political climate, the very act of building in Iraq may be taken as an offense to the Iraqi nation-state. Although not all instances of international exchange are as contentious as this one, can architecture be incompatible with particular political concepts or systems?

The intent of this interdisciplinary conference is to gather a group of philosophers, architects, urban planners, and critics to consider these questions regarding building’s service to political ideologies, governing authorities, and socio-political contexts.

The event will be held in one of the most iconic and representative projects of the International Style of 20th century modern public architecture: Walter Netsch Jr.’s United States Air Force Academy – a premier education facility – in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The conference itself will be held in the latest addition to the Academy: the new Center for Leadership and Character Development—a 45 million dollar addition designed by SOM that remains true to Netsch’s original vision. The stunning new addition breathes new life into a pristinely preserved Modernist campus, a detailed analysis of which is featured here in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects.

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In addition to the conference, presenters and participants will have the opportunity to extensively tour the academy, including the well-known Academy Chapel with its four distinct worship spaces.

A selection of papers will be published in a special issue of Architecture Philosophy, edited by Dr. Mark Jensen and Dr. Carolyn Fahey

Please feel free to email isparchitecture[at] with any questions about the conference.

The call for papers is now closed. There will be another opportunity to present work with the Professional Practice Workshop. More details will be announced in spring.


*Registration, transportation, and other organizational details to come

Thursday, July 26

Polaris Hall

9:00AM Welcome/Coffee/Check-In

AIA Continuing Education Event (Health, Safety, Welfare)

9:30AM Keynote 1: SOM “The Design Plan for Polaris Hall”

10:30AM Polaris Hall Tour (LEED certification discussion)

11:00AM Chapel Tour (Renovation Plan)

12:00PM Concurrent Ed Session (x3?)

1:00PM Lunch & Welcome

2:00PM Concurrent Session 01 (x3)

3:00PM Concurrent Session 02 (x3)

4:00PM Concurrent Session 03 (x3)

Dinner Out on Your Own

7:30PM Keynote 2: Andy Merrifield (Conference Hotel Venue)

9:00PM Reception

Friday, July 27

Polaris Hall

7:30AM Bus Transportation from Conference Hotel to Polaris Hall

9:00AM Welcome/Coffee/Check-In

9:30AM Concurrent Session 04 (x3)

10:30AM Concurrent Session 05 (x3)

11:30AM Concurrent Session 06 (x3)

11:30AM Catered Lunch

12:30PM Concurrent Session 07 (x3)

1:30PM Concurrent Session 08 (x3)

2:30PM Snack Break

3:00PM Concurrent Session 09 (x3)

4:00PM Concurrent Session 10 (x3)

Dinner Out on Your Own

7:30PM Keynote 3: Lawrence Vale (Conference Hotel Venue)

9:00PM Reception

Saturday, July 28

Conference Hotel – Optional Colorado Excursions


Denver International Airport (DIA): DIA is a major international hub and has good bus/train connections into Downtown Denver via the Regional Transportation Department (RTD) connecting to Union Station. From Union Station in Denver you can take the Bustang to downtown Colorado Springs.

  • The Denver Metro area is one of the most popular cities in the country, so stopping off in downtown Denver promises to be lively and dynamic. Things to do in Denver.

Colorado Springs Airport: If you decide to fly into Colorado Springs, the airport is about 30 minutes southeast of downtown. There are some transportation options available from the airport (e.g. shuttles, Uber, Lyft), but would not recommend using the public transportation (i.e. Metro Transit) from the airport into the city.

Once in Colorado Springs, please be aware that the city is one of the largest cities in terms of land area in the country. We will be primarily be in the northern portion of the city, at the United States Air Force Academy, which is about 20-30 min drive north of downtown. Your stay in Colorado Springs will be car dependent, so please plan on renting a car, organizing to carpool or use shuttles, or using car shares such as Uber and Lyft.

HOTELS & ACCOMMODATION: We are looking to provide shuttle service to and from a hotel if we can arrive at a group rate at a nearby hotel (likely one of the hotels just east of I-25 from the Academy). Please stay tuned for details about group hotel rates, shuttle service to the conference venue from the hotel, and a possible pickup time the night before the conference from DIA. Otherwise, if you want to select a hotel of your own, we recommend staying in downtown if you are able to get to and from the conference venue independently.

Sharing Sense: or, how ethics can be the subject matter of architectural aesthetics, by David Leatherbarrow

Posing a productive question about ethics and aesthetics in architecture is no easy matter, for these subjects raise whole clusters of problems, not simple or single questions. These complexities were apparent two millennia ago when the terms were first introduced. As in most types of business, moral issues rarely obtrude themselves into the contemporary practice of architecture, for it has been absorbed into a broader framework of technological thought and production, a kind of thought that emancipates design from place and practical purpose. Despite these tendencies, one occasionally senses that there may still be some shared background for judgments about what makes a building good, even beautiful. This background is not so much what each of us might state as our values, but a historically constituted and forceful ethos that shows itself now and again in both the settings of everyday life and works of art. Shared sense is key for that is what distinguishes ethical understanding from the various kinds of technical knowledge possessed by individuals. Architects know how to design, carpenters to construct. A living ethos is something different, neither taught nor possessed individually, but inherited in a given culture, modified slowly, and often taken for granted. Thus, there is a tension between the comparatively stable and shared ground of ethical sense and productive and relatively autonomous character of technical production. Negotiating this tension is the real work of design.

David Leatherbarrow, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Harvard Citation Guide: Leatherbarrow, L. (2012) Sharing Sense: or, how ethics can be the subject matter of architectural aesthetics, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 18 Dec 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 18 Dec 2012].

Nature’s Meanings, by Simon James

It is widely acknowledged that many parts of the natural world should be protected from harm or restored to health or in some other way looked after, if not for their own sakes, then simply for ours, and if not for moral reasons, then for reasons of prudence, say, or because of their aesthetic value. I argue that the meanings that the natural world has for us should be looked after – or ‘cultivated’ – too. This sort of cultivation is, I propose, best achieved through the efforts of those, both inside and outside academia, whose work embodies the core values of the arts and humanities.

Simon James, Durham University, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: James, S. (2012) Nature’s Meanings, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 10 Dec 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 10 Dec 2012].

Why does Beauty Matter?, by Ian Ground

This paper is motivated by the value of rendering the philosophical tradition of thought about beauty as an intelligible and useful theoretical framework for empirical research into aesthetic experience.

The discussion re-articulates and defends against some objections, four theses about our experience of beauty:

1.      The Distinctiveness Thesis.

Beauty is a distinctive aesthetic phenomenon. It is not a portmanteau term for aesthetic phenomena in general nor a mere honorific. Nor is individual or cultural variation in the things we find beautiful an objection to the thesis.

2.     The Cross-Modal Thesis.

In response to beauty, our cognitive, affective and conative capacities are all centrally involved. It is argued that standard evolutionary accounts of beauty are insufficiently deep to explain the ontological variety of the beautiful.

3.     The Mereological Thesis.

Our experience of the relation between parts and wholes is, in the beautiful, of a different kind from our ordinary experience of ordinary things. In objects experienced as beautiful, the reciprocal and intelligible relations between parts and whole play the part that law like relations play in the real world.

4.     The Particularity Thesis

The aesthetic response to beauty and the deepest possible attachment to someone, – paradigmatically, in Eros based love –  something or somewhere as absolutely particular are, at root, the same phenomenon.

Ian Ground, Sunderland University, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Ground, I. (2012) Why Does Beauty Matter?, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 05 Dec 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 Jan 2013].

Aesthetic Value, Ethics, and Climate Change, by Emily Brady

While there is a growing literature on ethics and climate change, the role of aesthetics has been largely ignored. This paper addresses the complex issues at the intersection of aesthetics and ethics in relation to current and predicted environmental change resulting from global warming, and explores a set of questions: What kinds of new challenges does climate change present to aesthetic theory? What can we reasonably say about the aesthetic value of landscapes affected by climate change now and into the future? If climate change is understood as a form of environmental harm, what are the implications for our aesthetic appreciation of landscapes, species, and processes affected by climate change? Can landscapes that have evolved through the effects of climate change be considered beautiful? Drawing on resources from environmental aesthetic theory and discussions on the relationship between moral and aesthetic value, I consider a set of hypothetical cases and argue that aesthetic value is not likely to be trumped by moral considerations.

Emily Brady, University of Edinburgh, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Brady, E. (2012) Aesthetic Value, Ethics, and Climate Change, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 01 Dec 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 Dec 2012].

Monism and Pluralism in the Philosophy of Architecture, by Paul Guyer

The history of modern aesthetics has been marked by a tension between a monistic, essentially cognitivist or intellectualist view of the importance of aesthetic experience, and more pluralistic views, which allow room for the free play of emotions and imagination as well as for the possibility of knowledge through art. Architecture would seem to be a poor candidate for a strictly intellectualist approach, but in the nineteenth century some of the best-known aesthetic theories, the German Idealist theories of Hegel and Schopenhauer, took precisely such an approach. I argue that the pluralistic approach of John Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture, in spite of some antiquarian elements in that work, offer a far better model for contemporary thinking about the pleasures of architecture.

Paul Guyer, Brown University, USA

Harvard Citation Guide: Guyer, P. (2012) Monism and Pluralism in the Philosophy of Architecture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 Nov 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 20 Nov 2012].