• Counter-Projects: Revisiting the Radical Potential of Architecture, 1965–1980
    Isabelle Doucet

Counter-Project by students at La Cambre, Brussels, 1971–73: Projet d'aménagement de la vallée du Maelbeek. Courtesy of Archives d'Architecture Moderne.

This project analyzes the radical potential of architecture by considering one method of architectural action and criticism: the counter-project. Originating in 1970s Brussels—specifically in the urban struggles of the Atelier de Recherche et d'Action Urbaines and via the politicized architectural education of La Cambre—counter-projects were drawing-manifestos that used the architectural project as a way to both criticize an existing situation and to formulate its alternatives. In order to retrace the radical origin and potential of this critical tool, Counter-Projects confronts other radical initiatives and counter-cultural projects that emerged in the wider context of 1970s Belgium. With its cultural and linguistic divergences, Belgium offers a particularly instructive setting for studying the multiple manifestations of radical architecture under post-modernization. Whether self-build, ecological, artistic, or activist, other architectural experiments in Belgium offered an important balance to the counter-projects as they gradually were absorbed by a mainstream, reactionary, and postmodern architectural practice. By focusing on realized projects, rather than designs and theories, this project reflects on how radical thought survives (or not) the test of practice, offering a timely contribution to recent scholarship on the radical architecture of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as contemporary explorations into the emancipatory agency of design.

Isabelle Doucet is lecturer at the University of Manchester and codirector of the Manchester Architecture Research Centre, where her own research focuses on the relationship between politics, aesthetics, and social responsibility in architecture. She is particularly interested in the relationship between architecture and urban politics in the 1970s and the repercussions of architecture’s “post-political,” which she examines through both historical and contemporary cases. She is the author of The Practice Turn in Architecture: Brussels after 1968 (Ashgate, 2015). In addition to publishing journal articles and book chapters, Doucet coedited (with Kenny Cupers) the special issue “Agency in Architecture” for Footprint Journal (2009) and (with Nel Janssens) Transdisciplinary Knowledge Production in Architecture and Urbanism (Springer, 2011).