Book Review: Spatial Agency

Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture by Nishat Awan, Tatjana Schneider and Jeremy Till, published by Routledge, 2011. Paperback, 224 pages. (Amazon)

Architecture may be defined as the "art or practice of designing and constructing buildings," but it is one that is increasingly substandard or incomplete, as architects apply their training and efforts on entities other than buildings -- installations, networks, images, etc. -- and those not fitting the traditional definition of "architect" shape space in numerous ways. Today's expansion of architecture beyond traditional definitions is the impetus of this catalog of "other ways of doing architecture." The authors word their book carefully, putting "architecture" in the subtitle and offering up the alternative phrase "spatial agency" as a way of getting at the root of the arena and players -- space and agents of change, rather than buildings and architects. They actually devote the introduction to tracing how they achieved at this wording and therefore defining spatial agency and the reasons for the book. Three essays follow the introduction to respectively describe the motivations, sites, and operations of spatial agency, all geared towards effecting positive change for people (often those underserved) and the "lexicon of enacted examples" that makes up the bulk of the book.

The encyclopedic catalog of the "other ways of doing architecture" is presented alphabetically with links (if applicable), dates of activity, a description of what they do, one or more bibliographic references, and at least one photo; most entries are individuals or groups, but some are concepts, such as "guerrilla gardening." It is a format that is echoed at, which includes more examples than the book could hold. Entries are cross referenced via underlined text, both in relevant listings and in the introductory essays. In the latter case, one may opt to read the book through a back-and-forth, learning about each referenced entry as the theoretical essays are absorbed. This is not a bad approach, as these essays are important for understanding the why, where, and how of spatial agency, not just the what. Ultimately this is a valuable book for those interested in pursuing alternatives to traditional architecture, those searching for ideas about how to make positive change when other means are not available, and for those gauging the state of architecture today.