Critical Practice in an Age of Complexity

An Interdisciplinary Critique
Event Date: February 22-23, 2018
Abstract Date: December 5, 2017
Professor Jane Rendell, Bartlet School of Architecture, University College London, UK. Professor Rendell will discuss themes of ‘Critical Spatial Practice’.


Every generation of architects, urban designers, planners and artists engaged with the built environment face a set of seemingly intractable and isolated problems particular to their time. Mid 19th Century city planners addressed questions of public health while architects engaged in a ‘battle of the styles’. Early 20th century architects argued for a ‘contemporary style’ while architects / urban designers created visions of cities in the sky.  By the 1970s ecological forerunners argued for a future of sustainable living while post-modernists looked to the past for aesthetics.

Today, Donald Trump promises investment in infrastructure while simultaneously relaxing environmental regulations and targets. China continues to urbanize and pollute while industrial cities in the West continue to decline and ‘go green’. Internationally, global cities of commerce can be surrounded by slums and in many cities housing is unaffordable as a place of living while it functions as a major form of capital investment. This all happens against a backdrop of the arts and cultural industries seen as economic motors, conflicting media representations of urbanization, and the emergence of new medias altering the experience and forms of reporting on life in cities.
To design and understand the built environment in the middle of this complexity and contradiction requires reflection and vision. It also requires critique and multiple practices.

Jane Rendell defines ‘critical spatial practice’ as a form of self-critique; a questioning of the role we all play in the status quo of social organisation and its typical urban forms. In this regard she echoes Manfredo Tafuri. For Tafuri the idea that architectural or urban practice under capitalism could produce anything radically different from standard typologies was simply impossible. Tafuri saw an escape through architectural criticism, for Rendell, it can come through art.

Setting these ideas in an early 21st century context, this conference asks whether in today’s increasingly complex world, practice can be ‘critical’ Can it understand the conditions it operates in? Can it challenge these conditions?  Can it change them? Can it make a difference?


  • Architecture
  • Urban design
  • Urban planning
  • Art and design
  • Landscape architecture
  • Human geography
  • Sociology
  • Environmental studies


Key Dates

Full Paper Submissions (where applicable)
01 May 2018
Feedback for publication
01 July 2018
Full Publication
01 December 2018


Critical Spatial Practice
Architectural and Design Theory | Sociopolitical Critique of Urban Space and Practices etc.
Architectural Practice
Alternative Modes of Participation | Methods of Practice – from parametric to community design etc.
Environmental Responsibility
Low Energy Design and Construction | Biomimicry and Biophilic Design | Sustainable Development
Art and Art Practice
Land Art | Artists | Activist and Communities | Urban Art – Graffiti, Parkour, Public art and more.
Society and Design
Challenging Gentrification | The Right to the City | Equitable Development | Social Exclusion and Participation


To make the event as inclusive as possible, delegates can attend in-person but can also avoid travel costs by making their presentation as a pre-recorded film. It will be permanently available via the AMPS Youtube channel. Alternatively, they can present virtually via skype. In all cases, written papers are also acceptable.

Pre-recorded video (15-20 minutes)
Skype (15-20 minutes)
Conference Presentations (15-20 minutes)
Written Papers


The publishers that AMPS works with include UCL Press, Routledge Taylor & Francis, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Vernon Press, Libri Publishing and Intellect Books.


Conference outputs include the AMPS Proceedings Series, ISSN 2398-9467; Special Issue Publications of the academic journal Architecture_MPS ISSN 2020-9006; Books with the publishing houses listed above and short films available on the AMPS Academic YouTube Channel.


Written papers are optional.  If submitted they should be 3,000 word length. Formatting instructions to follow after the conference. All papers are double- blind peer reviewed for the AMPS Conference Proceedings Series. Subject to review, selected authors will be invited to develop longer versions as articles in the academic journal Architecture_MPS or in specially produced conference books.


Image: Susannah Dickinson/span>