‘Feminist’ Performative Architectures

Project Market Meditations. Photo: Nick Cheek

Title: ‘Feminist’ Performative Architectures: making place in and with public space

Author: Helen Stratford

Year: 2021

Abstract: Architecture requires movement and interaction with the body to be understood. 1 In this tacit inter-relationship, buildings and public space are better understood as ‘performative conditions’ – “acting on us and activated by us.” 2 In visual, live-art and performance practices, many people and groups are working between concepts of art, architecture and performance, where ‘performative research’ is well known. 3 Simultaneously, within architectural practice and theory, the idea of the performative has become prevalent. However, in architecture the term is still largely conflated with performance, creating spaces for performance, or material technologies rather than a “site of group co-ordination in space over time.” 4

Bringing together concepts of performativity from feminist and queer theories, practice from visual/live-art and performance studies with architecture and critical spatial practice, this PhD explores the use of performance-focused participatory methods in researching how particular public spaces are performed. Led by an enquiry which stems from and includes my own practice, it explores how this practice research can be used to interrogate how spatial knowledge is accumulated in recently developed public spaces or those situated within regeneration frameworks, in order to make visible, question and challenge spatial prejudices produced at the intersections of social, cultural, economic and political relations.  

Ultimately, this PhD offers a new interdisciplinary method that works between art, architecture and performance to reframe notions of performativity in architecture. In this critical approach to theory and practice, performativity is both research method: practice – a way of working, and research methodology: theory – a way of thinking about or through the place of public space. Here, there is a reviewing of the position of the researcher as practitioner, exploring how this position changes and occupies multiple sites that influence spatial production, and a reviewing of public space, exploring how public spaces might be equally multiple. Rather than designing solutions, these spaces are found in emergent outcomes, developed through interaction, dialogue and provocation, to deepen, complexify or broaden questions; exerting a performative force on existing notions of public space.


1 “Architecture is characterized by the fact that it can be perceived not only with the eyes, but with all the senses, and can only be experienced fully through movement.” Sophie Wolfrum, “Performative Urbanism: Generating and Designing Urban Space,” in Performative Urbanism: Generating and Designing Urban Space, eds. Sophie Wolfrum and Nikolai Frhr.v. Brandis (Berlin: Jovis Verlag GmnH, 2015).

2 Doina Petrescu, presentation at Performative Architectures discussion event, organised by urban (col)laboratory at the Showroom, London, October 2011. See also: “Acting Space – Transversal notes, on-the-ground observations and concrete questions for us all” in URBAN/ACT, eds. aaa-peprav (Paris: atelier d’architecture autogéré, 2007).

3 Brad Haseman, “Rupture and Recognition: Identifying the Performative Research Paradigm” in Practice as Research: Approaches to Arts Enquiry, eds. Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt (London and New York: I.B.Tauris, 2007). See also Robin Nelson, Practice as Research in the Arts Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

4 Shannon Jackson, Social Works: performing art, supporting publics (London: Routledge, 2011) 3.

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