City Hall
Architectural Association – Experimental Unit 15, Academic Year 2019-2020
Xristina Argyros + Ryan Neiheiser

“The global is local at all points.”1  “All politics is local.”2  “Local government is not sexy.”3

In this moment of populist extremism, resurgent nationalism, and precarious transnational unions, we turn our attention to the politics of the local. We reassert the value of the city as a primary site of collective identity, citizenship, and resource management, and ask how we might reinvent the forms and logics of its primary political institution – the City Hall.

Collective identify, a shared sense of public life, emerges only when multiple perspectives engage (however provisionally) in a common space, when people see sameness in utter diversity. We instinctively travel to the center of our cities to discover, challenge, debate, and confirm our collective self. The institution of the City Hall, as the identifiable center of urban governance, has traditionally offered us at least a sense of where that urban center is located, and at best has provided a forum for political expression. Throughout history, the city hall has variously served as safeguarder of tradition, fortification for wealth, bureaucratic control center, civic resource, historical archive, and symbol of power. With the rise of nation states and the increasingly federal scale of both policy and representation, its function became more and more administrative, and across much of the world today local government is being reduced, outsourced, and privatized, with dramatic implications for our ability to locate collective identity, and in turn motivate civic participation.

In Sert, Leger, and Giedion’s famous position paper, “Nine Points on Monumentality,” they argue for modern architecture’s necessary role in fostering community through the design of legible civic centers. Experimental Unit 15 will extend this provocation, but instead of singular monumental gestures, we’ll seek out multiple, contingent forms of symbolic expression; a newer monumentality dependent on active interpretation and collective inhabitation.

Minor revolutions occur all around us. This world we inhabit – this building, this garbage, this law, this water, this event, this fungus, this stuff. It acts, agitates, and networks, just like the citizens of our cities. As we redefine the architecture of the city hall, we’ll also expand the concept of ecology in order to recalibrate the constituents of our politics. To be political is to be engaged in the matters of our polis: its education, its healthcare, its environment, its culture; its past, present, and future. To become relevant again, the City Hall must empower its citizens (broadly defined) to actively participate in the continual remaking of the polis. In this way, Experimental 15 aims for nothing less than a new architecture of political space – one that reasserts our sense of a local, ecological, and collective future.

1 – Bruno Latour, 2 – Tip O’Neill, 3 – Will Hutton