Architectural remote practices
A research on the design of collective spaces in the distance
PhD project Johan Nielsen (Faculty of Architecture, KU Leuven)

The planet’s response to human activity has shown that the total mobility of persons and goods promised by deregulated globalization was a lethal illusion. It contributes to resources depletion and put significant pressure on important groups of human beings. As a reaction, many policies illustrate the temptation to consider a rigorous return to the local as a satisfactory answer. Nevertheless, such a return does not match with our interconnected reality. This tension between a headlong rush toward an infinite globalized horizon and a pushback towards a restrictive understanding of locality is indicative of the necessity to address a renewed relation to the planet. The exploration of a third path, more terrestrial, both universal and contextual is ongoing. Besides, recent societal events such as pandemics or deliberate policies on border management have shown that physical and virtual limits have taken new meanings and some turn to be impassable. Therefore, in many domains of human activity (warfare, medicine), condition of remoteness is taken seriously. The PhD research aims to rethink remoteness in architectural design process and examines the possibility to turn it into a factor of suitable and sustainable design. It examines the particular case of offices committed to local embedding that are having the opportunity to develop projects overseas. As a matter of fact, the expansion of a global architectural culture offers to numerous architecture practices the opportunity to design in the foreign field, sometimes in the early development of the office. Four cases of remote practices are surveyed in the research: in Tirana, Paris, Ljubljana and Basel, by emerging offices from Brussels, Tokyo, Zurich, Santiago-de-Chile, Glasgow and Barcelona.

These experimental remote practices shake up the conventional status of the architect and lead to unexpected design processes, redefining the role of stakeholders and collectives at play. In particular, the research considers the design process of collective spaces as a major indicator of local embedding of a remote practice. To address this indicator, the research develops the concept of grammar of collective spaces, rooted in the philosophy of aesthetic creation, warfare theory and pragmatic sociology. The cases are examined through close reading of working documents, interviews of key stakeholders, mapping of intermediate versions of the design and, as the case may be, building review. This examination provides insights on the inherent tensions of the processes and findings on foreign architects’ legitimacy, risk taking, mediating roles towards local communities and the meaning of local standards in a global architectural culture. The expected results of the research are concept and knowledge contributions on contemporary remote practices, insights on the suitability of design of collective spaces in relation with local resources and contribution to education in the international field.

PhD project, Johan Nielsen (prom. prof. Yves Schoonjans, co-prom. prof. Kris Scheerlinck)



Picture: Pocket terrestrial and celestial globe, 1811. Diameter ca.7,6cm. The terrestrial globe is contained in a spherical leather case, the inside surface of which constitute the celestial globe.