Why do we give such vital importance to “shift” in all aspects? From a historian sitting in an archive exploring various paradigm shifts to a young urban planner considering the shifting population while developing an area plan, “shift” is an inevitable part of all pursuits – educational or non-educational. This same shift is analyzed in the book “The Sociology of Architecture: Constructing Identities” by Paul Jones, published in 2011. He talks about the different downfalls and mishappenings in this field of study and highlights buildings to justify his theory. This book is particularly interesting as it gives a detailed account of some buildings and shows the different transitions of thoughts over the so-called Eras of architecture. But the essence of architecture is what is looked upon in most theories. 

Architecture as a Symbolic Project

What do we visualize when we hear the word architecture? It may be vivid for a wide range of people and simple, yet worth remembering for many. Either way, it is often visualized as symbols of any habitat and a space for public interaction. It provides a symbolic space or material for people seeking some socially significant events. In Paul Jones’ words, “Architecture provides a focus for public discussion of identities and memories in a way that other symbols more abstract and distant from everyday concerns do not. The potential of such buildings to act as a touchstone for wider public discourse reminds us of architecture’s status as the most social of the arts and the most aesthetic of the professions.” To understand this identity we must realize that each building acts differently from the other and the spaces so created tend to bind the surroundings and people with each other. The modern-day architectural concept as stated visualizes the built environment merely as a series of works of artistic genius which is timeless and is supposed to create strong visuals.

Book in Focus The Sociology of Architecture Constructing Identities by Paul Jones - Sheet1
Symbolic Architecture – Guangzhou Circle by AM Project_© aasarchitecture.com
Book in Focus The Sociology of Architecture Constructing Identities by Paul Jones - Sheet2
Dubbed Loop–Symbolic Concrete Structure in University of Porto_©worldarchitecture.org

The Disconnect

What is the main agenda behind the architect’s design is what the author looks up and rights about in the book. Often the discussions related to architectural theory and practice creates a disconnect between the architectural form and the social questions it wishes to answer. This concept is similar to people involved with the market, where one has to sell their ideas to a client. This involves a set of slick and egotistical operators who craft what is said to win the favor of the judge or politician as they aim for large-scale commissions. To justify this takes the help of several architecturally iconic structures that have not emerged out of the negotiations with the state, public, and corporate interests. 

Some of those projects which were revisited are: Millenium Dome Project by Richard Rogers in London (lacked proper project planning and was built by the backing of political figures), Ground Zero Master Plan by Daniel Libeskind (lack of thinking foundations and too emotional structure), reconstruction of Reichstag by Norman Foster in Berlin, European Union’s Brussels Capital by Rem Koolhas and Jean Nouvel, and so on. His extensive study is particularly helpful for those involved with the politics of art and how these changing built spaces bring about social and cultural change. This type of ideology is quite similar to that of minimal architecture. Paul Jones also raises several questions throughout the context, such as what type of memories are fit to be commemorated or how it can be done, or what form must it take. He also interrogates the institutional structures of architecture in terms of class-based power relations. 

Book in Focus The Sociology of Architecture Constructing Identities by Paul Jones - Sheet3
Millennium Dome Project in Greenwich, London_©Mark6138 | Dreamstime.com

Legitimization with Context

On reading these facts we understand three major stakeholders are involved: the idea generator, the capital provider, and the user. The relationship between these three is particularly essential for any project to be successful. These facts form the core context of the book. It also claims that architecture cannot be considered a free-floating cultural form, but instead as a social production reflecting a way in which people with political power materialize this status to make it socially meaningful. In conclusion to his context, he speaks about challenging the dominant group who position architecture as a practice characterized by autonomous for making. 

The author was successful in bringing out the essence of his theory on architecture and provided a well-researched verse on the same. He has drawn out popular critical responses and accounts of the cases he has considered. However, all his efforts have failed to make his book very engaging to the reader. Paul Jones took a very factual part of the cases and the public aspect and neglected any type of back story or the thought of the architects. Given this, the context is more report-like, rather than having a story-like engagement. More biographical or thought based details could have lightened the read and spiced up the book. He was successful in unraveling the power structure and linked the sociological aspect to the issues with the existing system. This book can be read by people interested in philosophy, critical thinking, and architectural theory.

Author

Currently pursuing bachelor's in urban planning, with a keen interest in art and design. His works have a sense of fantasy and practicality and he is obsessed with the word ‘Why.’ He enjoys learning complicated concepts and finds their application in life.

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