The Socio-pol-ethical Confluence of the Architect:

The Idiot, the Activist and the Dreamer


Paco Mejias Villatoro


Tanzil Shafique


  • architect
  • politics
  • ethics
  • social
  • aesthetic

The political indetermination of architecture, prevalent today, is perhaps related to our incapacity to differentiate clearly between the diverse aspects that converge in architectural thinking. The architect’s role intrinsically involves different actions, each guided by different principles and, hence, often substantially contradictory. As Daniel Bell explained in the 1970s, society cannot be easily explained due to the contradictory forces coming from the techno-economic, the political and the cultural spheres.

Following this logic of contradiction and in attempts to avoid it, the discipline of architecture became inconsistent in its statements and weak in its positions since the 1970s. The social agenda driving the paper architecture of the 1960s gave way to architects becoming tools of neoliberal capitalist production. We trace the depoliticization of architecture and then, against this impasse, where the political role of the architect is forsaken, we wish to bring forth three characters — the Idiot, the Activist and the Dreamer — _to reconstitute the confluence and to state that the political can never be too much. We claim that by playing these three roles with a dramaturgical consciousness — that is to say, judiciously switching between each of these roles — can the architect reclaim his _socio-pol-ethical stance.

We seek to replace Vitruvius's triad of what architecture entails with a triad of how architects should act. As an ‘Idiot’, the architect resists the social status quo posing naive unanswerable questions. The architect acting as an ‘Activist’ reclaims his political agency and his competence for acting on behalf of the community. Finally, the architect speculates as a ‘Dreamer’, assuming his ethical role of engaging the imagination and desires of a community to act towards a common future. The architect’s role becomes more than producing form or image for the highest bidder, it becomes a multiplicity, not of what capital/society wants, but of what society needs.