This paper shows how Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life (1947–1986) might be mobilised for a critique of architecture in its production.
A reading of Lefebvre’s comments on ‘concrete abstraction’ and ‘alienation’ is given in conjunction with Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1. In this reading it is argued that Lefebvre’s Critique provides a generalised concept of production, developed from Marx’s specific critique of machine production, suggesting that in both, epistemological entry to the capitalist mode of production is made available through a critique of the abstract expressions of a production process—in Marx, the Factory Acts and the Blue Books, in Lefebvre, the more general ‘paradigm of the state form’.
This interpretation of Lefebvre’s Critique is then mobilised in a critique of ‘architecture in production’—the basic building process, as this occurs on the construction site. Using state archives, concerned with the construction of the South Bank, London between 1948 and 1951, the paper provides a close examination of ‘ground exploration’—the various procedures by which soils were extracted from the building site, and analysed by structural engineers.
A critique of various historical sources—guides to best practice; the soil analysis as this were presented by specialist contractors; and memoires and personal accounts recorded in state archives—demonstrates how ‘the state paradigm’ can be shown to operate in the production of architecture.