Staging Facts on the Ground: On the Historical Role of Buildings as Markers of Imperial-Colonial Expansion

Lukas Pauer

Supervisors: Pier Vittorio Aureli, Thanos Zartaloudis

This research investigates buildings as evidence for the projection of power, authority, and influence. Specifically, my doctoral dissertation studies the architectural resolution of imperial-colonial expansion throughout history.

The assumption that governance is an invisible and immaterial force ignores the physical manifestations of power. As facts on the ground, buildings can link a polity to its claimed domain, asserting governance spatially through structure, appearance, function, siting, and scale. Still, architectural techniques have rarely been subjected to theorizing throughout the history of imperial-colonial expansion. The question is how buildings have been employed to legitimize governance through which bodies and spaces were made subjects. This question guides my research, which hypothesizes the possibility of tracing back the historical origins of architectural techniques that have shaped how buildings are used to legitimize expansion. Structure of my dissertation are various types of buildings and their corresponding rhetorics of expansion. The first chapter looks at scenic tents, sacred barriers, and military standards. These buildings used scenographic techniques along ancient procession paths to lay claim to governance. Giving a description of extraterritorial techniques along trade routes, the second chapter analyzes how traveler inns, nation houses, and trade factories legitimized power in medieval times. The third chapter examines semaphore towers, timeball towers, and telegraph poles. In order to lay claim to authority, these buildings employed geodetic techniques along modern signal lines. Offering an account of inspectional techniques along transit corridors, the fourth chapter analyzes how quarantine facilities, detention facilities, and prescreening facilities legitimized influence in recent times.

In its larger aim, my research seeks to untangle how material conditions embody social imaginaries and relations in space. These can become apparent through seemingly minor or banal architectural techniques with often nevertheless enormous implications. My research seeks to interrogate the ability of design to manifest power where stable and extensive means of control are challenged. This will ultimately allow the audience of my research to reconcile with a condition that has always been inherent but never fully untangled.

Image: Blanco, Vistas de los Monumentos a lo Largo de la Línea Divisoria entre México y los Estados Unidos de El Paso al Pacífico (1901)

Biography: Lukas Pauer is a licensed architect, urbanist, educator, and the Founding Director of the Vertical Geopolitics Lab, an investigative practice and think-tank dedicated to exposing intangible systems and hidden agendas within the built environment. Currently engaged as Tutor in Landscape Architecture at the University of Edinburgh, Lukas pursues a PhD AD at the Architectural Association on the political geography of urban form with a focus on the architectural resolution of imperial-colonial expansion throughout history. He holds an MAUD from Harvard University and an MSc Arch from ETH Zürich. Besides numerous international recognitions, Lukas has been selected as Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum and as Emerging Leader by the European Forum Alpbach — leadership programs committed to change-making impact within local communities.