The Architecture of Neoliberalism
Douglas Spencer - ‘The Architecture of Neoliberalism: How contemporary architecture became an instrument of control and compliance’
Published by Bloomsbury Academic (2016)
When Zaha Hadid died in 2016, she was celebrated as one of the 21st century’s most influential and visionary architects. Buildings such as the Guangzhou Opera House, the London Aquatics Centre, and the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre demonstrated a radical and futuristic aesthetic that was very much her own.
However, her critics also made mention of the human rights controversies which dogged her later career; in particular, the building of the Qatar World Cup Stadium, for which she claimed an abdication of responsibility.
More recently, Hadid’s successor, Patrick Schumacher, attracted considerable opprobrium when he advocated untrammelled gentrification and the privatisation of all social housing and public space, including Hyde Park.
According to Douglas Spencer, such pronouncements and controversies, far from being isolated events, are very much bound up in the architecture of neoliberalism that has developed over the last couple of decades, and which he critiques in his challenging and uncompromising book.
Neoliberalism is one of those buzzwords that is often used but seldom completely understood. In short it is a form of capitalism that promotes shrinking the state and public services in favour of privatisation, and any notion of the 'common good' is surrendered to the ‘logic of the market'. It was developed as an ideology by the likes of Hayek and Friedman, and introduced in the West by Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s.
Spencer’s book is perhaps the first to analyse neoliberalism in conjunction with its architectural expressions. He joins the intellectual dots from 20th century countercultural thinkers such as Foucault and Lefevre, to some of the 21st century’s most celebrated architectural practices. In addition to Hadid and Schumacher, the book provides incisive analysis of the likes of Rem Koolhaas, Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Greg Lynn, and deconstructs buildings such as the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing, Birmingham New Street station, and the BMW factory in Leipzig.
Overall, this is a complex and tough read, which will likely only appeal to those steeped in architectural theory and criticism. But that does not make the book any less important or timely. Indeed at this disorientating time of change, when the foundations of the neoliberal ideology appear to be buckling beneath the weight demonstrable failures, it is a powerful and instructive piece of work.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Charles Waldheim - Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory.
- Interview with Tom Dyckhoff.
- Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture.
- Living in the hyperreal post-modern city.
- Public space intervention.
- Owen Hatherley - Landscapes of Communism.
- The architectural profession.
- Zaha Hadid.
Featured articles and news
"We can’t sustain low density suburbs, density isn't a choice, it's a necessity." - Read our interview with the award-winning social housing architect Peter Barber.
Conservation area designation can be crucial, but treatment of individual parks varies considerably.
ICE publish new NEC4 Design, Build and Operate contract.
Report states $2 trillion is needed over the next 10 years to fix American roads.
What is the client's strategic brief for construction projects?
Read the story behind the world's most iconic festival stage, Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage.
First ever BREEAM Communities innovation credit is claimed by Temple Farm Development.
Read the story of Ronan Point, another disastrous event which had profound consequences for the construction industry.
CIOB to help conservation specialists gain recognition for their expertise with launch of new Certification Scheme.
A brief introduction to Building Information Modelling - is it the future of construction?
Have a look at Francis Kéré's 2017 pavilion, based on the concept of the tree as a place of shelter.
CIOB announce new commission to assess what more it and the industry can do to tackle build quality issues.
Not only is this building shaped like a teapot, it can rotate 360-degrees.
What is ACM cladding, what is it used for, and is it banned?