Site-Writing

I first started to develop ‘site-writing’ as a way of doing architectural criticism in a 1998 essay, called ‘Doing it, (Un)Doing it, (Over)Doing it Yourself: Rhetorics of Architectural Abuse’, in Jonathan Hill (ed.) Occupying Architecture (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 229–46, which has recently been republished as ‘Undoing Architecture’, in the catalogue designed by OOMK, for Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, curated by Irene Aristizábal (Nottingham Contemporary), Rosie Cooper (De La Warr Pavilion) and Cédric Fauq (Nottingham Contemporary) (2018-9). Still, I Rise. I first conceptualised site-writing and named it as a practice in 2005, in relation to other creative-critical writing practices, such as art-writing, place-writing, and design-writing, in ‘Site-Writing’, Sharon Kivland, Jaspar Joseph-Lester and Emma Cocker (eds), Transmission: Speaking and Listening, vol. 4, (Sheffield Hallam University and Site Gallery, 2005), pp. 169–76. In 2010, a collection of essays and text-works on and off the page was published as Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism by IB Tauris which focused on responses to artworks. Since then I have developed the practice through my own research, writing, and teaching, as a way of critically engaging with artworks, architecture and urban space, and expanded modes of writing in architectural and urban criticism, history and theory. For more detail on pedagogy see janerendell.ac.uk 


Jane Rendell, ‘Subjective Space: an Architectural History of the Burlington Arcade’, Duncan McCorquodale, Katerina Ruedi and Sarah Wigglesworth (eds) Desiring Practices (London: Blackdog Publishing, 1996), pp. 216–33.

This paper was written while I was a doctoral student at Birkbeck College, supervised by art historian Professor Lynne Nead. In it I outlined a methodology for a feminist marxist architectural history, demonstrated with reference to my archival research of London’s Burlington Arcade. When I submitted an abstract for the conference Desiring Practices, hosted by Duncan McCorquodale, Katerina Ruedi and Sarah Wigglesworth, my position – that architectural history is a form of gendered practice can be used to examine architecture historically – was contested by the editors, who preferred to keep the scope of practice to refer to design. But I include it here, as a core text of mine, because in looking back I was surprised to find that I was arguing as far back as 1995, for architectural history as a form of interdisciplinary practice. I note that ‘It is beyond the scope of this paper, but important to note, that such a mode of enquiry can be used to investigate gender, class, sexual and racial divisions in contemporary architectural spaces. Further it is also worth mentioning that bringing feminist and marxist concerns to bear on architectural history in this way also allows a different kind of engagement with a number of other practices. Thinking about the critical role that architecture plays in the construction of identity may provide new models for about looking at the notion of experience in feminist history and theory. Considering the differing experiences of architectural occupation through representational codes may suggest other ways of conceiving and designing architectural space. In short, this new practice of feminist marxist architectural history can suggest ways in which historical, architectural and feminist practices can inform and transform one another, by looking more closely at the intersection of gender and the use, representation and experience of architectural space.’

1-Rendell-Subjective-Space.pdf


‘Doing it, (Un)Doing it, (Over)Doing it Yourself: Rhetorics of Architectural Abuse’, Jonathan Hill (ed.), Occupying Architecture, (London: Routledge, 1998) 

In this essay I consider, from a feminist perspective, how architecture can be made by those other than architects. It is a key piece of writing for me because is the first time I draw upon my own experience of space as content for an academic essay, and lay down my autobiographical reflections, next to more theoretically informed thinking and critical considerations of architecture. My rewriting of this essay of the Site-Writing book in 2011, shifted the narrative relation into one of three voices. First is the voice of conventional architectural theory with its rules and hierarchies. Second is the voice of French feminist theory that posits critical thinking as creative practice – that ideas have their own aesthetic and spatial language. Third is a personal account of a house once lived in, whose occupants undid architecture through their unruly inhabitation of domestic space. The original essay was republished as ‘(Un)doing it Yourself: Rhetorics of Architectural Abuse’ in the Journal of Architecture, (Spring, 1999). And its later triple-tongued reworking republished as ‘Undoing Architecture’, in the catalogue designed by OOMK, for Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, curated by Irene Aristizábal (Nottingham Contemporary), Rosie Cooper (De La Warr Pavilion) and Cédric Fauq (Nottingham Contemporary) (2018-9).

2-Rendell-Undoing-Architecture.pdf


‘From Architectural History to Spatial Writing’, Elvan Altan Ergut, Dana Arnold, Belgin Turan Ozkaya, (eds) Rethinking Architectural Historiography (London: Routledge, 2006).

Written ten years after ‘Subjective Space’, this essay tracks the transformation in my own architectural history writing as a microcosm of a larger shift, a change in the role of critical theory in practising architectural history, and a shift in my own life. At a micro scale, I describe how I started out as an architectural designer and came later to architectural history, from there moving into teaching art and writing art criticism, and more recently returning to architecture, and to history. I reflect upon how my journey through art has changed me and the way I write architectural history.  Locating architectural history in an interdisciplinary context, between history, theory and practice, I argue that architectural history can no longer only be understood as a form of research that locates the researcher as a disinterested observer. Rather, drawing on the work of post-structuralist feminist theory, I demonstrate how architectural history is a spatialized practice, a mode of writing, which constructs, and is constructed by, the changing position of the author. This is not so much an essay then, as an outline of an approach, my changing approach to the practice of architectural history.

3-Rendell-From-Architectural-History-to-Spatial-Writing.pdf


 ‘Architecture-Writing’, in Jane Rendell (ed.) ‘Critical Architecture’, special issue of the Journal of Architecture, (June 2005), v. 10. n. 3, pp. 255-64.

This paper discusses how my research into site-writing, influenced by debates around art-writing, can inform architectural criticism. The paper first situates the term art-writing in relation to contemporary debates in art criticism. It then outlines a theoretical framing for the spatialization of art-writing as site-writing, identifying the potential of particular concepts in feminist, art and literary criticism for developing understandings of positionality and subjectivity in critical writing in terms of stand-point, relation, encounter and voice. The paper then demonstrates how these spatial possibilities can be played out in art criticism with reference to four essays. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of this work for architectural criticism, exploring how the hybrid term architecture-writing demands us to rethink the objects, subjects, sites, methods and materials of architectural criticism.

4a-Rendell-Introduction.pdf

4b-Rendell-Architecture-Writing.pdf


‘Introduction: Pre-Positions’, to Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism (London: IB Tauris, 2011).

Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism enacts a new kind of art criticism, one which draws out its spatial qualities, aiming to put the sites of the critic’s engagement with art first. These include the sites  – material, emotional, political and conceptual – of the artwork’s construction, exhibition and documentation, as well as those remembered, dreamed and imagined by the artist, critic and other viewers. In the introduction I set out what happens when discussions concerning situatedness and site-specificity extend to involve art criticism, and the spatial qualities of writing become as important in conveying meaning as the content of the criticism. I suggest that site-writing, in operating as mode of a practice in its own right, is a form of criticism that questions the terms of reference that relate the critic to the work positioned ‘under’ critique, and instead proposes alternative positions. Through a process I describe as configuration, I suggest that site-writing writes the sites between critic, work and artist, as well as critic, text and reader, and in so doing constructs an architecture of art criticism.

5-Rendell-Prologue-Pre-positions-.pdf


‘The Siting of Writing, and the Writing of Sites’, Matthew Carmona (ed) Explorations in Urban Design: An Urban Design Research Primer (London: Ashgate, 2013). 

In this essay, I reflect on site-writing work of my own and that of my students, produced through teaching and research, and on the process of creating spatial texts which combine architectural and urban design and theory. In so doing, I draw out a number of themes that connect my own site-writing practice to the interests palpable in my students’ work: firstly, an exploration of the materiality of the visual and spatial processes which combine written texts and images; secondly, a development of the particular spatial and architectural qualities of storytelling; thirdly, a blending of personal and academic writing styles to develop multiple voices and different subject positions; fourthly an investigation of how physical journeys through architectural spaces work in dialogue with changes in psychic and emotional states; fifthly, an articulation of the interactive relationship between writing and designing; and finally, an examination of how responses to specific sites can pattern the form as well as the content of texts, generating new genres for architectural writing based on (auto)biographies, diaries, guidebooks, letters, poems, stories and travelogues. Taken together, I suggest that these spatial writing practices, rather like a pattern of ripples unsettling a fluid surface, have the potential to reconfigure the relations between theory and practice, research and design, in existing urban methodologies, by prioritizing the emotional qualities of interactions between subjects and sites, and the role they can play in creating subtle but meaningful responses to existing conditions, while also hinting at past actions and future alternatives.

6-Rendell-The-Writing-of-Sites.pdf


‘A Way with Words: Feminists Writing Architectural Design Research’, Murray Fraser (ed) Architectural Design Research (London: Ashgate, 2013). 

In this essay I look at how an emerging body of feminist architectural design research is exploring the spatial qualities of writing, for example, as a form of materialized philosophy in the work of Hélene Frichot, Stephen Loo, Peg Rawes, and Katie Lloyd Thomas; poetic practice in the artefacts and texts created by Linda Maria Walker; landscape criticism in the essays of Katja Grillner and Sarah Treadwell; and architectural theory in the performative texts of Katarina Bonnevier, and Naomi Stead. I argue that with the current flourishing of this field, the time is ripe to consider how this kind of research, which takes place through writing as a form of designing, defines a new relation between these two architectural processes. I note how this relation is no longer one of opposition or negation, nor one where writing, as handmaid, simply documents and comments on the architectural design research activities of her master, but that instead, by employing design to their own ends, to confront the institutional limits of both architectural research and academic writing, feminists offer reconfigurations of architectural design research through new conceptualizations of positionality, subjectivity and textuality. 

7-Rendell-A-Way-with-Words.pdf


‘From, In and With Anne Tallentire’, special issue of Field: Becoming A Feminist Architect, (2017)

In 2013, I was invited by artist Anne Tallentireto write four‘100 word’ texts to describe photographs of buildings located between the offices of the National Women’s Council of Ireland and the site of Jacob’s biscuit factory, where, in 1913, locked out women remained on strike the longest. These texts were included, along with those by other women working in architecture – Ruth Morrow, Gráinne Hassett, Ellen Rowley, Culturstruction and Alice Casey in Anne’s work From, in and with. I chose to participate in the process by responding to Anne’s brief with a work of my own, trying, in the spirit of my site-writing project, to re-make the photographs in writing. The four texts I wrote four – ‘Gridlock’, ‘Blindspot’, ‘About to touch’ and ‘Inversion’ – made spatial correspondences to the architecture shown in the photographs. I sent these to Anne along with instructions for typesetting those words to create ‘site-writings’. This interaction of call and response, as well as involving a translation from image to word and back again, also raised some important questions for me concerning the processes of authorship, production, collaboration and citation involved in the work of making art and writing. And as a result, this essay, which Anne contributed to, and which I discussed in great detail with her, continued, following the spirit of Anne’s work, to draw out the role of women’s labour in urban space and architecture, raising questions concerning the work involved in making art and writing history and criticism.

8-Jane-Rendell-From-in-and-with-Anne-Tallentire-30-June-2017-small.pdf

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