The two presentations at this week's Cass Research Seminar examine the relationship between architecture and autonomy through the example of workspace on and around the Old Kent Road. Ben Colburn is head of philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He is a moral and political philosopher, working on the ideal of autonomy and its relationship with individual responsibility and state neutrality. Jane is the Lecturer in Urban Design at The Cass, and is head of MA Architecture and Urbanism. She explores urban depth, London industrial accommodation and high streets with the Cass Cities team. Ben Colburn (Department of Philosophy, Glasgow University)
will speak about autonomy and authoring our own lives. The autonomous citizen decides for herself what is valuable and lives her life in accordance with that decision. This liberal ideal – an ideal of ‘self-authorship’, to use Joseph Raz’s suggestive phrase – is put to extensive use in contemporary political philosophy, but comparatively underused outwith that domain. This talk begins the task of extending its usage, with the hopes eventually of providing useful conceptual tools in architecture and urban design, and of enrichening the philosophical theory through application to an important and (in analytic philosophy) undertheorized area. Ben will start by explaining the ideal of autonomy, discussing its components and their interrelations. He will then explore the various different threats implied by this internally complex ideal. This gives us a diagnostic tool for identifying ways that arrangements (political, economic, spatial) might hinder citizens in enjoying this important good. He will conclude by sketching how this might apply in the realm of architecture and urban design, and what positive lessons we might draw if we want to design spaces and places which support people in being the authors of their own lives. Ben is head of philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked and studied at Cambridge. He is primarily a moral and political philosopher, working on the ideal of autonomy and its relationship with individual responsibility and state neutrality. His recent work has explored the application of some of these ideas, especially in the domains of education, refugee policy, and end of life care.
Jane Clossick (Cass Cities) will discuss the autonomous lives of the Old Kent Road. The industrial and employment accommodation available (size, shape, location, tenure length and cost) affects the type of businesses that can exist and the capacity entrepreneurs and business owners have to live autonomous lives: to decide for themselves what is valuable and live in accordance with that decision. Large-scale erasure of industrial land and accommodation is taking place in London. The Old Kent Road is undergoing such changes, driven by planning policy. It is important to find a way to discuss whether the London Plan and local planning policy will better people’s lives, or not: to open the discussion beyond the well-rehearsed narrative of solutions to the housing crisis. The Old Kent Road is a useful example which represents many others, as de-designation of protected industrial land plays out in many similar locations across London. In this talk, Jane will explore what type of businesses and what type of working lives exist in the industrial sheds of the Old Kent Road. Cass Cities has spent two years conducting a social and economic audit of every address in the Old Kent Road Opportunity Area and Jane has mined this data to find examples of people exercising their autonomy, and examples of people having their autonomy stifled. She will argue that reducing the available business accommodation raises ethical questions. If individual autonomy is a valuable ideal, should our planning policy be restricting it for business owners?