Provisional Thesis Abstract, July 2011

An Ethics of Dialogue

        This thesis explores the production of, legitimization of and engagement with the built environment of Wellington City. It is primarily concerned with the nature, direction, and productivity of relationships between architects, clients, users, other constructional professionals and members of the broader public, and with the implications of these relations for the practice of architecture and modes of design. The thesis steps off from a analysis of the exploding number of 'Architecture Centres' across Europe, seeking not only new engagements between individuals, but new engagements with the processes and practices of the built environment.

       Embedded in much present-day architectural thinking is a reliance on the definitional terms 'inside' and 'outside'. These terms seek to exclude any person, concept or object which might bring processes of the built environment as we know them into question. This exclusion and self-definition is echoed in practice and in the space of the city.

Engaging an alternative Levinian 'ethics of dialogue' as a driving philosophy, the thesis investigates the voices of three individuals (Bruce Robbins, literary critic; Jonathan Hill, critical architect; and Sarah Whiting, proponent of the post-critical pragmatists) who conceptualise the inside and outside in different ways, from notions of the homely and the homesick, to the sensual and the institutional, and the fashionable and the autonomous. The thesis utilises drawing as a tool to spatialise these voices and to map dialogues between individuals and sites.

        This investigation forms the foundation for the the built proposition of the thesis. The 'Doorway to the Built Environment' is a committed public building sited on and under Post Office Square which acts as a non-prescriptive space for debates, exhibitions and investigations concerning the built environment to occur. Within the context of the thesis, the building is proposed as a mode of questioning, rather than as a solution. The boundary between inside and outside is transgressed by informal space, by the voices of the usually unheard, by the shadows of the existing city. It invites all, providing a public democratic platform in which the built environment becomes collective rather than individuated in production, legitimisation and engagement.