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Politics and Aesthetics in the Architecture of the EU, by Dennis Pohl

Although contemporary media coverage widely circulate the term 'Capital of Europe' in

association with Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg, the architecture of the European

institutions remains unconsidered in the public debate as well as in academic literature.1

Which role did these buildings play in the political formation of the European

Communities? What kind of political spaces were produced? Which forms of politics do

they address?

Drawing upon extensive archive research, this contribution will, first, examine how

discursive political tensions between a federal union and a functionalist supranational body

influenced the design of the European Commission building in the early 1960's. Secondly,

the early design phase of the European Council building in the 1970's will be analyzed

according to its methods, techniques and tools employed by the commissioned planning

offices CEGOS and Bouwcentrum. This will give particular insights on the way how

organizational-cybernetic approaches were preconfigurating through spatial arrangements

of documents, services and people the political operationality of the institution (Van

Ettinger 1960, 1965).

As a methodological framework Foucault's lectures on the history of governmentality will

serve as an analytic grid through which an archaeology of documents, diagrams, design

techniques, security mechanisms and forms of knowledge in the government of the

European Communities will be conducted (Foucault 2007, 2008). This will allow to reflect

upon the architecture as a technology of power that contributed to the formation of the

European Communities and their specific governmentality. Beyond that, this research will

criticize attempts of architects, geographers and politicians in the last two decades to solve

the supposed European identity crisis with architectural landmarks, a symbolic European

Capital or artistic interventions, under headlines such as “Image of Europe”, “Capital of

Europe” or “New Narratives for Europe” (Aureli and Berlage Institute 2007; de Graaf and

Koolhaas 2004, Hein 2004, European Commission 2001, Calay and Magosse 2009).

Furthermore, it will raise the question whether the architecture of supranational institutions

can be still considered under traditional accounts of symbolic representation.

1 With a few the very remarkable exceptions: (Hein 2004; Sterken 2015)


Aureli, Pier Vittorio, and Berlage Institute, eds. 2007. Brussels, a Manifesto: Towards the Capital of Europe. Rotterdam : Brussels: NAi Publishers ; A + Edition.

Calay, Vincent and Magosse, Reinoud. 2009. “Imagining the capital of Europe”, in: Groof, Roel de, ed. Brussels and Europe: Acta of the International Colloquium on Brussels and Europe, held in the Albert Borschette Conference Centre in Brussels, on 18 and 19 December 2009. Brussels: ASP.: 473-499.

de Graaf, Reinier and Koolhaas, Rem. 2004. “€-conography. How to undo Europe’s iconographic deficit?”, in: Rem Koolhaas (ed.), Content, Cologne: Taschen: 376-389.

European Commission. 2001. The Capital of Europe. Final Report. Brussels: European


Foucault, Michel. 2007. Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-78. Edited by Michel Senellart, François Ewald, and Alessandro Fontana. Translated by

Graham Burchel. Basingstoke ; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

———. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-79. Edited by

Michel Senellart, François Ewald, and Alessandro Fontana. Translated by Graham Burchel.

Basingstoke [England] ; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hein, Carola. 2004. The Capital of Europe: Architecture and Urban Planning for the European Union. Perspectives on the Twentieth Century. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

Sterken, Sven. 2015. Brussel, stad van kantoren, in: Erfgoed Brussel, Nr. 015-016, September

2015, pp. 105-107.

Van Ettinger, Jan. 1960. Towards a Habitable World. Amsterdam, London, New York, Princeton: Elsevier Publishing Company.

———. 1965. More... through quality. Rotterdam: International Quality Centre at Bouwcentrum.

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