The 2013 AHRA Transgression Conference – An Overview by David Littlefield

The international conference on Transgression, co-organised by MST member David Littlefield and UWE colleague Dr Rachel Sara, is now being followed by a website and a pair of publications due for publication in the autumn of 2014. The conference, which was the 10th conference of the Architectural Humanities Research Association, took place in Bristol UK last November. With more than 60 speakers, including a specially-commissioned film from Bernard Tschumi, the conference heard from architects, artists, film-makers and theorists about the ways in which notions of transgression can help define spatial practice and readings of space. Speakers included a number of MST members including Gini Lee, Mary Modeen, Victoria Walters, David Smith, Rebecca Krinke and Iain Biggs.

“Transgression pushes the limits of experience”, wrote Bakhtin. Bataille suggested a further definition: “Transgression opens the door into what lies beyond the limits usually observed, but it maintains those limits just the same. Transgression is complementary to the profane world, exceeding its limits but not destroying it.”

The conference, therefore, asked how architecture and other spatial disciplines can challenge the norm (codes, rules, social constructs) in order to usefully redefine or re-code practice and the frameworks within which spatial practices take place. Indeed, by examining what is taking place at the edges of architecture, can notions of transgression help redefine the centre of architecture itself? One of the themes to emerge from the conference was, in fact, a recognition of the expanded field which encompasses architecture and the number of practices which have been deployed as architectural tools, including: mapping, exploring, performance, dance, chemistry, archaeology, walking and dreaming. Can notions of transgression – with its implications of subversion, blurring and stepping across a boundary – help in the creation of a new definition of architectural practice and practices?

These questions will continue to be explored in two post-conference publications presently being edited: the book Transgression (Routledge) and the journal Architecture and Culture on the theme of “Transgression: body and space” (Bloomsbury). Ideas were also tested through the publication of an issue of Architectural Design “The Architecture of Transgression” (Wiley)*. The Transgression research cluster at the University of the West of England is also working on a website. In the longer term, the research cluster is considering how the conference can have a lasting and on-going legacy through further projects and networking events.

For further details on Transgression and developing initiatives, please contact: