This is the latest in an ongoing series in which we will be publishing articles from Lunch 11: Domestication. To purchase a hard copy of the issue, please contact the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“229: If a builder build a house for some one, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death. 230: If it kill the son of the owner the son of that builder shall be put to death. 231: If it kill a slave of the owner, then he shall pay slave for slave to the owner of the house.” (Hammurabi's Code, 1792-1750 B.C.E.)
At its most absolute, the architectural code is a juridical mechanism by which a governing entity, via the regulation of domestic catastrophes, assigns a value to life itself. Hammurabi’s code, which is both the earliest known codification of governance and the first domestic building code, is an economic equation that leverages domestic chaos as a medium for fixing the value of the client’s life as equal to the value of the builder’s life, the value of the client’s son’s life as equal to the value of the builder’s son’s life, and the value of the owner’s slave as equal to the current market rate for slaves. Neither a prescription for how homes should be built, nor the material regulation of domestic construction, the domestic code in its earliest conception was a simple remunerative construct through which domestic catastrophe, as an economic manifold, valued life as a finite resource, such that one eye would always be worth another.
“We will approach the theme by way of a contrast: whereas the power of the sovereign under Medieval and early Modern times was the power to make die and to let live, the power of the total state, which is the biopower state, is the power to make live and to let die.” (Eduardo Mendieta, Foucault on Racism, 2002)
“It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” (Jeremy Bentham, A Fragment on Government, 1776)
The slow substitution of power for biopower recast the role of the domestic code—from a manifold for adjudicating life’s value as a fixed resource, to a collection of preventative edicts intended to indefinitely prolong life. The juridical codification of the home as a remunerative construct where one life equals one life was replaced by a collection of preventative acts of divination, intended not to regulate the exchange of lives following chaos, but rather to cast the inevitability of domestic chaos into further and further degrees of statistical obscurity, such that domestic subjectivity, as a space for future economic transactions, might achieve a state of virtual permanence.
No longer a means of fixing the value of life as a resource, the biopolitically codified home renders life a marketplace through its statistically permanent preservation. This near-perfect juridical preservation of life can simultaneously be regarded as the invention of architecture as a liberal economic pursuit through the fabrication of its absolute ontological disciplinary limit: whatever effects an architect may choose to produce through the design of a home, the effect of murdering the client through building is ipso facto codified as an extra-disciplinary effect, and thus outside the professional purview of the architect.
The design of homes thus follows two discrete trajectories of development. First: the extra-disciplinary development, codification and implementation of technologies intended to cast domestic catastrophes into ever-further realms of statistical obscurity, i.e.: structural redundancy thresholds, fire safety technologies, hygiene management protocols, etc. Second: the inter-disciplinary diversification of life’s market potential, i.e.: life’s atomization into the discrete market sectors of living, dining, sleeping, shitting, and fucking through the refined articulation of the plan, life’s stylization in the form of life-style accoutrement, the meticulous mining of life’s economic data via smart domestic technologies, etc.
All subsequent disciplinary attempts to reclaim any extra-economical value for life through the so-called radical practices of housing reform are equally marked by the absurdity of contesting the diversification of life’s market potential through: free plans, Heideggerian dwelling myths, post-modern ironic consumerism, post-human post-functionalism etc., while paradoxically preserving life’s status as a sustainable marketplace by reinforcing a biopolitical disciplinary ontology which regards domestic murder as an extra-architectural activity.
Rather than continue architecture’s antiquated performance of perfunctory rebellion, we choose here to accelerate toward the third and final evolution of the domestic code: life as an absolute speculative commodity. All around us we recognize the emergence of post-governance economics, i.e.: where state-sponsored capital is replaced with post-state crypto-currencies, where state-based sovereignty is replaced with extra-state craft, and where state-regulated building codes are replaced with private transnational codification councils. Life’s value is approaching its final transmogrification, no longer as a fixed resource, nor a marketplace artificially stabilized through sovereign power, but as just one among an infinite number of speculative commodities in an emerging post-state global economy.
In lieu of revisiting the well-worn disciplinary debates over what today’s homes ought to look like, what possibilities of subjectivity they ought to engender, or what forms of performance they ought to technologically engineer, we’ve chosen to produce only a successively codified Domino as a post-architectural speculative investment portfolio. By reducing the contemporary home to an encrustation of life-preserving devices, mining the vast statistical quantifications of death in the domestic realm, and utilizing the most advanced speculative investment algorithms whereby
[(life value) = ((avg. cost of feature) / (risk index)) / (investment index)]
we’ve produced an architectural portfolio for the speculative investor to best navigate the future value fluctuations of life as a commodity. (Average cost of features calculated by Home Advisor's construction calculator. Risk index refers to the average statistical chance of death due to a particular domestic catastrophe minus the life saving potential of the safety feature in question. All calculations made in reference to the National Census Bureau’s quantification of domestic accidents leading to death.)
In an age in which both life and buildings can only be regarded as fluctuating commodities in a speculative global market, every post-architectural act can henceforth be understood only as a wager made against the future value of life itself. (At the time of writing this piece, the average human life is worth an estimated 354.99 bitcoin.)
Curtis Roth is an Assistant Professor at the Knowlton School of Architecture at the Ohio State University and a 2015-2017 resident fellow of the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart. He holds a Master of Architecture degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was previously a partner of OfficeUS, the U.S. Pavilion during the 14th International Architecture Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia. He investigates architecture’s processes of cultural, economic and juridical valuation post-internet through diverse media productions including movies, video games, internet micro-economies, drawings, texts, and irl stuff.