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Manchester Urban Institute

Staff Spotlight: Isabelle Doucet

31 August 2017

In our first 'Staff Spotlight' for the August-September MUI Newsletter, we asked Isabelle Doucet, Senior Lecturer in Architecture and Urbanism, about her research, career highlights and more.

Isabelle Doucet

What is your career highlight so far?

There is something quite special and rewarding about seeing a monograph published after many years of dedicated research, so the publication of 'The Practice Turn in Architecture. Brussels after 1968' (Routledge 2015) must be a highlight. But academic life is full of sparks that are usually not classified as highlights. I feel very fortunate and grateful for all those occasions where I am invited to discuss research with most knowledgeable and intellectually generous colleagues around the world.

Tell us about your current research and what you see as your key academic challenges over the next five years.

My research largely focuses on social responsibility and radical resistance in architecture, which I have studied in the context of activist, urban and architectural design practices, and radical instances of architecture pedagogy. Drawing from extensive archival research and interviews I am currently studying the countercultural effort in Belgium in the 1960s and 1970s. I am also studying new conceptualisations of resistance as they emerge through the literature on the Anthropocene and the wider field of the Environmental Humanities, and through historically revisiting environmental architectures that exemplify such resistance. Also, originating in a recent Visiting Fellowship at the Architecture Theory Criticism History Research Centre (ATCH) at the University of Queensland, I am developing, together with Janina Gosseye, a research project on Aesthetics of Resistance. A first symposium was held at ATCH, and we are planning a follow up event this academic year in Manchester.

What is the dream scenario for you in terms of the impact of your work?

At the Manchester School of Architecture, I already have the opportunity to embed social responsibility and critical resistance in my architecture theory and history courses. For example, generous support from the UoM Social Responsibility in the Curriculum Fund, has allowed me to organise scholarly events as part of my teaching, thus offering students – and future architects! - the opportunity to take part in in-depth scholarly discussions around important challenges faced by their profession.

Over the years I have been invited to present my work to wider audiences including policy makers, design professionals, cultural foundations, and urban activists. A recent highlight is the current exhibition at the CIVA Foundation in Brussels, titled 'Save/Change The City'which revisits the 1970s Brussels ‘urban struggle’, a topic I have written about extensively. This is an important, well-documented, and timely exhibition, and I feel honoured to have played some (albeit small) part in this exciting project.

What do you see as the benefits to working in a broad research institute like MUI?

My work on radical and resistant architecture is intertwined with the urban struggle, so it feels only natural to be part of an institute like MUI. Many architecture theorists and historians, including our colleagues at the Manchester Architecture Research Group, study architectural production as both affected by and co-producing wider social, economic, political, and urban realities. Architectural scholarship moreover adopts an interesting position in that it derives from a discipline that is connected to a profession, and thus involves also a projective component. This projective aspect offers opportunities also for radical imaginations of (other) futures, which, in my view, renders architecture relevant in a much wider scholarly environment, such as the one offered by MUI.

If you could take one book to a desert island what would it be?

Impossible to answer! I suppose if, hypothetically, circumstances would force such choice, it will have to be a work that keeps one creatively and intellectually stimulated for as long as possible, so perhaps a Lexicon or Thesaurus?

More information about Isabelle’s research can be found at the University of Manchester Research Explorer.

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