The Bacterial Clients of Modern Architecture





Modern Movement, Modern architecture, Modern housing


The human is an unstable idea; simultaneously an all-powerful creature – capable of transforming the whole ecology of the planet – yet extremely fragile, a murky ghost. Contemporary research into our microbiome portrays the human itself as a mobile ecology constructed by the endless flux of interactions between thousands of different species of bacteria – some of which are millions of years old and others joined us just a few months ago. This challenges conventional understandings of architecture. What does it mean to house the human when we no longer think that the human organism is securely contained within its skin? What is the role of architecture when the humans occupying it are understood to be suspended in clouds of bacteria shared, generated and mobilized by other macro-organisms (pets, plants, insects…) and the building itself; when the human is not a clearly defined organism or in any sense independent; when the architectural client is a massive set of ever-changing trans-species alliances that make the apparent complexity of even the largest of cities seem quaintly uncomplicated. What kind of care do architects offer if we think of ourselves as alliances between bacteria within the apparent limits of the body and throughout the spaces we occupy? What faces 21st century architects in comparison to 20th century architects?

How to Cite

Colomina, B., & Wigley, M. (2021). The Bacterial Clients of Modern Architecture. Docomomo Journal, (62), 6–17.







Author Biographies

Beatriz Colomina, Princeton University

Architectural historian and theorist, Howard Crosby Butler Professor of the History of Architecture and Founding Director of the Media and Modernity program at Princeton University. Her books include Sexuality and Space (Princeton Architectural Press, 1992); Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (MIT, 1994); Domesticity at War (ACTAR and MIT, 2006); Clip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines with Craig Buckley (ACTAR, 2010); Are We Human? Notes on an Archeology of Design with Mark Wigley (Lars Müller, 2016) and X-Ray Architecture (Lars Müller 2019).

Mark Wigley, Columbia University

Architectural historian and theorist, Professor Columbia GSAPP. His books include: White Walls, Designer Dresses: The Fashioning of Modern Architecture (MIT Press, 1995); Constant’s New Babylon: The Hyper-Architecture of Desire (010 Publishers, 1998); Buckminster Fuller Inc.: Architecture in the Age of Radio (Lars Muller Publishers, 2015); Are We Human? Notes on an Archaeology of Design with Beatriz Colomina (Lars Müller, 2016); Cutting Matta-Clark: The Anarchitecture Investigation (Lars Müller, 2018); and Passing Through Architecture: The 10 Years of Gordon Matta-Clark (Power Station of Art, 2019).


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