THE ACT OF SERVICE
view from our bedroom
“The appearance of égalité is always discursively sustained by an asymmetric axis of master versus servant.”
The term ‘service’ has multiple, seemingly unrelated meanings. While state structures define it as “a system performing or supplying a public need” (Oxford University Press 2019) such as municipalities and highways, some commercial industries understand it as a unit of measurement (service ratings), and others are wholly defined by it (service industry). NGOs and social enterprises identify it as their ‘bottom line’, and it is also used to describe facilities, ceremonies, and rituals (military, funeral, and church services). The word’s root servise (old French) means “act of homage” (Hindley, Langley & Levy 2000), which describes a public expression of faithfulness – social contract or public declaration of trust – toward one’s shared values.
Each definition of service is rooted in a transaction, but what/who the giver is and what/who the receiver is, is not always conspicuous; even what is given and what is received can be ambiguous. These transactions take place primarily in the public sphere, but also have private meaning.
Unit 19 is interested in the Trojan-horse agreements made between states through the service-based relationalities that function as tools of permission, legitimation, structuration, and absolution for power structures. Three outputs (or ordering tactics) that both architecture and service have in common are of interest to the Unit:
the first output is the categories that they produce, i.e. they differentiate public from private, solid from void, native from transgressor, and believer from unbeliever;
secondly, they build associations. The word ‘association’ comes from the same Latin root for society socius, and describes the act of producing society (de Vaan 2008) – through containing, separating, eliminating, and so on, and
finally, they produce obligations; to permanence, to consequence, and to meaning. The Unit aims to establish the language of society-making that are derived by these outputs.
This year, the students are proposing a ‘Ritual Service’ for their Major Design Project (MDP), i.e. a service infrastructure around “…a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order” (Oxford University Press 2019). Although immaterial in definition, i.e. a ritual service is performed into existence and disappears after the performance is concluded, it requires a vessel in which to play out; its bounds determined and concrete. The students’ proposals are rooted in a Christian religious concept/concepts, and approaches society-making as a continuous and upscaled ritual service (i.e. tithes as tax, churchgoers as surveillance, Bible-as-law, and so on), to reveal Christianity’s gnostic role as a disarming vessel through which socio-political orders are offered.
The Church Square Precinct in Pretoria, South Africa is the Unit’s site of enquiry for 2020. Students will engage site within their current geographic location, while traversing its realities and time. In 1904, the church from which the Pretoria city plan was borne and radiated, was demolished. The church provided a scaffold for the city, and held that space temporarily, allowing the city’s blueprint to emerge. Once able to stand on its own, the city removed its church scaffold without erasing its ritual foundations. Now a public square in an ever-evolving