Kim Foerster

Kim Foerster


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Personal profile


Since 2019, Kim Förster is Lecturer in Architectural Studies at The University of Manchester and member of the Manchester Architecture Research Group (MARG). In his work Förster focusses on social, cultural, political, and economic issues in relation to architecture in a broad sense, as object and process, a critical perspective on architectural institutions, cultural production, and alternative pedagogy since the 1960s, and more broadly the histories and theory of architecture in 19th and 20th century. His current project deals with architecture and the environment, i.e. notions of ecology, archives of energy transition, and the politics and economies of sustainability at different spatial scales over the last five decades. Exploring these complex, often ambiguous, if not paradoxical issues from a interdisciplinary perspective, having an academic background in English and American Studies, Geography and Pedagogy, he bases his socio-historical research on institutional analysis and discourse analysis, archival research and oral history.

Förster received his doctorate in architecture from ETH Zurich in 2011, where previously, as a postdoctoral lecturer, he has taught a seminar on research methods in the doctoral program in history and theory of architecture at the gta Institute. Before joining The University of Manchester, from 2016 to 2018, Förster was Associate Director of Research at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) in Montréal, supervising multiple research programs for different cohorts of scholars, most particularly topical collaborative research projects funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Over the summer, he has been directing the CCA’s Doctoral Students Program, which brings PhD candidates to Montreal to pursue archival research, conceiving one-week summer schools on contemporary concepts or methods, e.g. on “Key Concepts on the Environment,” “Oral History,” or “Activisms in Research and Teaching”. For his own research he received funding from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in Fine Arts and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

Förster’s monograph on the history of the renowned Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (New York, 1967-1985) is forthcoming. He has published widely in anthologies, most recently Mediated Messages: Periodicals, Exhibitions, and the Shaping Postmodern Architecture (Bloomsbury, 2018) and Routledge Companion to Architecture and Social Engagement (Routledge, 2018), as well as invarious architectural magazines and journals (e.g. ARCH+Architectural HistoriesArchitheseBauweltCandideClogLandscriptProjectWerk, Bauen und Wohnen), as co-editor of An Architektur, member of common room, and guest editor of Candide. Together with common room he is co-editor of the publication Arts for Living (2013).



Förster, K.: The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (New York, 1965-1985) (under review) 

Förster, K. and common room [eds.]: Arts for Living, New York: common books, 2013.


Book Chapters

Förster, K., „Institutionalizing Postmodernism: Reconceiving the Journal and the Exhibition at the IAUS in 1976“, in: Véronique Patteeuw / Léa-Catherine Szacka [eds.]: Mediating Messages: On the Role of Exhibition and Periodicals in Critically Shaping Postmodern Architecture, London: Bloomsbury, 2018, 213-229.

Förster, K., „Umdenken Umschwenken: Environmental Engagement and Swiss Architecture,“ in: Karim, Farhan [ed.]: Routledge Companion to Architecture and Social Engagement, Routledge: New York and London, 2018.

Förster, K., „Differentiating Eisenman“ & „Against Eisenman“, in: Djokovis, Vladan / Bojanovic, Petar [eds.]: Peter Eisenman. In Dialogue with Architects and Philosophers. Sesto San Giovanni: Mimesis International, 2017, 171-204, 205-228.


Peer-Reviewed Journals

Förster, K., „The Green IBA. On a Politics of Renewal, Ecology, and Solidarity“, Candide 11, May 2019, 9-50.

Förster, K., et al. „Architecture and the Environment. Field Notes", Architectural Histories, 2018, 1-13. 

Förster, K., „The Housing Prototype of The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies. Negotiating Housing and the Social Responsibility of Architects within Cultural Production“, Candide 5, February 2012, 57-92.


Architectural Journals and Magazines

Förster, K. and Escher, C, „Revisiting Görlitzer Park: Material Practices and the Postmodern Landscape,“ in: Jane Hutton [ed.]: Landscript 5, issue: "Material Culture", Berlin: Jovis, 2017, 154-173. 

Förster, K. and with common room, „Learning as a Problem-oriented Form of Practice“, Volume 45, issue: "Learning", 2015, 113-117. 

Förster, K., „‘Wie bauen, wie weiter leben?‘ Frei Ottos Vision vom ökologischen und gemeinsamen Bauen“, Bauwelt, 20, issue: "Frei nach Otto", 2015, 28/29.

Förster, K., „‚Is there such thing as evil objects?‘: A Review of Lucius Burckhardt Writings“, Architectural Histories, 2014, 2(1): 4, 1-3. 

Förster, K. and common room, „A New Framework for an Architecture of Coexistence. Ivan Illich Re-Read“, Project. A Journal for Architecture, No. 3, Spring 2014, 14-17.

Förster, K., „Das Paradox der Nachhaltigkeit als Modeerscheinung. Architektur and Natur in Zeiten des Biokapitalismus“, Archithese 6, 2013, S. 72-77.

Förster, K., „ARCH+ feature 19. Die Netzwerke des Peter Eisenman. Produk- tion von Wissen und Kultur am Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York (1967 bis 1985)“, ARCH+ 210, April 2013.

Förster, K., „Das architektonische Projekt. Bildung und Kultur am Institute for Ar- chitecture and Urban Studies (NY, 1967-1985)“, in: Archithese 6, 2012, 78-85.

Research interests

Cement. Building Material of the Anthropocene

Concerned with multiple disciplinary perspectives, this research project studies the restructuring and impact of a globalizing cement industry at the local and planetary scale – and the profession’s and discipline’s relation towards this kind of extractivism. Moving beyond a celebratory approach to a modernist architectural culture based on concrete, the focus is on how processes of urbanization and the provision of infrastructure in the name of sustainability on the one hand, and continued belief in progress and growth in the name of development and modernization on the other hand, play out globally. Through case studies in both the Global North and South, integrating approaches from architectural history, economic and urban geography, cultural and material anthropology, urban political ecology, to environmental history and humanities, Cement. Building Material of the Anthropocene investigates the environmental impact and the geopolitical disrupture of the current way cement is produced, used, advertised and distributed. Starting from historical research concerned with how the cement industry was nationally syndicalized and internationally expanded, this research project is concerned with the geographies of how cement production became globalized, which in the past called for corporate social responsibility. While Africa is portraited as the next frontier for cement producers, the big players once again divide the global markets anew. China, which in the five years after the 2008 crisis has used up more cement than the US did during the 20th century, now with its “Belt and Road”-initiative is pushing the frontiers of the urbanization of capital through cement use forward to the next level. In a corporate perspective, new driving forces for cement are seen in the accelerating expansion of infrastructure across the globe, as well as the need for costal fortification and eventually the relocation of megacities. In contrast, the production and use of cement is central in claiming political, national and cultural emancipation while with the withdrawal of the state from the provision of housing and services, the commodification is at the base to raise living standards. Today, as a beginning has been made by a relatively small but influential group of architects and academics to challenge the international cement business precisely because of the life span of the energy embedded in the building material, a comparative analysis of cement production and use is largely unexplored and the careful formulation of a critical perspective in architectural studies, as one of the humanities, based on ethical principles has yet to happen. While the self-proclaimed global market leader, the Swiss-French LafargeHolcim, over the last 15 years has invested in a widespread marketing campaign, encompassing a global awards for sustainable construction, and an international conference series, as well as further greenwashing through corporate funding for academia and culture, the project will develop new perspectives on how to think and act in a global perspective, to decolonialize and decarbonize architectural knowledge, and how to position the research project in a global perspective to strive for social and environmental justice.


Institutional Histories of Education and Culture

For more than a decade, Förster has lectured and published on architectural culture in the postmodern and contemporary era, questions of labour and organization, discursive formations, their conditions and impacts. In the framework of his doctoral dissertation, he focussed on the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies as a paradigmatic case for postmodern discourse and cultural production, especially its four dominant institutional roles as project office, architecture school, cultural space, and publishing house. He analysed the Institute against the background of the profound changes in North-American society and culture throughout the 1970s, the year 1973 with its change in housing policy being a major turning point, as it exploited the opportunities of information and knowledge society after New York City taxation and fiscal crisis in 1975 and the provision of funding for the arts and humanities towards the globalization of architectural debates and the professionalization, if not commercialization of immaterial forms of labour. Since his dissertation, Förster presented various key issues at international conferences and symposia on architecture education, public housing, postmodern media, national and international networks and competitions, e.g. at the conference “Architecture Education Goes Outside Itself,” organized by Joan Ockman, at the University of Pennsylvania in 2014 or in a sessionat the EAHN conference in Torino in 2014, moderated by Léa-Catherine Szacka and Véronique Patteeuw. Moreover, in 2013, he presented and published his research in the context of the “ARCH+ features 19”-event, hosted by the Berlin based architectural magazine ARCH+, titled “On the IAUS and the Networks of Peter Eisenman”. At the CCA, he extended his focus and approach to the criticism of institutional change under neoliberalism. In 2017, Förster curated the exhibition titled „Educating Architects. Four Courses by Kenneth Frampton“ in CCA’s Octagonal Gallery, on curriculum design in the USA in the 1970s and 80s, which took Frampton’s teaching at Columbia University as an example and evidence for the status of the university in society. In 2018, he took part in CCA’s “Find and Tell”-Program, which invites architects and scholars to a one-week residence to select documents to be digitized and shared with a larger public, this time not focussing on the Institute and its performance as an institution, a role which it continuously and consciously refused to accept, but as an architectural project itself. The research will for the moment culminate in a richly illustrated monograph on the Institute in collaboration, with funding by the Graham Foundation.


Histories of Environmental Thought and Practice in Architecture

Applying an institutional, both social and discursive analysis to the topic of the environmental problematic with regard to architecture, landscape architecture and urbanism, Förster started this research in parallel to that on the culturalization, i.e. the aestheticiziation, historicization and semanticization of architecture since the 1970s. First conceived as a postdoctoral project, he has studied different cases of how architecture incorporated and coined approaches to ecology, energy transition and sustainability, analysing political agency in Europe at different spatial scales. The essay, “Umdenken Umschwenken: Environmental Engagement and Swiss Architecture,” presented first as a paper at the conference of European Society for Environmental History (ESEH) on “Greening History: Studying the Environment across Disciplines, Past, Present and Future” in Paris in 2015, which was published in a Routledge Handbook, looks at the intersection of activism and academy, on the case of an ecological exhibition shown at ETH Zurich in 1975, which travelled in all German speaking countries. A second essay “The Green IBA. On a Politics of Renewal, Ecology, and Solidarity,” presented in a session on “Sustainable Cities and Social Justice” at the XVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology in 2014, which will appear in Candide 11 in 2019, deals with the forgotten part of the 1984/87 Berlin building expo, discussing the intersection of municipal (bottom-up) politics and urbanism. The current research which focusses on corporate sustainability of the global cement industry, referring to LafargeHolcim’s sustainability awards and their conference series as the case for the intersection of global corporations and architecture, Förster presented at the SAH Annual International Conference in Saint Paul in 2018 and he will continue working on it through literature review, archival work, oral history, and ethnographic research. The intersection of state and market will be approached with regard to the national and European scale through research and teaching. Förster is member of the EAHN "Architecture and the Environment"-interest group and has contributed to “Architecture and the Environment. Field Notes,” edited by Sophie Hochhäusl and Torsten Lange, which was published online as collective writing in Architectural Historiesin 2018. In 2018, he presented at the Petrocultures-conference in Glasgow, how the CCA has made energy transition a topic through exhibiting, collecting and researching projects, arguing that as research institution, beyond being a museum and an archive, it brought together people, objects and stories to rethink architecture’s central role in using and saving energy and resources, proposing alternative strategies for a transition towards renewables.


“Architecture and/for the Environment”

In the position as Associate Director of Research at the CCA from 2016 to 2018,  Förster expanded the both temporal and territorial scope of his own research project on environmental histories by directing a collaborative group research project, funded in the framework of the Architecture, Urbanism and Humanities Initiative of the Mellon Foundation, which focussed on architecture’s complex historical relationship to nature since industrialization. As the effects of man-made climate change become apparent, in this project, which was structured around three workshops/seminars and ran over the course of 18 months, eight researchers, selected in a peer-reviewed process, dealt with unresolved, perhaps irresolvable problems in architecture’s environmental history, while cross-disciplinary attention, including that of architecture, focused on the new realities of the Anthropocene. Topics include the trade and representation of coal as early fossil fuel at the London Coal Exchange; nature itself, in this case ragweed, being mapped and discussed in American cities as an urban pollutant; the concealment of oil in post-war modernist facade systems; the establishment of courses on environmental control systems in North-American schools of architecture; the rise of air conditioning and its effects on urban space in Singapore and Doha; the globalization of the asbestos industry; buildings by Cedric Price and Ant Farm for multi-species encounters; and the Amazon rainforest, as seen through the eyes of American ethnobotanist William Balée, to be preserved as a cultural artefact. In two public events, titled „It’s complicated“ and „It’s simple“, which Förster conceived, organized and moderated, the researchers in the spring of 2018 discussed key concepts such as "energy/power", "control/system", "toxic/body", and "posthuman/nature" from a transdisciplinary perspective with Dominic Boyer, Gabrielle Hecht, Michael Osman and Etienne Turpin; and in the fall of 2018 they presented their research at The Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture in collaboration with The Heymen Center for the Humanities of Columbia University with a response by Meredith TenHoor and Reinhold Martin. The results of this multidisciplinary research project will be published as a digital publication by CCA, edited by Förster, to be published in 2021.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action


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