The Laboratory for Inhabitable Theories and Research in Architecture | LITRA was founded by artist/architect Claudia Westermann in 2001. It has since then offered a platform for projects at the threshold of art and architecture some of which have involved interdisciplinary collaborations with other artists, designers, and writers.
Inhabitable Theories is a research and design project that generally actualises in the form of performative lectures. The project questions both the existence and the relevance of a separation between theory and practice as it transforms into a discourse on spatial design that is both theory and practice. Theory becomes thought, text, and voice, at last, reflecting space – a kind of meta-architecture that is radically open as it allows for a form of appropriation that is at the limit of recreation.
The “Inhabitable Theories” project clarifies spatial practice as encompassing both writing and designing and performing at its own limits. Spatial practice is, therefore, to be conceived as a practice that is critical of its own rules. It is understood as a performative process that creates borders rather than borderlines, limits rather than limitations, and is, therefore, a discipline of radical communication that always seeks to extend itself towards an Other – the unknown – addressing it without previously quantifying it to render it provable.
Claudia Westermann is licensed with the German Chamber of Architects, and Senior Associate Professor in Architecture at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU) in Suzhou, China. She holds postgraduate degrees in Architecture and Media Art from the University of Karlsruhe (KIT) and the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (HfG) at the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Germany respectively, obtaining a Ph.D. from the Centre for Advanced Inquiry in Integrative Arts (CAiiA), Planetary Collegium, University of Plymouth, UK, for her research on a poetics of architecture entitled "An Experimental Research into Inhabitable Theories." Her thesis was supervised by Prof. Roy Ascott and Prof. Mike Phillips.
Claudia Westermann's research is informed by second-order cybernetics, actualising in inter-disciplinary projects concerned with the ecologies, poetics, and philosophies of art and architectural design. In recent years, her research has increasingly also involved Asian/Chinese philosophy of art and aesthetics. Since 2020, Claudia Westermann is a member of the Editorial Organism of Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research (ESCI) founded by Prof. Roy Ascott. She was elected to the Members-at-Large committee of the Executive Board of the American Society for Cybernetics (ASC) for the 01.2021-12.2023 three year term.
Exhibitions and Publications
Claudia Westermann's works have been widely exhibited and presented, including at the Venice Biennale (Architecture), the Moscow International Film Festival, ISEA Symposium for the Electronic Arts, the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, the Yanping Art Harvest in Fujian, China. The recently completed project ‘Appetite for Deconstruction’ for the Michigan State University's Museum involves collaborations with researchers in Art, Cybernetics (American Society for Cybernetics), Industrial Design, and Environmental Science (XJTLU). It comprises research into the use of biomaterials in resonant product and environmental design. The work involved the translation of electrical signals of fungi into generative music and was exhibited at the Michigan State University’s Science Gallery from September 2022 to February 2023.
Recent publications include numerous single-authored as well as co-authored papers in internationally recognised, top-ranked journals, e.g. 'The art of conversation: design cybernetics and its ethics' published in 2020 in the SCI journal Kybernetes. Likewise, they include book contributions, e.g. the chapter `A Poetics of Designing' in the book Design Cybernetics, published by Springer in 2019, and invited essays, e.g., ‘Chinese Landscape Aesthetics: the Exchange and Nurturing of Emotions’ published in the book New Horizons: Eight Perspectives on Chinese Landscape Architecture Today that was featured by the American Society of Landscape Architects as one of the best books of 2020. The CRAC collective edited a special issue of Technoetic Arts themed ‘Projected Interiorities.’ This issue, published in 2022, includes the co-authored article ‘Practising collectivity: Performing public space in everyday China.’ The editorial ‘Turning queries into questions: For a plurality of perspectives in the age of AI and other frameworks with limited (mind)sets’, also for Technoetic Arts, was published at the beginning of September 2023.
Claudia Westermann is currently the Primary Investigator for an XJTLU Research Development Grant and two Postgraduate Research Scholarship Grants, as well as the coordinator of an XJTLU team for an external grant from Michigan State University’s Science Gallery in the USA.
The project ‘Spaces for Creativity: Designing for Embodied Experience’ provides a PhD scholarship for three years and additional project funds. Connecting research in architectural phenomenology, environmental psychology, human-computer interaction, and in architectural design, the research aims at developing strategies for the integration of empirical approaches to embodied cognition into architectural design processes. The research seeks to advance the discourse on embodied cognition in architectural environments from within design research, involving quantitative and qualitative methods to test and evaluate the suitability of recent technology, i.e., biosensors, eye tracking devices, and body-worn cameras, to measure human responses within architectural contexts, comparing built environments with virtual environments and physical models as typically employed in architectural design processes. The research is supported by an RDF grant and an associated PGRS grant providing funds for a PhD scholarship. The research team is composed of Dr. Claudia Westermann (PI and primary PhD supervisor), Dr. Hai-Ning Liang and Fatemeh Taherysayah (PhD researcher). Additional University of Liverpool PhD supervision is provided by Dr. Christina Malathouni.
A second PhD scholarship grant provides funds for a researcher working on the project ‘Actualizing Chinese Conceptions of Space: Theories and Strategies for the Design of Resonant Architecture.’ Based on a review of traditional practices in making art in relation to Chinese conceptions of space, the PhD research will develop theories and strategies for the design of an architecture that is contemporary while resonating Chinese traditions in conceiving space. The research team is composed of Dr. Claudia Westermann (PI and primary PhD supervisor), Dr. Yiping Dong (secondary PhD supervisor), Siqi Deng (PhD researcher), and Dr. Christina Malathouni providing the University of Liverpool supervision.
Claudia Westermann has extensive experience in university-level administration, having held, besides other roles, the position of the Programme Director of the RIBA Part 1 Bachelor in Architecture and the Chair of the Departmental Learning and Teaching Committee from 2015 to 2018. She co-founded the Urban Ecologies research group, offering opportunities for inter-disciplinary approaches that consider the design and design processes of the built environment, and bridging Design, Art, the Humanities, and Science. Subsequently, she coordinated the departmental research group in History, Theory and Heritage. In March 2021, she co-founded the research collective Crosscultural Research on Architecture in China (CRAC), comprising researchers from China, the UK, and continental Europe.
For further information you may also visit Claudia Westermann's website at XJTLU.