Léopold Lambert

Editor-in-Chief of the Funambulist—Paris, France

[Q] Question
[LL] Léopold Lambert

From a 0.5pt line to a wall—the tools of architecture materialise and construct the political conditions that organise spaces and bodies. What does it mean to remove our agency as architects from the narrow-minded world of architecture? How can our skills, knowledge and understanding of the material world be utilised in the political struggles that are engulfing our world? In this interview we speak with Léopold Lambert about the operations of the Funambulist and its role in raising awareness and building solidarities across geographical scales.
The evolution of The Funambulist has been an interesting one, as it seems to expand and shift between different formats—from podcasts to printed magazines to a digital open access archive. How have these shifts, in disseminating and creating the space for research, been influenced by the conditions of your context and/or the experiences you’ve had within the architectural field?

In the early stages of my career in architecture I was interested in challenging the way architecture is taught and practised. My first attempt at challenging the architectural discipline was through a blog where I wrote articles about architecture’s political power and its use for colonial or Neo-colonial projects, in particular, Palestine, but in other places as well.1 Léopold Lambert
Weaponized Architecture https://weaponizedarchitecture.wordpress.com/
However, later on and in the case of The Funambulist2 Léopold Lambert
The Funambulist.
, my agenda slightly shifted away from this idea of challenging the existing frameworks of architecture.

The Funambulist, as a project, started long before the magazine itself. In 2013, I started the project as a podcast where I would email people whose work I was super interested in and asked for an interview. Most people were very happy to do it and I was learning so much from a lot of different people—most of them had nothing to do with architecture. Some were legal scholars, some were activists, some were artists, some were anthropologists, historians, geographers. This almost allowed me an exit door from the very narrow minded world of architecture. For me, that was a first attempt to orient what other fields would say into a spatial or geographical vision of the world. I was aiming to bring space to all those questions, regardless of whether the person I was interviewing was working through this spatial spectrum or not.

When I started the magazine, it became a way to do this full time. Starting the magazine was a new ambition for me, but also, quite simply, it was a way to be able to sustain myself by creating something that generates its own economy. So that it not only pays for itself, but is able to pay for the people who work for it. It allowed me to continue to do this type of work without having to invest my nights and weekends.

One way I usually explain my trajectory in architecture is that before The Funambulist, I was interested in bringing politics to architecture; with the magazine, I’m now more interested in bringing architecture to politics. When I say architecture, I mean it in the broadest possible meaning. It is more about how can we, as architects, possibly be useful in the way we interpret the world, in the way we understand how architecture works, and how architecture embodies systems of domination. How can we take those skills and this understanding and make it useful in political struggles that require skills of many sorts? That's how the magazine was born and that's how I still perceive it today, after 35 issues.

How can we, as architects, possibly be useful in the way we interpret the world, in the way we understand how architecture works, and how architecture embodies systems of domination.
This ‘economy’ or ecosystem that you have built through The Funambulist, in a way, is similar to a university; it's a site of knowledge production where you have the power to decide what histories, knowledges and what contributions you want to include, exclude and disseminate. What are some of the considerations when curating, or constructing, work for the Funambulist?

There's multiple layers in all of this and what I find difficult when answering these kinds of questions is that it makes it seem more deliberate and constructed, when actually, things are often quite organic. Keep that in mind while I'm answering. For example, one of the things the Funambulist is committed to is the notion of internationalism. And not internationalism in a sense of only identifying three or four political struggles around the world that are incredibly important, but perhaps more about discussing the interconnectedness of these struggles. It’s not just identifying a few nodes and pretending that we're talking about internationalism. But to always see what kind of relationships and solidarities can be maintained and developed. For example, when we talk about the global south versus the global north, we have to acknowledge that these are not two very homogenous blocks but are embedded with complex identities and histories. Therefore, the Funambulist is dedicated to making sure that part of this complexity re-emerges, but only through a very particular filter which is the filter of space, even though sometimes it's very implicit that it is spatial.

The commitment to internationalism also comes through the writers that we choose to publish. To explain this in the least mechanical sense, I’m going to talk about some of the issues that I can see in the context that I am in—which is France. This is probably comparable to other contexts in the global north, but in France, the bias that comes from whiteness and patriarchal systems is incredibly prominent. There seems to be an understanding of legitimacy which is centred around objectivity—the less you are connected to the topics you’re writing about, the more objective you are, therefore the more legitimate your writing is. But for us, we believe the exact opposite of that. We believe that the more connected you are to something, the more insightful your writing will be. That means that when we want to discuss a certain geographical context in The Funambulist, we usually try to find someone who lives in that specific context to write about it. This, however, is not a rule or anything like that, it’s merely a bias that we try to follow. It is a bias that we still haven’t fully succeeded in achieving as despite many of our writers being from other places, they usually teach or study in US, Canadian or UK institutions. So in a way, we still contribute to the US-centric or Euro-centric dimension of knowledge production.

To bring it back to my point about the organic nature of curating The Funambulist, in the issue we have on decolonial ecologies, we have a piece titled ‘Decolonizing The Roads: A Eulogy For Unpaved Guåhan’3 Kiara Quichocho (2021).
Decolonizing The Roads: A Eulogy For Unpaved Guåhan. The Funambulist: Issue 35: Decolonial Ecologies 24–27
written by an indigenous student from Guam, and it's one of the best pieces of that issue. It is very easy to see how someone who might not have much experience writing can sometimes end up writing some of the strongest pieces. So when your writers are people who are most engaged with the topics they're writing about, then you don't really have to force anything—it just happens organically.

To follow up on the idea of allowing something to organically form—this is something that is not nurtured in architectural education. In a place heavily influenced by time constraints, demands, deliverables, and money (particularly the cost of failing); students often find themselves having to choose between being critical and experimental, or doing something which will get them over the line. How do you navigate between the tensions of time and urgency, and integrity?

For the most recent issue on decolonial ecologies, for me, it was important to involve the Australian continent. I looked for Aboriginal writers, in particular, regarding British nuclear testing in the south of the continent and it never ended up working. Sometimes you have these kinds of failures or things that don’t quite work out the way you wanted them to work. Therefore, you need to move on, you need to be on time with the issue. But those are very reasonable constraints to deal with most of the time. Which is usually not the case when you’re working within an institutional setting. Especially in the Anglo Saxon world, where you pay crazy tuition fees and you're told that university is made for you, but it's really not. That's not the point of universities. At some point, they're almost like companies, they're here to make profit.

Not to be too definitive about it, but I feel that universities are out there to make sure that static growth gets reproduced, essentially. Both deliberately and accidentally. How can we possibly ask people who are fundamentally part of the establishment and the dominant order to teach things that put them at risk? It doesn't really make sense. More generally, I don't think universities are here to create dissidence in any way. You may encounter spaces where you'll be able to develop critical thinking on your own but usually, you're being told when you're thinking a little bit too much on your own, and brought back within the acceptable limits.

...accept the fact that architecture is a violent discipline. You can’t really ask for a weapon to not be violent, but you may take it and use it as a tool of resistance and revolution.
Earlier, you discussed the notions of utilising our tools as architects to address wider political and ecological struggles. Would you say that this can be applied to existing tools within the institution? How do we engage or subvert with these tools in order to establish an alternative agenda within the institution?

I’m a bit less definitive about that when it comes to architecture school as I haven’t experienced being in academia enough. I’ve only taught once in my life so I'm not a pedagogue and I'm not an educator. My experience in teaching kind of went terribly.

Sometimes institutions do not understand what you're doing and, therefore, don’t really care about you. However, this is where you have some space to do something. You might have a professor or a group of students who aren't too under the radar and through that, they’re able to do what seems important for them to do using the institution's infrastructure. I want to believe that something else is possible.

In saying that, what I've seen at the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg, makes me more hopeful. The way Lesley Lokko has been taking over the programme has been mind blowing, especially in that very specific settler colonial context.

However, at the end of the day, the only way to work within a political agenda that is not dominant, fascist or colonial, is to accept the fact that architecture is a violent discipline. You can’t really ask for a weapon to not be violent, but you may take it and use it as a tool of resistance and revolution. I don't want to overly romanticise the weapon metaphor, but for me, architecture is a weapon. And if you don't accept the violence that is contained within it, you will always deploy this violence against the same people that architecture has and continues to oppress.

That’s such an important thing to understand and we feel that this type of awareness is absent from universities, especially in the Australian context. There is a big focus on training ‘job-ready’ architects—architects which produce ‘buildings’ and objects that lack engagement with their violent implications.

In a settler colonial context such as Australia, it's very simple that every single building is a colonial building because it's enforcing settler presence on indigenous land. So I think that should be the first hour of your first class of the first day of architecture school. This is not to say that settler colonialism is the only condition that architecture enforces. Of course, there's many other systems of oppression that are embedded within colonial contexts.

What I’ve always aspired for by producing a magazine such as The Funambulist is to provide the audience with a more diverse set of references that can expand their awareness of issues that are happening globally and thereby inform their imaginaries beyond the limitations of what they’re offered in architecture schools.