Johanna Bruckner

Publication: SCAFFOLD.

This work’s central concern is a discussion of the construction site scaffold in relation to the scaffold as object and method of an algorithmic operation. The point is to set the digital fabrication of public space by algorithmic infrastructures and architectures against the physical scaffold as a location for economic-political confrontation. The work, consisting of a publication and a sculpture, intends to sound out the capacity for agency for a praxis that organises itself politically to entwine work, space and infrastructure, and will refer to current architectural developments in Hamburgʼs HafenCity. The publication is arranged in two parts, while interconnections are key. Artistic and theoretical contributions from local and international positions address the subject in a variety of forms. The sculpture described later in the text will be realised in collaboration with Caro Baumann, architect.  


Urban development projects, led by international investors, are often represented as luxurious business and lifestyle resorts. In these urban zones, which are springing up exponentially all over the world, particularly in former harbour areas or in urban peripheries, space becomes the infrastructure of finance-driven performance. Penthouses and big data, for example in the form of smart homes, are deregulating work and space.

Alongside media representations of built space coming into being, the construction site is visible on the ground as a multiplicity of scaffolds. These are governed in their totality by the workers, emphasising as it were the workerʼs potentiality as a political body. The scaffold constitutes a platform for political organisation on the construction site, being the spatial structure of a building under development that for the time being, along with its subjects, cannot be integrated into the commercialisation of space.

The point is to affirm the financialised trajectory of built space not as a process of dematerialisation but rather in the sense of a re-materialisation. How can the scaffold of post-political architecture, of HafenCity, become a means of action and a tool, and how can the surrounding subjects make the re-materialisation of architecture as technology socially usable and useful?

Intensive research into the present-day and historic construction site scaffold enables me to situate local working conditions on the construction site within global economic-political contexts. International companies that commission construction and that are responsible for the organisation of workers on the scaffold are collaborating in the financialisation of emerging urban space beyond the bounds of its material and physical perception. In doing so, they also affirm an internationally corrupt trade in workers primarily from south-eastern Europe.  

The construction site scaffold is comparable with an algorithmʼs scaffold. The scaffold reflects an algorithmic operation, as well as the corruption within algorithmic operation, the political and military governance of algorithmic instruction. In comparing the construction site scaffold with that of the algorithm, we notionally find work within the algorithm. The question now is where the algorithm’s indeterminacy, its self-composition and control, will reach the limits and be capable of occupation by potential energy.  

1. The Scaffold from a Socialist Perspective

The scaffold, the embodiment of work, highlights the political economy on the building site, being the place where unionisation processes begin, where working times contrast with contractual agreements, and hierarchies become tangible. It is the site of historic class development and, at the same time, of vigorous attempts to escape from this classification: in short, it is the location for the  formation of the working subject as a political figure. The work that is carried out on the scaffold necessarily compels joint consultation, the coordination of work stages, and cooperation in the tasks to be carried out.

Key references on which this part of the work now leans are, amongst others, the influential architect Sérgio Ferro’s marxist criticism. Ferro places the socio-economic transformation of architecture as a politics of the material and of social class in the foreground. Sérgio Ferro was a member of Arquitectura Nova, the radical architecture group, and developed his ideas in Brasil and Europe in the 1960s as a response to the architectonic discourse on freedom along the lines of democratic principles and criticism of inhumane working conditions on the construction site. The scaffold is at the centre of a politics of reorganisation of work on the construction site, which Ferro sees in the reinforcement of cooperative working forms and their social organisation within and outside the construction site.

In Eyal Weizmann’s reading of Giorgio Agamben’s CAMP, here ʿWohnraum der Arbeitskraftʾ, the camp is reduced to the juridical-political dimension of architectonic space, and referred to as the workerʼs "extra-territorial scaffold".

The scaffold, the material structure of the building under development, is comparable with the model that, just like the scaffold, is fragmented and interchangeable. It can playfully reconfigure the world and its rules and variables, and is to be understood as the notional figure of an emerging reality, or else it abstracts existing models, leaning on abstraction from the finance of a neoliberal politics. The model’s potential is not that it represents but that it delegitimises the present as the natural order.

2.The Scaffold as Algorithm

Working structures on the construction site are also subject to the shift to new technologies, such as the digital coordination of on-site logistics. The transformations that take place on the scaffold, fostered by new technologies, reflect the reorganisation of production conditions on the construction site.

In this section, a closer examination will be made of the idea that the structure of a scaffold resembles that of an algorithm. Not only the algorithm but also the scaffold give instructions that result in regulated mobility in the real or digital world. The vertical and horizontal lines of a scaffold resemble the structure and form of an algorithmic instruction. Buildings are scaffolds of plural algorithms, instructing space according to the criteria of market, investor and (geo-) political interests. It is not now form that is central to the algorithmic shaping of new space, but rather the intervention in geo-political rules about the interaction of variables, which must be endowed with capacity for agency and named.


The finance-driven deregulation of buildings in Hamburg’s HafenCity, and the subsequent reorganisation of production conditions, based on new technological and infrastructural development, are the main focus of this work. Privately financed housing and affordable and/or subsidised housing are the very forms of living that, paradoxically, favour and accelerate the amplifying characteristic of finance through their interaction. Concepts such as the scaffold, which refers both to physical labour on the construction site as well as to the algorithmic scaffold, or framework, as both method and object in algorithmic architecture and logistics, and the construction profile constitute the tools alongside which new cooperative peformances are emerging and being articulated. Consisting of performative practices, workshops, video installations and a planned publication, this project approaches the politics of the post-fordist expansionist logic behind construction labour in HafenCity and the accompanying decentralised form and organisation of architectonic and civil space, focusing particularly on current developments in the Baaken Quarter.

The scaffold stands not merely for the material and physical presence of its function, whether physical or digital, but rather for the political examination of the intangibility of international infrastructures and logistics, which deregulate working processes and proclaim space to be speculative finance capital; it stands for financeʼs performance, which has become impalpable; for the bio-political model of sovereignty, to be made porous by a concept emanating from the working regime. The scaffold is to be considered as the expression of contemporary means of working and of (de)regulated forms of interaction.