Advanced Capitalist Architecture
(and how to mess it all up)

Robin Priestley

18/02/01

The Space Hijackers operate in London, a city in a state of advanced capitalism. We are based a stones throw from the Square Mile, one of, if not the most concentrated spaces of capitalist architecture within Europe if not the world. Here we work to combat the oppressive effect that such space has over the people that live and work here.

Over the last few years there has been an upsurgence of protest against advanced capitalism and the companies and institutions that maintain it. Protests have exploded world wide against the W.T.O. and other global organisations set up in order to regulate and assist the growth of Global Capitalism. Particular companies such as Nike or Gap through to Oil companies and other Multinationals have also been individually targeted for a host of crimes against people or the environment in the name of profit.

A new movement of global resistance is slowly forming in a non-hierarchical form, with many causes and no figure-heading leaders. Because of this today's resistance movement is proving to be a hard thing to categorise and discredit in the mainstream media, who have often been forced to resort to hysteria. This organisation and anarchic structure is proving to be its great strength having the advantage of joining independent groups into a large mass, yet simultaneously promoting a wide range of varied issues. There are a wide range of opinions, oppositions, issues and causes, yet people are all fighting together for common goals.

Almost all major actions so far have taken the form of significant and symbolic protests at key events and outside key buildings. Prime examples being the Seattle protests or the J18 protests in London's Square Mile. Everyone travels to the protest, attempts to shut the venue down and get as much press coverage as possible. This method is obviously good at promoting whichever cause is championed and making people more aware of the injustices that are going on in the world. It shows a physical resistance to advanced capitalism and shows the world that there are alternative points of view and most importantly that these alternatives have a large support.

Used as a way of protesting for both global concerns (3rd World Debt, WTO, Sweatshop Labour etc.) and more local first world concerns (Nike's appropriation of youth culture, anti union McJobs, Genetic food etc.) this method is essential within our current political climate. A time when national and international media is corporately owned and attempting to black out reports of international resistance. Instead presenting the varied groups as evil and dangerous anarchists misleading today's honest students who are swept along out of ignorance. The Internet is proving to be one of the few places where a variety of information can still be obtained. Champions of this being the outstanding indymedia.org who are spearheading alternative media with coverage to stories either distorted or ignored by main stream media and offering alternative viewpoints to headline stories.

Our point is that by mainly relying on media based protest, the venues and buildings that provide the symbols for demo's are perhaps not being engaged with enough. Days after the demonstrations, once the windows have been replaced and McDonalds have stuck up another hideous shop front, every thing returns to normal, business continues. I'll admit smashing up capitalist architecture is one of life's great pleasures, and I don’t want to stop anyone who wants to do so, but it doesn't do that much good in the long run. Even if the protest doesn't turn physical, the objectives are still based elsewhere, we protest against the many sins of global corporations, ignoring to some extent the fact that we are standing exactly where they operate.

The Space Hijackers objective is to effect and change the physical space of advanced capitalist architecture. We work within cities in order to attack advanced capitalism at the very point where it comes into contact with the general public. Brand culture and the public face of global capitalism are an omnipresent part of first world countries. From the high streets that we shop in to the places we work the physical presence of the corporations is rife.

However protests in general attack these structures simply as logos or icons of whichever evil corporation or body that may own them. McDonalds get smashed up by protestors as a symbol of their hatred for the chain. The cost of a new shop-front is a drop in the ocean for a corporation, and although illegal, this form of protest is to some extent allowed by both the police and the company. Simply destroying architectural symbols has almost become an accepted form of protest. The protestor gets it out of his or her system and McDonalds sell more burgers to the gullible. Violent or not, current protests are targeting the distant corporations as opposed to the way they operate.

We assume, and in some cases quite rightly so, that the faceless corporation is vacant from the premises that we attack. This is certainly true of franchises where the corporation simply provides the signs and ambience, then creams off the profit. It is this that causes us to use the building as an icon of the company. The staff have no allegiance to the company, generally they are suffering at its hands too. There is nobody present upon which too place the blame, nobody to answer for the crimes, and so angry protesters destroy the symbols of the company, the space becomes an icon for the corporation.

What we do not react to is the fact that these icons also affect our lives at a local level. Franchise or not, the building exists and functions within our public space. The architecture, that can be so easily replaced days afterwards, is what physically affects us; the way the company works is not destroyed simply because the windows are smashed. It is here that we should be aiming our attack, not at the function of the building as an icon. Forget for the moment the company that is divorced from the space, and attack the way that your high street or place of work is set out to exploit you.

Brand culture and the spread of global capitalism has invaded everyone's lives, it has got its dirty hands into everyone's belongings and its about time we all started invading it back. I am proposing a strategy of attack that is less about gaining tabloid inches, but can begin to mess with the physicality of advanced capitalism as it exists in our world. A method of engaging in protest for those living within advanced capitalist countries.

The Space Hijackers are not about anti-brand protest, rather our methods aim to un-brand or hijack the brand within corporate space. To fight brand culture the way it has fought us, to invade and re-brand corporate space. To engage into battle with the signification of branded space and to confuse it to such an extent that the brand becomes void.

Corporate space is an invasion to our landscape, it attempts to affect the way that we live and conduct our lives. It attempts to control the experience of the general public to such an extent that it extorts money from them. That after all, is why architects and interior designers are paid so much money.

A brand space works as such because it is recognisable and you instantly know what to expect from it. Upon seeing the golden arches of McDonalds™, you know that you are approaching a fast food restaurant that sells identical tasting food to all of the other branches. The Logo and look of the restaurant act as a signifier of low paid staff and grotty food. McDonalds™ spend millions every year on creating a brand identity, it is what makes their money, you don't buy hamburgers you buy Big Macs©. You buy the McDonalds™ experience and you become a little more branded yourself.

Rather than smashing up signs that can be replaced we should be attempting to divert and quash the signification of the arches themselves. Plastic shop fronts cost a couple of hundred pounds to replace, brand identity costs millions.

The fact that space can work as an icon, can be used to our advantage. One aim of public protest against a company or body is to change the way that the organisation is perceived within our culture. As architecture can act as an icon for that organisation, then if we can adapt what the architecture signifies to us, then we can adapt how the owners of that space are perceived. For example, if we protest outside a particular building often enough the building will begin to become known for the protesters outside it. The community that spiral around the space will equate the building with the protestors even when they are not there. The protestors become a part of the fabric of the building, they merge with it to become one. Meaning that the building itself can become an icon for the protest as much as the organisation that owns it. For example the Monsanto head office could equally be turned into a symbol of Anti-GM food protests.

To some extent this is what has happened to the City of Seattle, although because of the massive scale and impact of the protests, it required only a few days to occur. Since the epic battles between anti-W.T.O protestors and storm trooper style police, Seattle has now become an icon for the global resistance struggle as much as, or more so, than anything else it's known for.

Our objective is to go one further than this type of signification, to change the space itself and the way that it exists within our community. We intend to create and promote as many conflicting uses for branded space as possible. The more the better, as each one chips away at the intended brand identity a little more. Each use should be obviously Ad Hoc and unofficial, they should be obviously anti-brand, but not necessarily particular to the brand in question. The idea is to turn the brand itself into material within the space as opposed to the subject of it.

Lets take the mother of branded space, The McDonalds restaurant for an example. Imagine we set up a nation-wide booth hurdling grand-national competition, whereby people are timed on their ability to hurdle from one booth to the next in a lap around the restaurant. This could be organised via the internet or even better by word of mouth. Competitors can compete in any outlet, and very un-official judges can be appointed in each and every county to take down record times. Local athletes could travel in teams to take on rival teams and the McDonalds staff would have no way of telling which of their customers was there to compete. Certain outlets would become legendary for their specific layouts and obstacles. A national final could be arranged in some unsuspecting branch to declare a champion.

Imagine how this would affect the signification of a McDonalds restaurant. Now imagine a hundred other alternative uses for the same space, randomly happening around the country at different times. The golden arches would begin to crumble under the weight of the implications and significations of the logo. The McDonalds chain could be turned into anything that we liked; the golden arches would have been taken and re-branded into whatever we decided. The fact that they sold, whatever those burgers were called, would become secondary to their many other uses.

By carrying out actions such as this, and reclaiming public space in such a way, branded space could become almost obsolete. Subliminal control over users of space by companies and their designers would be impossible. Any brand messages or architectural devices employed by companies in order to control our experience of the space would be under a barrage of attack. This would place customers within the space in a position of far greater control, and enable us all to more objectively approach the goods on offer. Which in turn would help non-branded establishments to compete more on a more equal footing.

This method can be turned upon any type of corporate space that relies upon brand identity. An attack need not be organised via a big anti-capitalist movement, it is something that anybody can get up to. This is not an alternative to large-scale demo's and media based protest, which have formed the basis of the global struggle against the evils of capitalism. It is simply another method of attack to add to our growing arsenal of weapons against advanced capitalism.

The Space Hijackers, don't want any claim over actions, we don't ask you to join us, it works better if you don't. The more varied groups and the more varied their attacks the better it works. Advanced Capitalism will never be taken over by a singular organised oppositional movement, and to be honest what would that achieve anyway? We are not asking for revolution, as that simply swaps over who is in control.

The strength of current protest is that there are no leaders, no organised large party and no hierarchies. Instead there are thousands of groups, each fighting their corner, each championing their cause, each chipping away at the block. Global localised action against the ways that we are all exploited. This is how we can defeat Advanced Capitalism, and the result at the end will be a lot better for everyone.

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