Liam Ross ESALA – Regulatory Spaces, Literal and Metaphorical

Regulatory Spaces, Literal and Metaphorical:

On the material and discursive formation of Edinburgh’s fire-safety legislation

Tuesday the 3rd of March

Minto House Common Room 5pm, followed by a drinks reception

Prokalo_Liam Ross


This talk considers the built environment as a ‘Regulatory Space’, a field of simultaneously material and juridical limitations and opportunities. It does so by studying a series of acts of fire-safety legislation, and their effects on the built fabric of the City of Edinburgh.  Taken as discursive formations, these documents are shown to offer a history of competing govern-mentalities as to how the risks of urban life should be understood, limited, and employed;providing a genealogy that moves from the tenets of a Calvinist Kirk, to the formation of market-based prudential communities, to the collectivisation of risk through municipal and then nationalised forms of service provision and legislation.  But by studying the material effectsof these acts, it also considers the unintended consequencesof these documents, the way in which they have created space for alternative concerns and agendas to emerge, and to be accommodated.

With a particular focus on contemporary initiatives to develop performance-based modes of design codification,it shows how architects have been important actors in the shaping of this materio-semiotic context, and argues that the rationale behind such regulatory reform depends upon an aesthetic compact between political and scientific notions of economy. It suggest that these apparently technical aspects of the design process should nonetheless be recognized as part of a govern-mentality of increasingly individualised risk, and one which intentionally obscures what is fundamentally at stake within such processes of standardisation – the setting of socially acceptable margins of safety.  With reference to existing technical literatures, it considers the theoretical problems and physical side-effects of the drive towards performance-based fire-safety codification.


Liam Ross is an architect, a lecturer, and doctoral candidate in architecture research by design, at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.  His principal teaching and research interests concern the relation between architectural design practices and their governmental frameworks, and his work has been published in journals including arq, Candide and Volume, as well as being exhibited at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale.