Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture / by CCA

The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), Montréal, announces the launch of the book and website related to its current major exhibition, Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture, on view in the CCA’s main galleries for an extended run until 15 April, 2012.

Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture / by CCA
© CCA / Lars Müller Publishers

Produced by the Canadian Centre for Architecture and Lars Müller Publishers, the book, in French and English editions, bears the same title as the exhibition and is available from March 2012. Edited by exhibition curators Giovanna Borasi (Curator of Contemporary Architecture, CCA), and Mirko Zardini (Chief Curator and Director, CCA), the book extends the research produced for the exhibition and includes essays by leading academics Margaret Campbell, Nan Ellin, David Gissen, Carla C. Keirns, Linda Pollak, Hilary Sample, Sarah Schrank, and Deane Simpson.

The book investigates the historical connections between health, design and the environment, bringing to light uncertainties and contradictions in cultures informed by Western medicine. Within this framework, the essays it contains reflect on themes related to the exhibition such as the relationship between the built environment and human health; pollution; modernism and hygiene; planning strategies for dealing with urban disease; the challenges of the urban environment on health; the relationship between physical health and the built environment; urban design in an ageing society; and the impact of sun on health.

Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture / by CCA
© CCA / Lars Müller Publishers

The book opens with an essay by Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini entitled “Demedicalize Architecture,” in which the authors assert that health is “the number one priority” and preoccupation of our eroding society. Non-medical problems of daily life are increasingly treated as medical, and, problematically, contemporary architecture and urban planning often address human health issues while largely ignoring economic and environmental processes. Borasi and Zardini suggest “an unavoidable process of defeat: the inability of architecture to offer an optimal or permanent fix.” While excessive optimism has surrounded the therapeutic role of architecture, the pair suggests that a “demedicalization process” might allow the discipline of architecture to escape the ambiguity and morals of contemporary ideas of health, and shift from a curative role to one of caring for its inhabitants.

This thesis is explored through different facets of the Imperfect Health research project: the book, microsite, public programming, and upcoming e-book, along with the exhibition itself.

© R&Sie(n), architect


Giovanna Borasi
Giovanna Borasi is an architect, curator and editor. Curator of Contemporary Architecture at the Canadian Centre for Architecture since 2005, she has developed several research projects comprising exhibitions and publications with a particular focus on the impact of social and environmental issues on urbanism and architecture today. Among them: Actions: What You Can Do With the City (Sun, 2008), Some Ideas on Living in London and Tokyo (Lars Müller Publishers, 2008), and Journeys (Actar, 2010).

Mirko Zardini
Mirko Zardini is an architect, theorist and Director and Chief Curator of the Canadian Centre for Architecture since 2005. His research engages the transformation of contemporary architecture and its relationship to cities and landscapes. His publications include Annähernd perfekte Peripherie (Birkhäuser, 2000), Asfalto: Il carattere della città (Electa, 2003), Sense of the City (Lars Müller Publishers, 2005), and Actions: What You Can Do With the City (Sun, 2008).

Margaret Campbell
Margaret Campbell is a designer and historian. She lectured in Design History at the Edinburgh College of Art and University until retiring in 1998. Her Master’s thesis at Heriot-Watt University, Architecture of Hope: Hope for Cure. Tuberculosis, a Design Response focused on associations between modernism and tuberculosis.

Nan Ellin
Nan Ellin is an urban and architectural theorist and Professor and Chair of the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah. Her new book Good Urbanism (Island Press, 2012) advances a strategy of inspiring instruments for planning, design and community-building toolkits to enhance the health and wellbeing of places. She is author of Integral Urbanism (Routledge, 2006) and Postmodern Urbanism (Princeton Architectural Press, 1996; revised edition 1999).

David Gissen
David Gissen is a historian and theorist of architecture and urbanism. He is Associate Professor of Architecture and Visual Studies at the California College of the Arts. His recent work focuses on developing a novel concept of nature in architectural thought and parameters for an experimental form of practice in architectural history. He recently completed a manuscript on architectural environments that emerged during New York City’s “crisis” years. Gissen is the author of Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environment (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009).

Carla C. Keirns
Carla C. Keirns is Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine, Medicine and History at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York. At the intersection of health and society, her work explores ways in which changing medical ideas overlap with cultural and economic trends in work, leisure, family structure and architecture. Her forthcoming book Measured Breath: A Short History of Asthma (Johns Hopkins University Press) explores the history of asthma through changes in medical theory, medical practice and epidemiology over the past two centuries.

Linda Pollak
Linda Pollak is an architect, landscape architect and founding partner of Marpillero Pollak Architects, New York City. A member of the Harvard Graduate School of Design faculty from 1992 to 2004, Linda has dedicated herself to full-time practice in New York City since 2004, participating in civic initiatives including Fit-City and Active Design Guidelines. She is co-author of Inside Outside: Between Architecture and Landscape (Rockport Publishers, 1999).

Hilary Sample
Hilary Sample is an architect and founding principal of MOS Architects, New York City, writer, and Associate Professor at Columbia University Graduate School

of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Her current research projects include Maintenance Architecture and Sick City: A Global Investigation into Urbanism, Infrastructure and Disease. In 2007, she was a Visiting Scholar at the CCA.

Sarah Schrank
Sarah Schrank is Associate Professor of History at California State University, Long Beach. Her forthcoming book Naked City: Natural Living and the American Cult of the Body examines the cultural construction of the “natural” body in urban environments, interrogating twentieth-century America as an experimental site for body practices such as nudism, desert dwelling, physical culture and alternative health pursuits. She is author of Art and the City: Civic Imagination and Cultural Authority in Los Angeles (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009) as well as numerous articles on urban culture and the politics of modernism.

Deane Simpson
Deane Simpson is an architect and urbanist. He teaches at Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Academy School of Architecture and Bergen School of Architecture (BAS).

His research addresses contemporary urban and architectural phenomena, with a focus on urban transformations at the intersection of demographic change and processes of modernization, globalization and neo-liberalism. His doctoral dissertation at ETH Zürich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) was entitled Third

Age Urbanism: Retirement Utopias of the Young-Old.

© Kirill Kuletski


The microsite, called Imperfect TV ( complements the exhibition as well as the physical and electronic versions of the book. It presents over 20 hours of footage from the project’s research phase – online videos including interviews, television specials, documentaries and advertisements featuring architects and designers talking about various health issues.

The videos are grouped into thematic channels and episodes. The seven channels – Obesity, Epidemics, Cancer, Asthma, Aging, and Pollution – contain multiple episodes that play sequentially. Many videos present architects talking about their projects in terms other than those used in the exhibition, allowing the website to present an alternative perspective on the research, its content and its organization.

The site is designed as a television channel with built-in tools for discussion. In stark contrast to online video sites that offer new viewing alternatives, viewers cannot advance or delay the program; they can only watch what is “prescribed” for today. The site collects the protagonists of the projects and online visitors together on Twitter.

© Philippe Rahm architectes


A new initiative in conjunction with Lars Müller, the e-book Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture will be the CCA’s first full-length digital book. Its coming release is part of the CCA’s editorial strategy, which aims to make CCA’s research as accessible as possible. The e-book will contain all of the content of the printed version, including full color images, complete texts, and the original layouts. The e-book will be available in French and English editions.

© Iwan Baan


Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture shows how architecture and urban spaces can acknowledge, incorporate, and even affect contemporary health issues. Through a wide range of materials including photographs, publications, art and design projects alongside architectural models and drawings, the exhibition questions common understandings of “good” and “bad” in an environment of continually evolving and often contradictory conceptions about health and disease.

At a time when health is a primary concern influencing social and political discourse across the globe, it also finds increasing resonance in architectural debate. In the past, modernist buildings over-simplified the subject of health by trying to be curative; today architecture is more nuanced, incorporating complex notions of disease in its programs. Rather than aiming to eradicate or avoid negative factors, certain projects now actively incorporate such issues as dust, garbage, and disease management.

Many architects and designers understand the limits of what architecture can accomplish, acknowledging that even efforts to aim for ideal solutions will achieve mixed results because of the inherent complexities and contradictions in architecture and in health. As Machiavelli stated, “it is found in ordinary affairs that one never seeks to avoid one trouble without running into another.” We live in an imperfect world where every good intention may be accompanied by negative effects.

Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture continues the CCA’s ongoing investigations into how the design and use of urban spaces shapes human well-being. “With Imperfect Health, we feature architectural projects that acknowledge and engage – if not always successfully – specific health issues,” said curator Mirko Zardini. “The exhibition neither promises an ideal solution nor even suggests its possibility; instead it illustrates the complexity of the relationship between human health and architecture, and how this changes over time.”


The CCA is an international research centre and museum founded in 1979 on the conviction that architecture is a public concern. Based on its extensive Collection, the CCA is a leading voice in advancing knowledge, promoting public understanding, and widening thought and debate on architecture, its history, theory, practice, and role in society. Visit for more information.

The CCA gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Ministère de la Culture, des Communications et de la Condition féminine, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Conseil des arts de Montréal, the Department of Canadian Heritage. Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and Hydro-Québec

The research phase of the project was developed in collaboration with i2a, International Institute of Architecture, Vico Morcote, Switzerland.


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