Foregoing Empathy

Essay in Expansions: 100 Responses to “How Will We Live Together?”, edited by Hashim Sarkis and Ala Tannir. Venice: La Biennale di Venezia, 2020.

Theodossis Issaias
Activism, Affection, Care, Theory

There is a persistent assumption that when we do feel the suffering of others, we are prompted to relieve it. This drift from empathy to good deeds has structured Western moral philosophy and politics since the seventeen-hundreds. Rousseau analyzed it under the rubric of pitié while Adam Smith under sympathy, but both positioned it at the center of ethical judgments and actions.

More urgently, empathic arousal has been the fulcrum of humanitarian reason and its system unidirectional of care. In the humanitarian equation, depictions of suffering mobilize empathy to solicit donations. To use Michel Agier’s term, these depictions of the human present life stripped bare in the degradations of suffering, reifying nothing else or other than absolute and essentialized victimhood. Thus, the problem is not what humanitarians call “compassion fatigue” — the desensitization due to overexposure to stories and spectacles of suffering — but rather, the acceptance of asymmetry that empathy implies. A world is divided between haves and have nots, benefactors and beneficiaries, where rights, desires, and interests are not enacted and negotiated but donated and bestowed at the beholders will.


Fatura Collaborative – Research & Design Practice, was founded in 2009 and is developing projects across a wide range of scales, from intimate objects and performance, to architecture, urban design and planning. We are interested in architecture as social infrastructure, in developing collective equipments, in the design of spaces of care, empathy and welfare. We design and research expanding new problematics about ecology, the domestic, everyday life and the city.



is an architect and researcher based in London. She studied architecture in Patras, Greece, and currently is a PhD candidate at the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art in London. Her research focuses on the intersections between social movements and the state apparatus, and centers around the ad-hoc infrastructures created for welfare provision during periods of crisis. She has practiced architecture in the UK and worked in the housing, healthcare, and education sectors in collaboration with public authorities and established architectural practices. Prior to London, Elisavet gained experience as an architect in Athens and Madrid.


is an architect, researcher, and educator. He studied architecture in Thessaloniki, Greece, and holds an MSc from Columbia University and a PhD from TU Delft and The City as a Project research collective. He is the director of Projective Cities MPhil programme at the Architectural Association, where he is also teaching Diploma Unit 7 with Hamed Khosravi. Previously, he has taught at the Berlage Institute (Netherlands), in the MArch Urban Design programme at the Bartlett, the RCA, Syracuse University and the University of Cyprus. His research interests explore urban design and architecture in the relation to the politics of labour, economy, law and labour struggles. He has written and lectured extensively about Greek urbanisation and the politics of urban development.


is an architect and educator, and recently joined the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum of Art as Associate Curator. He earned his diploma of Architecture at the National Technical University of Athens and an SMarchS degree from MIT. Since 2009, he has been practicing as a founding member of Fatura Collaborative, an architecture and research collective. His PhD dissertation, “Architectures of the Humanitarian Front” (Yale University), explores the nexus of humanitarian organizations and architecture and their relation to conflict, displacement and the provision of shelter.


is an architect based in Lund, Sweden. He graduated in 2010 from the School of Architecture of the National Technical University of Athens and holds an MSc in Energy Efficient and Environmental Building Design from the School of Architecture of Lund University (2015). He has practiced architecture as a freelance architect in Greece and currently in Sweden (eg. Tengbom architects), where he works on a wide range of projects including small houses, larger residential complexes as well as care, educational and industrial facilities.


graduated in 2007 from the School of Architecture of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. She holds the MSc in Advanced Architectural Design from GSAPP, Columbia University (2008). In June 2016, she was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by the Architectural Association. Her thesis dealt with the transition towards abstraction in art and architecture during the end of 19th and early 20th centuries, with an emphasis on interwar architectural modernism in Germany. Alexandra has been teaching at the AA since 2012, where she is currently a studio master in the First Year Studio of the Experimental Programme and a Programme Coordinator and Course tutor in the MArch Architecture & Urbanism (DRL) programme. She has practiced as an architect in New York and Athens.