What is interesting in giving talks is the potentiality of a dialogue with the people who are kind enough to come listen and often question the formulation if not the founding of one’s argument. I was lucky enough to do a few of these talks during this last year and could not help but notice the recurrence of a similar question. Such a recurrence can only be due to my failure to articulate my ideas in a clear manner, and that is what I would like to fix in this article.
Talking repeatedly of the intrinsic violence of architecture, this recurrent question always insists on the exaggerated use of the term violence, and almost always invokes the idea of a primitive shelter as fundamentally proving that “not all architectures are violent.” Beyond the debate about whether or not the example of the shelter qualifies as a sort of romanticized rousseauist original architecture – along the same lines than the idea of a “human nature” – I would like to argue that this same example of the primitive shelter develops the same violence than any other architecture.
“The primitive shelter protects us from the rain, the wind, the snow, how is it violent?” I am being asked. Its violence does not come from its function (protection) but from the necessary exclusion it triggers while accomplishing it. In other words, when you create the shelter, you create the process determining who gets to benefit of it, and who does not. Even in the case of an open-shelter like the ones we often see in the mountains, the process of exclusivity operates through a critical number of bodies that can be located ‘under the shelter’s protection.’ In this specific example, one could argue that the logic “first here, first served” is a legitimate one, but beyond the fact that this logic is the same that feeds nationalist discourse at a broader scale, the question of legitimacy of the way the exclusivity is determined is irrelevant for the purpose of this argument; what remains is the fact that this exclusionary process is necessarily operative when we consider architecture.
Above: Original master plan of Brasilia by Lúcio Costa (1957)
Below: Map of Algiers’s Casbah with its streets’ names
I recently had the chance to visit Brazil’s capital city, Brasilia, in order to record a conversation with anthropologist Antonadia Borges (stay tuned on Archipelago) at the University of Brasilia. Interested by the quasi-simultaneity of the Brazilian change of capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia (1960) subsequent to the construction of the city from scratch, and the beginning of the military dictatorship (1964), I wanted to ask her about the ways that the design of the city may have allowed the dictatorial regime to thrive. In this regard, we can distinguish three scales of control facilitated by the creation of the new city of Brasilia:
– at a territorial level, removing the government from the largest cities prevented from a confrontation between its members and a substantial part of the country’s population
– at an urban level, the novelty of the city allowed the authorities to dispose of the city in the way that they saw fit, thus removing large parts of the working class from it, despite their active participation to its construction
– at a suppressive level, the controlled master plan of the city, designed by Lúcio Costa, allowed the military and police forces to stranglehold the urban space and the potential insurrections that could potentially occur in it.
Lúcio Costa and the main architect of Brasilia, Oscar Niemeyer, are well-known for their leftist political agenda — Niemeyer was a member of the Brasilian Communist Party and even its President in the 1990s — difficult to combine with the governing of the dictatorship. In this regard Niemeyer quit his functions at the University of Brasilia in 1965 and exiled himself to France in 1966 — his projects will however continue to be built in Brasilia. The responsibility of the political control exercised by the dictatorship as described above is therefore difficult to solely attribute to the urban designer and the architect. Nevertheless, it is fundamental to note that a city emerging from a homogeneous masterplan complemented with the ubiquitous designs of one architect and the landscape design of one other designer (Roberto Burle Marx), however talented and ‘well-intentioned’ they might be, is more or less consciously ‘dreaming’ of a military intervention to implement the designed plans. In other words, there is necessarily a degree of dictatorship in all design materialized into the realities of bodies. The scale of a body being relatively unalterable, we could make the hypothesis that this degree carries a proportional influence to the scale of the design, i.e. an entire city conceived according to one design will be more susceptible to develop a higher degree of violence than one sole building for instance. New cities like Le Havre (reconstructed, Auguste Perret, France, 1949), Brasilia (Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil, 1960), Chandigarh (Le Corbusier, India, 1966), or more recently Masdar (Norman Foster, UAE, 2006), all materialize the political scheme of a unique design, against which only the slow entropy created by erosion, human behaviors, and multiple politics, is able to resist.
Typical entrances to upper social class housing buildings in São Paulo (all photographs by Léopold Lambert)
I am finishing a trip in Latin America (Mexico City, Santiago, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia) to record a series of conversations for Archipelago. Having experienced these cities for the first time, I received many advice from locals — in English, Spanish, and Portuguese — to be “careful” about where I was going, when I was going there, how I was going there, and how I should behave or not behave once there. Whether these advice were fully corresponding to a reality or not is not mine to say since it would pretend that I know better, which of course I do not. What I am interested to examine here is how these discursive prevention adds a form of additional layer on the city that modify behaviors within it, and ultimately modify its physicality by crystallizing fear into architecture.
The new public square of Fawwar refugee camp
Photograph by Adam Ferguson for the New York Times
A few days ago, the New York Times exceptionally published an interesting article about Palestine entitled “Refugees Reshape Their Camp at the Risk of Feeling at Home” (Michael Kimmelman, Sept 6, 2014). This article describes the dialogue between the Palestinian refugees living in the camp of Fawwar near Hebron and architects Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti, well known on this blog to be the founders (with Eyal Weizman) of Decolonizing Architecture — something that the NYT failed to introduce, probably considering that it was too “political.” The object of this dialogue was the project to design and build a public square in the refugee camp. I have been introducing the architectural dilemma that constitutes the idea of improvement of a refugee camp a few times, but never dedicated an entire article to it; this built public square provides the paradigmatic conditions to do so.
The architectural dilemma of the refugee camp consists in the idea that everything about the camp should express its temporariness. This question starts to intervene when a camp has been existing for a few years, and one would easily understand that it becomes particularly problematic when the camps are almost 70 years old like in the case of the Palestinian camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon (see the summary map). In their case, the problem is not that the safe conditions are not gathered for their population to return on their land, but rather that the sovereign authority (namely the State of Israel) on the land of return categorically refutes this right, while simultaneously granting it to the religious group it strategically attempts to represent. The expressed temporariness of the camp is therefore even more crucial as it shows the determination of its inhabitants to return one day on their land — on their family’s land in most cases since most refugees are born in exile. We can thus perceive the problematic characteristics of a spatial improvement project like the public square of Fawwar, and the subsequent debate that occurred when this idea was triggered.
Two screenshots from the website of “Colony 1209″ in Bushwick (New York)
Last month, one more of these outrages with little investigative depth (see past article for another one) occurred on the internet and in New York newspapers: the new Upper West Side (New York) development of One Riverside Park, currently being built in the continuity of the infamous Trump Towers along the Hudson River, is going to implement segregated entrances for its wealthy residents and its lower-income ones. Many development projects like this one integrate publicly subsidized rent-stabilized units in exchange for tax breaks from the city of New York; however, in an effort not to mix its two resident populations, these buildings implement a strict segregation in its semi-private spaces. It is the very logic of luxury to provide the exclusivity of the service it provides: prohibitive prices do not simply relate to an expensive cost to produce the luxury product (food, objects, cars or architecture), they also integrate a large part that corresponds to nothing else than the guarantee that only a few people are able to afford it. The social violence here is manifest, since the price of luxury contains its strategic prohibition to most people. The door attributed to lower-income residents — One Riverside Park is very far to be the only case of such a practice — corresponds to the same violence that segregates populations based on their social status.
We should however not see this segregated entrances as the only architectural symptom of this violence. In another article about One Riverside Park, Pedro Hernández (see his Funambulist Paper) reminds us of another architectural invention that prevented the servants of a bourgeois or aristocratic house from remaining in the ‘noble’ parts of the building: the corridor (see also the conversation I had with Ann Laura Stoler about it in a colonial context). Corridors indeed allowed to organize the servants’ work in the house through a distributing space that was the least noble place of the house because of its narrowness and, often, its absence of window. Such characteristics also applied to the servants’ dwelling within the house itself — on can think of the well-known “chambre de bonne” (maid’s bedroom) under the Parisian roofs — but the corridor was particular in its inventive intersticiality in the architectural plan: it is as if the corridor was a space contained within the walls, allowing the discreet invisibility required to service. The space within the wall, the “thickness of the line,” also carries an ambiguous legal regime as I have been writing regularly in the past. The point that I would like to convey all along this article is that the social segregation depicted here could not be possible without these architectural inventions. This is not to say that social segregation is fundamentally architectural but, rather, that many of its means of implementation could simply not exist without architecture.
Last Friday, the Liberian government has announced that it was lifting the quarantine that was enforced on the West Point neighborhood in Monrovia. For ten days, the 70,000 inhabitants of this poor neighborhood were split from the rest of the city, and left in the fear of a potential contamination by the Ebola virus. Some of these inhabitants tried to break the police blockade surrounding the neighborhood but they were received with teargas and live ammunition that led to the death of a 15-year old boy named Shakie Kamara. Viral diseases particularly feeds the fear for otherness as it allows fantasies of contamination between bodies in an invisible realm. When such an antagonism is paired with an already existing one, directed towards the lowest social class of a given population, the segregation that emerges from it can be radical, as it is in West Point.
I already quoted extensively Michel Foucault’s course at the Collège de France about quarantine (in Abnormals) in an article dedicated to the 2013 manhunt of suspected terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston (see also the article in The Funambulist Pamphlets dedicated to Foucault and Legal Theory). This situation had put entire neighborhoods of the American city into quarantine for a day, enabling the SWAT police squads to search every house one by one. This event resonated well with Foucault’s descriptions of a quarantined town in which the plague had been contracted, and the administrative and policed “quadrillage” (partitioning/policing) of the city implemented in order to contain the disease and manage the life of the city’s population. This type of urban crisis organization constituted for Foucault a new paradigm of meticulous administration of the territory — it is part of the shift towards biopolitics — rather than the former paradigm of exclusion of its sicked bodies like in the case of leprosy. As I have been writing often, the quarantined city and its “quadrillage” also materializes the weaponized characteristics of an architecture considered as ‘benign’ as a house: the walls that used to enforce private property now enforcing the temporary imprisonment of its inhabitants.
Before resettling in Europe in September, I will be on the roads of Latin America to record a few conversations for Archipelago. In this context, I am honored to participate to the following upcoming conversations with different local friends’ organizations. I hope to be able to meet some of you there:
- Tuesday, August 26 (7:30pm): MEXICO CITY: A Conversation with Arquine organized by Andrea Griborio, Alejandro Hernandez, and Pedro Hernandez Nostromez
Address: Culiacian No.123, Anexo, er piso, Colonia Hipodromo Condesa, Ciudad de Mexico
- Friday, August 29 (7pm): SANTIAGO DE CHILE: “Writing as an Architect Against the Occupation of the Palestinian Territories,” at Teatro Diana, organized by Architects Without Architecture (Francisco Diaz and Jose Abasolo)
Address: Arturo Prat No435, Santiago
- Thursday, September 11 (6:30pm): RIO DE JANEIRO: “No Escape from the Body: The Corporeal Politics of the Cloth, the Wall, and the Street,” at Studio-X Rio de Janeiro, organized by Pedro Rivera and Raul Correa-Smith
Address: Praça Tiradentes, 48, Rio de Janeiro
Ernst Neufert, Architects’ Data (1936)
This new Funambulist Paper is written by friend Sofia Lemos, public programmer and researcher based in London, and with whom I have been sharing great interest for the relationships developed between the human body and the norm, as well as the violence that result from this encounter. In the following text, she establishes a short genealogy of the norm being recognized and constructed through a scientific approach to be later used as a standard on which to define space and architecture. Interested readers can make Sofia’s text dialog with a text I wrote in the past, entitled “Transgressing the Idealized Normative Body.” Her text is more anchored within a historical genesis of the normative process in the context of design, but we both see in Ernst Neufert’s work, the paroxysm of such practice that constructs a normative body to be used as an paradoxically ideal — it is a paradox since ideal and norm commonly appear as antithetic — to design space around it. The violence that results from this process is then proportional to the degree of difference that the considered body has vis-a-vis this normative invented body.
NORM, MEASURE OF ALL THINGS
By Sofia Lemos
Architectural practice and theoretical discourse has considered Ernst Neufert’s canonical Architects’ Data (1936) as a product the search for an optimal built environment based on accounts of a single normative body. In light of the increasing pervasiveness of bespoke biometric solutions and applications in architecture and design, this essay seeks to offer a different genealogy of the entanglement between architecture standards and statistical methods of measuring the social body. This essay draws a speculative history from the point when modern architecture ceases to account for, to become accountable for normalizing that body.
Norms, have long inhabited the architect’s toolset. Pertaining to the carpenter’s square or rule norma is first codified in the early nineteenth century as ‘standard, pattern, model’ as evidence of its common usage. Whereas the vernacular use of the noun ‘norm’ had to do with geometry, with ‘right angles’ and perpendicular lines, its adjectival derivation ‘normal’ is defined in 1828 in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘constituting, conforming to, not deviating or differ from, the common type or standard.’ The emergence of the adjectival form of the noun is the first historical clue that suggests a symbolic shift that happened throughout the eighteenth century from the language of geometry to that of biological matter.
Map created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (August 2014)
Download a high-quality version of the map here (5MB)
(license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
In the two last months, much information was released (including on this platform) regarding the various issues that Palestinians have to face, the massacre occurring in Gaza being only one (particularly violent) aspect of these issues. Part of this information was very specific and, legitimately so, since part of the political struggle is also accomplished through the production of knowledge. However, it is always useful to take a step back, and supply synthetic information to people who might not have accessed (for whatever reason) to this introductory narrative. Moreover, the construction of this synthetic information informs the way we envision the future of the struggle, as I explain in my recent attempt to begin a “lexicon for a future Palestinian narrative” recently. In this regard, I felt that it was important to trace the map presented above in order to introduce the various historical and present embodying means of Israel’s state violence. In addition of ‘localizing’ them on the map, I will try to briefly expose them here, as well as linking them to past articles as reading complement (most of these issues are also introduced in Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence).
Two circular keys responds to each other on this map. The small dots populating the Israeli territory are pre-1948 Palestinian villages that have been evicted by the Israeli army, then destroyed, often to the very last stone in an act of erasure of Palestinian presence on the land. Such destruction denied Palestinians from what I came to call “the right to the ruin,” which would have allowed the narrative of the Nakba to be expressed through the visible abandonment of these structures. In this regard, the Israeli organization Zochrot has been instrumental in making an inventory of these villages and providing photographs of their forced absolute disappearance. The larger white dots of the map outside of the Israeli territory respond to these first dots: they are Palestinian refugee camps administrated by UNRWA and constructed to host those who had been evicted from the villages on what became Israeli territory in 1948. They are situated in Gaza (8 camps and currently 1,221,000 registered refugees), in the West Bank (19 camps and currently 741,000 registered refugees), in Jordan (10 camps and currently 2,035,000 registered refugees), Syria (13 camps and currently 499,000 registered refugees), and Lebanon (10 camps and currently 449,000 registered refugees). These camps constitute extremely dense urban fabric and rudimentary life conditions, as they are fundamentally thought to be temporary, despite the fact that most of their inhabitants lived their entire life within them. The right to return for 5.7 million Palestinians, like the one allowed for each Jewish person of the world by Israel, is one essential element of the Palestinian agenda, but it seems like it would be abandoned by the Palestinian authority in their negotiation for an independent state of Palestine, hence the will of many of us not to pursue this future.
The tenth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles of the blog about literature is now officially published by Punctum Books in collaboration with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School. You can either download the book as a PDF for free or order it online for the price of $7.00 or €6.00. Next volume to be published will be dedicated to cinema. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.
Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Sophia Krimizi, Carla Leitão, Martin Byrne, Lucy Finchett-Maddock, Ethel Baraona Pohl, and Cesar Reyes.
Index of the Book
Introduction: Architectural Narratives
01/ By Revealing the Existence of Other Worlds, the Book is a Subversive Artifact
02/ Jack Kerouac: The Rooms, the Dioramas, the Maps by Sofia Krimizi
03/ Fernando Pessoa: Heteronyms by Carla Leitão
04/ Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Tyranny of Logic, the Voice of Blood, and Inner Disharmony by Martin Byrne
05/ Antonin Artaud: Sacred Matter
06/ Van Gogh The Man Suicided by Society by Antonin Artaud
07/ “My Desire is Someone Else’s Fiction”
08/ Short Approach to the Notion of Commodity for William Burroughs and Karl Marx
09/ William Burroughs’s Interzone: The Space of the Suspended Law Contained in the Thickness of the Line
10/ Coriolanus and the State of Exception
11/ Destructive Beauty: The Stendhal/Mizoguchi Syndrome as Seen by Yukio Mishima
12/ The Faustian Pact of the Artist: Hell Screen by Ryunosuku Akutagawa
13/ Desexualizing Sade: Relations of Absolute Power on the Bodies from Sodom to Abu Grhaib
14/ The Precise Design of Torture in Kafka’s Penal Colony
15/ Minor Literature
16/ The Kafkaian Immanent Labyrinth as a Postmortem Dream
17/ Computational Labyrinth or Towards a Borgesian Architecture
18/ The Two Architectures of the Infinite Possible Worlds: Leibniz’s Pyramid & Borges’ Garden of Forking Paths
19/ George Orwell: The Post-Ideological Man
20/ Tower of Joy, Ulan Bator, April 1992
Maps of Gaza by the UN Office for Coordination of Human Affairs (August 2014) – Selected and Augmented with 200-meter radius circles for The Funambulist (August 15, 2014)
Download a high-resolution version of the map here (9MB)
(license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
When it comes to the Israeli enforced organization of space in the West Bank and Gaza, one can always turns towards the UN Office for Coordination of Human Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian territories and the regularly updated maps they provide coupled with a multitude of important data. OCHA just released a 120-page “Gaza Crisis Atlas” that superimposes recent satellite photographs of the Gaza strip and their analyses in terms of damage imposed by the Israeli army bombing/shelling of this last month. Each red dot on these documents represents a destroyed structure, and it does not take much time to realize the amplitude of the bombings’ impact on the ground as red dots populate each page of the ‘atlas.’ What the precision of OCHA’s mapping fails to represent however, is the fact that a bombing is not confined to the violent physical destruction of a localized building, it also corresponds to an atmospheric volume of impact that I will try to expose in this article. In order to visualize this ‘atmospheric’ impact, I selected four pages of the OCHA ‘atlas’ and augmented each ‘red dot’ with a 200-meter radius circular red area. What this means is that everyone who lives inside one of these red areas has been experiencing at least one (often more) bombing in her/his immediate proximity — we can probably all agree that 200 meters equals immediate proximity when it comes to war. These four maps were selected for their representative characteristics in that some areas of the Gaza strip have been so heavily and systematically bombed that their maps would have been fully red, while a few other areas were more sporadically bombed, in particular in the less densely populated zones where the former Israeli settlements were situated. One of the map is in the North of Gaza, two others in the middle area, and the last one is near Rafah in the South, in order to illustrate how the totality of the Gaza strip was heavily affected.
Guantanamo bay detainees, blindfolded, ear-muffed, gloved and hooded, awaiting processing (source: Wikileaks)
The 49th conversation I had for Archipelago was a conversation with A. Naomi Paik about her forthcoming book, Rightlessness, which examines the American production of rightless subjects through their incarceration into camps that function as legal fictions (read more on the podcast page). One of the three camps she considers as paradigmatic is Guantanamo Bay’s Camp Delta, where 149 detainees remain incarcerated without having received any due trial. Paik explains how such a camp can only exist once it has created a specific legal status that makes it function through a manufactured legality. In this regard, she attached a particular importance to the status of “enemy combatant” attributed to detainees for their kidnapping and incarceration to be enacted. This made me thought of this status of “enemy combatant” as operating through a legal illocution that I would like to examine here.
The term of illocution was spread through the writings of Judith Butler, who demonstrated that gender, as a social construction, was produced by perfomativity, and triggered by phrases like the one of the doctor at the birth of a baby: “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”. Nevertheless, we have to go back to J. L. Austin and his 1962 book, How to Do Things with Words that Butler regularly quotes. The illocution consists in enacting the content of words when pronouncing them. The phrases mentioned above can illustrate well such a definition in the context of gender; in the judicial context that frames the content of this article, we can evoke the example given by Austin himself: “I sentence you to…” that enacts the sentence when pronounced by a judge in a court. The simultaneous nature of the pronunciation of the words with their enactment makes their cancellation difficult as the illocution carries a sense of definitiveness. This is particularly important for the argument presented in this article, since the listeners of the illocution are often incarnating the subject of its words and, therefore, of its enactment.
I started writing this article when the ceasefire in Gaza was still active and that, for the first time in 4 weeks, no one was killed for three days. As argued in a recent article, we need to put as much energy in critiquing the ordinary violence of the blockade on Gaza and the occupation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank than the one we have spent in our outrage to the recent massacre. The language we use for our political struggles informs the degree of resistance that it offers to the dominant narrative as Mimi Thi Nguyen have been arguing in the determining of figures of innocence (see past article and conversation on Archipelago). The Palestinian narrative for the future therefore needs to be carefully constructed depending on the vision at which it is aiming. Such prospects are always problematic, as they touch the delicate realms of “solutions,” which should be thought not as “ends of history,” but rather, within their own reconfiguration of relations of power. Since I already presented a speculative map of what the future of the region could (should?) be like, I would like to complement it now by proposing an inventory of terms we would need to use (i.e. the narrative we would need to convey) if we were to move towards such a future.