The space beyond the walls: Defensive “a-legal” sanctuaries
(originally written for the Wheelwright Prize – failed)
Considered purely in the abstract, the law appears to be a tool which makes strict categorizations of human actions and behaviors as either legal or illegal, just or unjust. Concomitantly, the abstraction of the law corresponds with a similar spatial abstraction in which territories are defined diagrammatically. This is true as far as the sovereignty of states is concerned but also for all architectural plans; they diagrammatically organize space into distinct territories of jurisdiction. In each case, law and diagram are reduced to their abstract lines. Once manifested as physical architecture, however, such strict delineation becomes far more ambiguous. Which law is applied in the space of a wall, the space of a border or the space of a contested zone? These spaces are legal anomalies and may be understood as the architectural manifestation of what Legal Philosophy Professor Hans Lindahl calls a-legality. Such in-between spaces seem at once to underwrite the law as well as to contradict it. In this research project, I propose to investigate specific cases in which the architecture of such “a-legal zones” is strategically used as a space of sanctuary from coercive forces. My argument insists that an “a-legal architecture” is specifically a defensive one as it gives itself the means to preserve such a status.
The recent manhunt of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston was probably quite shocking to many non-Americans – and probably some Americans too -, for the anachronism it constituted. The latter was caused by the ability for a Police to empty an entire city and therefore implements a sort of state of emergency, as well as the “march of the heroes”, the multitude of police officers acclaimed by the crowd after they arrested their prey. There is a profound feudalism in such absoluteness and one has the right to wonder what motivates this disturbing joy.
Let us focus on the urban condition that contextualize this manhunt. I have been repeatedly writing in the past, each house through its impermeability due to the implementation of private property is susceptible to become a prison for the bodies living inside of it in the sudden legal implementation of a quarantine. For an important part of Boston, the quarantine was not implemented stricto sensu but it was highly recommend to each resident to stay inside and the context of fear created by the ubiquitous media made such a recommendation a quasi-order. In the areas of Boston where the police and army was actually deployed, the quarantine was very much effectuated as this article illustrates: Looking through the windows seems to have been prohibited and enforced through the threats of weapons.
While this event was unfolding I was thinking of the descriptions that Michel Foucault makes in his seminar Abnormal (Les Anormaux) at the College de France (1975) of a Medieval/Renaissance city when contaminated by the Plague. Foucault distinguishes two things historically: the negative reaction to cases of leprosy in the same city that consists in the effective exclusion of the sick bodies from it, to the point that they are declared socially dead; and the positive (in the sense that there is an inclusion) reaction to the Plague that provokes a state of emergency and the absolute reorganization of the city according to a quadrillage which has been not so well translated into partitioning. Quadrillage involves indeed a sort of physical or virtual partitioning of a space, but it also implies a detailed, systematic and extensive examination of this same space by a controlling entity. Such an action is thoroughly described by Foucault in his class of January 15th 1975 in this same seminar:
Israeli settlement of Rimmonim on the road from Ramallah to Jericho
I am not quite sure to know the reasons that made me take so much time to write this article, three years after my last trip in Palestine; better late than never as one says so here it is: a majority of the photographs (see below) I took when I was there of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It seemed important here that I include only my own photographs in order to reduce the “degree of separation” between the readers and them.
Those photographs are important to me as they give another approach to the multitude of maps that have been traced to ‘cartograph’ the situation in Palestinian territories. The latter are effectively fundamental to understand the legal implications of the occupation but it also tends to desincarnate any discourse one might have about it. It is therefore extremely important to add to them a more subjective approach, not so much for emotion to emerge, but rather to trigger a clear understanding of the physicality of the occupation on the field. Without this understanding, everything remains abstract and in the realms of territories, thus forgetting that these territories are actually physical and host physical bodies on it.
I want to stress the fact that approaching the problem in a more incarnate and subjective way does not mean in any way that we should focus on the ‘news items’ however tragic they may be. What I mean by that is that what requires all our attention is what systematize the colonial organization of space and the bodies, what affects them on a daily basis. That might be less spectacular than the “news items” I was just evoking; however, there lies the real and durable condition of occupation. In this regard, I would like to link this article with another I wrote a bit more than a year ago entitled The Ordinary Violence of the Colonial Apparatuses in the West Bank that was addressing a similar dimension of the occupation through the various devices that control and hurt the Palestinian bodies on a daily basis.
Original Scheme of Fleur Agema’s Prison project as she imagined it in 1999
Few days ago, Daniel Fernandez Pascual posted a very interesting project on his fantastic Deconcrete. Entittled Closed Architecture, this book created by Jonas Staal is exploring in a very interesting way the architecture thesis project of a woman called Fleur Agema, who since became a member of the Dutch Parliament on the list of a party that is unfortunately illustrative of what the right wing looks like in Europe currently (neo-liberal economic policies, conservative immigration and mores policies). J. Staal simply studied F. Agema’s thesis text and project and re-interpreted them visually according to what such a project would actually looks like if implemented by governmental policies. The images below are part of a much larger book that Jonas Staal proposes to download on his website.
Before analyzing what that might tell us about practicing architecture, I would like to introduce briefly the project (I highly recommend to read the whole book). As an architecture student, Fleur Agema imagines a prison whose prisoner population is spread into four different buildings corresponding each with a phase of incarceration. Quoting J. Staal’s book directly here:
The model that Agema has developed focuses on the reconditioning of prisoners by means of four phases. In the first version they are called, “The Bunker – The Habituation – The Wait – The Light” (see p. 33), and in the final version, “The Fort – The Encampment – The Artillery Installation – The Neighborhood” (see p. 99). “The Fort” is modeled after the ancient design of the dungeon, and is meant to break the prisoner’s resistance; “The Encampment” is a camp with vegetable gardens to stimulate independence; “The Artillery Installation” is a type of commune in which the prisoners have to learn to operate collectively; and “The Neighborhood” is essentially a reconstruction of a residential neighborhood filled with hidden cameras, where the prisoners live a simulated life in order to verify whether they are yet fully capable of functioning within society.
The images that follow this article are the visualizations that J. Staal did to illustrate F. Agema’s ideas, I chose to include each times three perspectives (outside/inside/room) to make the comparison easier to observe.
The panopticon in its totality / assembled photographs by Léopold Lambert
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the former Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. The building is particular as it was one of the first prisons to implement the panopticon scheme invented by Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. This scheme is not fully applied as what is actually visible from the center of the building are the ten alleys and not the cells themselves; however, the centralization and totalization of surveillance is manifested here and were probably operative to a great extent. The prison was operative between 1829 and 1971 and along the years, some additional branches were even incorporated to the original layout, bringing the amount of visible alleys to twelve (two of them can be watched thanks to mirrors). The small montage above corresponds to a 360-degree view from the center of the building.
I often argues that Michel Foucault, who contributed to made the panopticon well known, paradoxically never thought in terms of architecture (see my essay Foucault and Architecture: The Encounter that never was) as, when he was writing or talking about architecture, what he was really doing was to speak only of diagrams (we could say the architect’s plan). What is true nevertheless, is that such a diagrammatically based architecture definitely tends to reinforce the machinic functioning of this building in the way it absolutely controls the bodies (that is the definition of a prison). If we remain at the diagrammatic level, there is no escape from this systematic operation; if we explore the physicality of architecture however, the means of escapibility correspond to the ability of a body to use the fallibility of architecture in its physicality (there no fallibility at the diagrammatic level). Here is one example: In 1945, two inmates of the Eastern State Penitentiary dug a hundred feet long tunnel and escaped from the prison’s periphery.
I apologize to those of my readers who would reasonably see this article as a form of self-promotion, this will be the first and only post about this book. Following the research I undertook in 2010 and the architectural project that emerged from it in 2011, My good friends Ethel and Cesar from DPR-Barcelona and I have worked together to come out with a book, Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence that would be available for all. This is now the case and you can find the book on any national franchise of amazon and (preferably!) in some bookstores in various countries. For a presentation of this work, you can see the small lecture I was lucky to be able to do at the school of architecture of Lund (Sweden) in September 2012. One particularity of the book that is also worth noting, was developed by dpr-barcelona is the introduction of a dose of augmented reality through smart phones and tablets that allow a second layer of multimedia information for each chapter.
More information after the break.
Do not let the fancy renderings of the winning entry for the new American Embassy in London mislead you, what you see is nothing else than the contemporaneous version of the Middle Age castle. The project, designed by Kieran Timberlake carries many characteristics of medieval means of defense and thus constitutes the paradigm of the post-2001 American Embassy. As I already pointed out in a previous article about the competition for the US Embassy in Belgrade, this paradigm is defined by the contradiction between the appearance and the essence of the building, the former representing the traditional discourse of openness, “democracy, liberty and America” (quoting the issue of proudly American Metropolis dedicated to US Embassies) while the latter is really about the protection of the building and what it contains.
Just like for the new World Trade Center in New York, the base of the building has to be solid enough to contain a bomb-car attack. In the London case, the building is separated from the city by an earth motte as well as a moat filed with water (see the wired article about those apparatuses). As many people also realize a square-base building ensures to have the least contact surface with the outside. Usually it represents a useful way to control the energy transfers and thus to make the building more ecoLogical, in that case, it ensures to the core of the building to be protected from any exterior attack. The peripheral glass is therefore only a decoy which indicates what truly needs to be protected in an Embassy, not as much people, but documents that are stored in the center of the building. It would be interesting to see the plans but of course, they are kept secret, which brings the attention on the architect’s responsibility once again. The generation of architects currently practicing has been built on the disillusion of the previous one (the moderns), and has therefore accepted the idea that, as simple cogs of the mechanisms, they were not responsible for the political consequences of their products. The very fact that their plans could be kept secret brings attention on the power of the scheme that they participated to conceive.
Israeli Settlement of Kokhav Ya’akov / New Palestinian Housing Complex (both near Ramallah) /// Photographs by Léopold Lambert
I wrote many times about the numerous Israeli settlements in the West Bank (I will repeat once again that they violate the article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention), but I never dedicated a whole article about what I call here an Architectural Stockholm Syndrome that is symptomatic of a problem within the Palestinian society. This syndrome that you can observe in the two pictures above lies in the quasi-imitation of those settlements’ architecture and planning for new groups of Palestinian buildings.
It has been shown many times that colonization defines itself by an absolute intrusion of a nation into another’s collective life and imaginary. One has to understand that the docile policies of the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank for almost two decades had for result to allow the bourgeoisie to develop within the Palestinian society. This bourgeoisie, in addition of strongly contrasting with the 25% unemployed people of the West Bank, is mostly depoliticized and, for part of it, silently accommodates itself of the status quo of the conflict. The architectural consequence of this class struggle within a broader geopolitical struggle is the development of those somehow luxurious groups of housing buildings, built in what must be a more or less aware reproduction of the newest and most luxurious examples of the region: the Israeli settlements.
The political consequence of such ambiguity between the colonized and the colon, in addition of the well understood internal class issues it creates, consists in the dismantlement of the creative collective imaginary that ties a nation together when it is oppressed by another one. It also participates to the ratification of the current situation as it introduces various forms of comfort which are in complete contradiction with the participation to the struggle. This contradiction has been perfectly understood by the Palestinian refugees in this regard. When offered to improve their life conditions in the numerous camps of the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, they have been consistently refusing for three generations, as such improvement would be a form of acceptance of their current situation as a definitive one. On the contrary, their rudimentary conditions of life keep them in a wakefulness position that can easily serve a political participation.
IDF Soldiers in front of a ‘flock’ of militarized Bulldozers Caterpillar D9
I apologize to those of my readers who would like to come back to a bigger diversity of articles but, to be honest, I can not yet feel comfortable writing about something else than the situation in Gaza right now, as upset and infuriated I am. Again, I don’t want to count those who died, neither publishing pictures of wounded kids, we all have access to information that insist on the ‘spectacular’ aspect of this tragedy. On the contrary, I would like to balance my anger with a deeper analysis of the daily situation in Gaza for the last decade.
After my map of the Manhattan strip (see previous post), I would like to ask my readers for another imaginative effort to put their eyes in the ones of a Gaza kid who have never been able to leave the 140 square mile piece of territory (approximately half of the area of New York City) that he lives in. What is the representation of the otherness that (s)he might have from this situation. Of course, there is always her (his) brief encounter with various foreigners working for NGOs or other aid/activist organizations; but this representation is extremely likely to be mostly influenced by the various Israeli killing machines that obviously trigger an absolute terror in this kid’s imaginary. Nothing that (s)he has seen in books or on television about other people and countries can surpass the reality of these extremely violent intrusions of deshumanized machines that vowed to destroy her (his) direct environment. In “normal” times, these are the remote controlled machine guns towers that prevent any movement in a 1,500 meter zone from the territory’s border (see previous article), there are also the frightening sound of the F-16 aircrafts and other drones over the Gaza sky, every now and then and on a regular basis, the bulldozers caterpillar D9 (see previous article) that have been so ‘efficiently’ customized by the IDF that even the US army feels obliged to buy some ‘back’ (caterpillar is an American brand) for their own use. Of course, in times of heavy conflict like the ones we powerlessly observe those days, those weapons are complemented by tanks and battleships and they all participate to bomb the Gaza strip from the outside.
Map of the Gaza Strip (Dec 2011) /// United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory
I think that many of us are infuriated in front of the unfolding new siege over Gaza by the Israeli army. As horrifying as those images of children and entire families being struck by the bombs sent by aircraft, battleships, drones or other remote controlled machine guns, it is extremely important to also insist on the daily oppression that the people of the Gaza strip have to face even when they are not being bombed. Since 2006 and the Israeli disengagement of its settlement within the strip, the situation is different from the one in the West Bank -which I have to say, I am more familiar with. When the West Bank has to suffer from multiple colonial apparatuses, Gaza functions pretty much as a gigantic prison from which, it is almost impossible to escape -even the Egyptian border remains close to most people. Most of the needs of its people (water, food, electricity, phone & internet networks etc.) is provided directly by Israel (for most of it, see the last map of this article) who has been, along the years, quite literally experimenting how little it could provide without provoking a severe humanitarian crisis in the eyes of the International Community. The access to the sea itself is heavily restricted – and enforced with real rockets – by the IDF to keep Gaza fishermen’s boats within a limit of three nautical miles. Needless to say, fishing cannot be a strong economy in this context.
The strip is thus a scale 1 experiment for the Israeli state to determine how to sustain the lives of 1.7 millions Palestinians – apparently more for its International reputation than for its philanthropic will as we can currently see – with the minimum of ressources. But, this very small piece of territory – and to some extents, this is also true in the West Bank – is also a terrain of experiments for military training and weapon technology. As some specialists have been detecting, some US military officials have been often spotted during IDF operations in a clear attempt to learn how to lead a siege in the Middle East. After the operation Lead Cast in Dec 2008-Jan 09 that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians of all ages, the Goldstone Report and various other testimonies have shown that white phosphorus bombs and flechette shells which are categorically banned by the International legislation. The various apparatuses of control around the Strip are also an opportunity for the Israeli army to implement new technology in matter of weapons like remote controlled machine gun stations t0 prevent the access of the ‘no-go zone’ (about 500 meters from the green line) and the ‘high risks zone (fron 500 to 1,500 meters from the green line):
Mule Creek State Prison (Ione, California)
(Note the “No Warning Shot is Required Sign”)
The overcrowded Californian prisons give us an idea of the current architectural carceral paradigm. Far from the elaborated 19th century drawings of Jeremy Bentham, entire parts of those prisons are simple warehouse hosting dozens of detainees with no other internal wall than the rough-and-ready three stories beds aligned on a virtual grid. The pre-18th century jail was a dark dungeon in which prisoners were forgotten by the otherness, the current one, on the opposite, sinks the detainees in a strong and crude white light (even during the night) in a hall where every act and move are being potentially observed. The United States currently counts over 2,3 millions incarcerated people (about 3% of the adult population) and the State of California in particular, hosts 140,000 detainees reaching an overcrowded status that the Supreme Court has recently judged unconstitutional.
As I have been writing many times, the question of the design of a prison is an interesting one as it makes us face the extreme of architecture’s power over the bodies. The perpetual question for an architect consist in wondering if one might accept to design such a program, and in the case of a refusal, if one should even design offices, banks, stores etc. But if we do accept such a commission in the hope of making things better from “the inside”, one has to face a peculiar question when asked to design a prison. Even the most considerate architect has to recognize that the very essence of this program consists in providing life conditions bad enough to constitute an instrument of punishment. There has been some recent discussions about Scandinavian prisons (and for that matter, even about Scandinavian punishment system) which were said to be too comfortable to be considered as such. In that regard – and to stay within this logic – the Californian prison’s gymnasiums can be legitimately considered as good design as it precisely serves the punitive essence of prisons…
However, since the change of paradigm pointed out by Michel Foucault in his book, Discipline and Punishment, the new forms (since the end of the 18th century) of incarceration not only still include the old purposes of punishment and example, they also incorporate the goal of repent and “healing” for each prisoner. For this last purpose, punishment should not be excessive as it might radicalize the detainee against the society that put him at the center of an inclusive exclusion. In that matter, design is considered as an important catalyst and probably needs to be much more elaborated and humane than the Californian warehouses. Once again, I argue here in the position of somebody who would have accepted to design a prison in the first place. On the opposite position, we might want to argue that the very notion of a punitive architecture is obsolete and that we need to come up with new ways (which are likely to have nothing to do with design) of dealing with crime in a given society.
Shipping containers fortifying the Lahore Press Club in preparation for protests against the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims madeby convicted felon Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Photographer unknown.
First of all, I would like to apologize for the inconsistency in the guest writers essays’ schedule. After a long period of time without them, they are now flowing in the blog’s editorial choice; soon enough we should be back on a rhythm in which you will be able to read one per week.
The essay City, Space, Power: Lahore’s Architecture of In/Security, written by Sadia Shirazi is a brilliant mix of personal observations and thorough analyses of the current use of architecture in the city of Lahore (Pakistan) as a securitarian weapon. The notion of security is cleverly played with in Sadia’s title here, as her texts illustrates how Lahore’s inhabitants’ daily lives are subjected to the paradoxical violence of processes of securitization. Far from the evanescent spotlights of the media that cover consistently the terror attacks with no further perspective, the “architecture of in/security” is experienced every day by millions of people who are affected by it. Through a cartographic assignment Sadia also exposes how this same architecture, despite its effect on everyone, is implemented mostly in favor of the higher social classes and, ultimately participate to the literal fragmentation of classes within the city.
City, Space, Power: Lahore’s Architecture of In/Security
by Sadia Shirazi
As I wrote in a previous post, I was lucky enough to be included in LOG 25 Reclaim Resi[lience]stance, edited by Cynthia Davidson and curated by François Roche. My essay consisted in a historical philosophical interpretation of the two very specific architectures that are the barricade and the tunnel. As said in the text, the title Abject Matter, is both communicating my will to read them through a materialist philosophy, as well as my questioning of the recurrent terminology of counter-insurgent strategies that tends to associate insurrections and social movements with filthiness and infection. I concluded my text with a short introduction to Gilbert Simondon’s concepts of form and matter, that I am hopeful to develop a bit more in the near future.
Abject Matter: The Barricade and the Tunnel
by Léopold Lambert
Seen through a materialist reading, the built environment can be a way of contextualizing political struggle. Architecture, as a modification of the material world, allows us to observe the political implications of such transformations. Whether intentionally or not, it has been recurrently used as an instrument of control upon bodies, and considering architecture’s ability to transgress a given system’s rules, the discipline seems inherently in collusion with this same system. Given this conundrum, is it possible to conceive of a resistive architecture? Two different operations on matter – aggregating and digging – can be seen as acts of creation toward two potentially resistive architectural typologies: the barricade and the tunnel.
For the last seven days, a group of twenty Eritrean refugees have been trapped between the two fences materializing the border between Egypt and Israel as they were trying to enter the latter. Today, the group was dismissed as a vast majority of them was expelled and three of them were brought to a detention center on the Israeli territory. This short post does not even want to spend too much time deploring the “normal xenophobia” that motivates European countries and Israel to let migrants dying at their frontiers – in that case, and from the article in the Guardian, one of the women of the group miscarried a child as no other humanitarian aid was brought to them other than a limited amount of water. This reality reached a long time ago the tragic stage where it has been accepted as a collateral effect of globalization and would requires a much longer article.
What I would like to stress on here is the geometrical paradox that makes a border acquiring a thickness. In reality, the line traced on a map is often materialized by a physical element and inevitably, this element has a given thickness. In that case, the materialization of the abstract border is achieved by a double fence, thus creating a space in between that seems ambiguous on the legal level. Technically this space is on the Israeli territory. Nevertheless, for seven full days, the state of Israel refused to grant access to its territory to those twenty migrants, implying that this space was not part of this same territory. Harriet Sherwood for the Guardian even precises:
An Israeli government spokesman said: “According to international practices and binding precedents, the fence is a de facto border, and therefore anyone who is beyond it is not located in Israeli territory and is therefore not eligible for automatic entry.”
Similarly to the Korean DMZ, or the Cypriot Buffer Zone, the space between the two lines of fences carries a legal status that is not the same than the ones on each of its sides. Whoever lives in this space can be said to be liberated from the law. However, such a liberation also implies the loss of a legal status for each individual which then becomes the target of one or both sides’ fire, or in that case, the dispossession of the right to be treated humanely both by Egypt and Israel. In his book, Homo Sacer, Giorgio Agamben invents the now well-known concept of bare life to characterizes the individuals subjected to the state of exception and who are now expelled completely from the political and legal process. We can probably attribute the border’s thickness as the space, par excellence that provides the conditions of existence of the bare life status.
The Palestinian Archipelago: Island of Al Walajah surrounded by reefs /// Metaphorical map by the author
To mark the unfortunate anniversary of the Separation Barrier whose construction has been started ten years ago by the Israeli government, the online magazine +972 published a dossier about various aspects of the Palestinian life as changed by the wall. Let’s remind everybody that the wall is not following the 1949 armistice Green Line which separates Israel from the Palestinian territories, but rather attempts to push its line as far as possible within the West Bank in order to bring as many settlements as possible on the same side than the Israeli territory.
One of this +972 dossier’s chapter is dedicated to the case of the village of Al Walajah near Bethlehem. This village is situated very close from the Israeli settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo and is thus planned to be surrounded by the wall as a form of inclusive exclusion (read the previous article about the book with the same name). The village is already almost enclosed by the wall and only one last part remains to be built. According to Israeli journalist Haggai Matar who wrote the article, “The High Court at first stopped construction of the wall, but in 2011 allowed the state to proceed with construction even though a final ruling on the route has not been given.” Israel promised to build a tunnel for the village to be able to reach Bethlehem, but farmers won’t get an access to their land and the village in general will be surrounded by a wall and thus deprived from its direct environment.
It is important to observe that Al Waljah is also separated from Bethlehem by the well-known viaduct of Gilo (see maps and photo below). Most illustrative example of the Israeli colonial infrastructure, it carries a highway for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers and army. Walls, Settlements, and colonial roads constitute the reefs that transformed the “continental” land of Al Walajah into an isolated island of the Palestinian Archipelago. In this regard, this village’s situation is very similar to another one which has been already enclosed by the wall, Bir Nabala, not far from Ramallah that I evoked in a past article about the Israeli West Bank Highway, the route 443.
Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone (East London) (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Yesterday, Judge Haddon-Cave of the Hight Court of England decided in favor of the British Minister of Defense that the installation of surface-to-air missiles on the roof of a 17 floor building in East London during the Olympics of this year. Residents of the Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone (see map below) had indeed challenged this decision in justice. Those missiles are being set-up in prevention of potential terrorist attacks against London during the Olympics. This decision marks a new step in the establishment of national states of emergency since the 2001 terrorists attacks against the United States. For the last decade, western countries declared themselves at war against terrorism and had implemented a certain amount of measures which grandly restraint freedom and privacy in favor of a claimed security. The so called “war against terrorism” is indeed convenient for governments to acquire more power over their citizens as terror precisely consists in the generalization of a feeling of fear among a population when the latter is confronted to a durable state of urgency. In other words, what maintains terror is not so much the original event of the attack -if I can allow myself to call this event “original” when in reality it is based on a long history- but rather the durable ideological “state of exception” that follows it.
As said yesterday by David Enright, one of the lawyer of the residents, “the Ministry of Defense now has the power to militarize the private homes of any person in Britain as long as they can demonstrate that there is, in their view, a matter of national security in play. They do not need to ask you, they do not need to consult you, but can take over your home, put a missile on your roof, a tank on your loan, or soldiers in your living room.” In my last article, I was evoking how domestic design could potentially unfold its weaponized characteristics, this new case provides us with one more example of such a process. It also demonstrates, if needed, that the weaponization of architecture is usually triggered by a legal framework which finds its embodiment in the physicality of architecture. For example, in the case of a legal apparatus like curfew or quarantine, an “innocent” home (but we know that there is no such a thing) can be transformed into a prison through its impermeable walls, floors and roof. In that London case, architecture is used for its height and the flatness of its roof (both advocated by the modern movement) in order to be transformed into a militarized machine.
One goal of this blog is to demonstrate how political -and sometimes military- strategy are embodied in design that do not always explicit them. That is not necessarily to say that the whole built environment has been drawn and built by an evil transcendental power to oppress its subjects (although sometimes that is the case) but rather that design is always involved within broader political mechanisms that forces it to take position.
Take a highway for example. Nothing more usual for many of us. In an old article, I was already quoting thinkers (N.Chomsky & P.Galison) who were interpreting it respectively as an economical catalyst for the car industry and a territorial strategy to spread resources during the cold war. The photos and videos included in this article brings another aspect of highways’ weaponization. In march 1984, NATO organized an exercise in West Germany to plan for potential emergency operations in case of open conflict against the Soviet Union. Army aircrafts, including a transport C130 Hercules (see further below) and an A-10 Thunderbolt II jet (see above), landed and a piece of highway that had been designed specifically to fulfill this potential function. Of course, it would be inaccurate to attribute the function of highways exclusively to their potential weaponization, however, it would be just as much inaccurate to ignore the part of their design that has been voluntarily militarized.
District B13 Ultimatum, directed by Patrick Alessandrin (2009)
After a photographic and an historical interpretation of what I called for this series’ purposes, Fortress Paris, this third part introduces its cinematographic (literal) adaptation of this topic. The film Banlieue 13 (District B-13) and its sequel Banlieue 13 Ultimatum materializes to the extreme, the policies of exclusion of the Parisian proletarian suburbs. In these movies, the suburbs are surrounded by a high wall which leave the inside population to its own fate in a similar way than the film Escape from New York created by John Carpenter in 1981 in which Manhattan was walled, thus imprisoning its criminal inhabitants.
In this interpretation the suburbs incarnate a perfect example of Michel Foucault’s notion of heterotopia (see previous article and the cinematographic series). It is the other space, delimited with access filters and which applies its specific rules different from the milieu that surrounds it. Similarly to many institutional heterotopias, the suburban one does not leave any choice to its inhabitants to leave it through the militarization of its border. Just like the psychiatric hospital or the prison (one might add the school and the factory to a certain extent), it thus constitutes an authoritarian heterotopia and acts as a mechanism of control for society.
In a less ‘spectacular’ aesthetics but with a more solid and touching scenario/directing/acting, I cannot not recommend Mathieu Kassovitz’s first film La Haine (1995) in which the walls are not as visible but evidently exist.
Following the last article about Fortress Paris, I would like to introduce the book Paris sous Tension (Paris under tension) written and edited by Eric Hazan, director of one of my very favorite publishers, La Fabrique. The book is written in French, and I will quote extensive excerpts in this article but I will also try to summarize in English their object. Its various chapters explore Paris from 1814 to its contemporary era -the book was published in 2011- through the narrative of a continuous conflict between the intelligentsia who are designing the city associated with its means to maintain the order on the one hand, and the proletariat who has to survive and empower itself despite this urban organization. In this regard, it can be compared to the more recent book Rebel Cities written by David Harvey and that I have been writing about in a previous article. For the purpose of this short review, I will organize the excerpts in eight small chapters that are not related to the book’s own organization:
This article is the first one of a trio which will investigate the architectural elements that makes Paris, a contemporary fortress. The Boulevard Périphérique (highway ring) around it, marks its geographical limit and embodies the latter in a solid barrier of low porosity. Of course, the city walls are not as evidently militarized than its 19th century ancestor, the Thiers fortifications built in 1844 on the same route than the current Périphérique and carrying the name of the character who slaughtered the Paris Commune few decades later. However, the will of ‘defending’ Paris’ integrity against the exterior is still strong and expressed in a (barely) more subtle way. At the exception of the Western suburbs -where the highest social classes live- the city is very difficult to access from its surroundings thus materializing the policies of social exclusion at work in Paris.
The physical border that separates the center of the city from its suburbs is embodied not only by the Périphérique but also, on its side, by various zones differing from the simple state of no-man’s land to various zones of office buildings, malls or other non-residential program that scarify the threshold between inside and outside. In order to illustrate this buffer zone that is well-known of Parisians -at least those who have to experience it on a daily basis- I selected sixteen views (see below) from google street in which you can see how the entrance in Paris materializes. I tried to keep as a visual continuity, the small sign announcing Paris like in every towns in France. By doing so, I wanted to insist on the graphic contrast between the function of this same sign (its welcoming status) and its actual environment which constitutes a gate -and that is indeed their official name- to the Fortress Paris.
See part 2: Paris sous Tension by Eric Hazan
and part 3: The Suburban Heterotopia