“In public space, no one can wear an outfit dissimulating the face. (“Law of October 11, 2010)”
We can no longer allow others to turn our mucous membranes, our skin, all our sensitive areas into occupied territory—territory controlled and regimented by others, to which we are forbidden access. (Félix Guattari, “To Have Done with the Massacre of the Body,” in Three Billion Perverts: Great Encyclopedia of Homosexuals, Recherches no. 12, 1973.)
In the passage above, Félix Guattari describes marginalized bodies as “occupied territory.” An occupied territory is characterized by its administration exercised by a foreign institution that regularly uses it coercive power to re-affirm its absolute control of surfaces that do not legitimately belongs to it. This description corresponds well to many instances where female bodies have been captured from their own decisive power, to be administrated by male policies and practices. The recent deaths of thirteen women in the province of Chhattisgarh (India) after having been surgically operated in the context of a governmental program of sterilization (accomplished in camps) reminds us of the corporeal effects that global demographic policies entail. These policies operate exclusively on female bodies in their systematic association to reproduction, when male bodies’ full sexuality seems to necessitate to be savaged.
Similarly the tests of virginity accomplished by the Egyptian police on female body as described in Scott Long‘s excellent article “Virginity Tests, Vile Bodies: Stories from Sisi’s Egypt” (Nov 11, 2014), take part in the administration of female bodies by male policies. Long describes the story of a young Egyptian woman who was accompanying her male friend to a police office last week. The police then searched her purse — thus making of another intimate surface, an occupied territory — found condoms and threatened her to charge her with prostitution. She was then forced to do a virginity test. The name of virginity tests does not merely express the corporeal violence they exercise. Although they may sound like blood tests or other medical procedures, they consist in reality in the subject’s stripping and in the direct examination of her vagina (by a female officer in this case). The capture of the female body is manifest here. This young woman was already at the police office and had no choice but to submit to this test: her body was scrutinized in its bareness and offered to the moral judgment of a patriarchal society.
Otto Lilienthal in 1893
A good way to articulate thoughts consists in a dialogue with friends; that is what I intend to do here, by basing my reflection about the Spinozist body on the article written yesterday by anthropologist Gastón Gordillo (see our Archipelago conversation) on his blog, Space and Politics. Entitled “Passion for Terrain,” his text aims at taking part of a larger work around this fascinating concept of terrain. In this regard, it ought to be noted that Gastón and Stuart Elden (see our Archipelago conversation) will host two sessions about this concept at the Chicago Association of Geographers next April.
Gastón’s article uses the example of wingsuit flyers in order to illustrate an extreme relationship between the human body and the terrain, since these suits allow bodies to fly at high speed at a short distance to the ground/terrain, while adopting its form. He uses the Spinozist scream “We don’t know what a body can do” (see past article) to address these new corporeal possibilities and establishes a ‘non-compliant’ corollary in the form “We do know what a human body can’t do: escape the physical force that the planet imposes on it through gravity and survive the impact of a fall” (Gordillo, 2014). In this following article, I would like to argue that this is only true insofar that we have a clear idea of what a body is or, rather, of where a body stops. By this, I mean that it is only our confused understanding that creates the strict separation of the body and its wingsuit or, even, the aircraft where it sits.
Still from Dogtooth (2009) by Yorgos Lanthimos
The Funambulist Papers series — the second volume will be published in the first part of 2015 — continues today. I am happy to supply some ‘fresh air’ in the middle of my obsessive writing! This fresh air is brought to us by Ina Karkani who is a film and literature scholar at Stockholm University. Her text, “Framing the Weird Body in Contemporary European Cinema,” brings a cinematographic approach to this series dedicated to the question of the body. Through the three recent Greek films, Dogtooth (see past article), Alps by Yorgos Lanthimos and Attenberg by Athina Rachel Tsangaris, she attempts to examine the notion of “weird body” as a new form of cinematographic corporeal representation. The very notion of weirdness when it comes to the body is, of course, a jest insofar that no body could possibly be anything else than weird, i.e. in more or less strong discrepancy with the norm.
Framing the Weird Body in Contemporary European Cinema: Dogtooth, Attenberg and Alps
by Ina Karkani
Gaza cucumbers transported towards the West Bank (Gisha, November 6, 2014)
As occupied East Jerusalem currently provides us with more images of violence between the (armed) Israeli police and the (unarmed) Palestinian locals, and while a Jewish orthodox organization called for a provocative demonstration today on the Dome of the Rock’s esplanade, it would be once again easy to focus only on this spectacular and ‘photogenic’ violence, when the normal one, triggered by the occupation on a daily basis, continues. As argued in a recent paper, forgetting the “normal violence” only perpetuates the status quo, since the occupation can thus perpetuate itself between peaks of spectacular violence and periods of mediatic calm. This ‘calm’ is characterized by the ‘atmospheric’ nature of the violence, inescapable and continuous like the air that surrounds our bodies.
This article intends to examine one of this atmospheric aspect: the dependency of Palestinian economy on the Israeli one. Yesterday, the Israeli NGO Gisha (Legal Center for Freedom of Movement) announced that after seven years of Israeli ban on food produced in Gaza for the West Bank, a truck had been authorized to transport ten tons of cucumbers from the former to the latter. The fact that such a small cargo could be that newsworthy should certainly makes us wonder about the way the occupation also implements itself at an economic level. Thinking of the latter simply in its ‘negativity’ (i.e. its propensity to damage Palestinian lives) would be missing an important aspect of the Israeli strategy in this matter, and would therefore prevent us from seeing why Israel has deep interests in the daily exercise of the occupation. Instead, we need to think of this strategy as the colonial production of economy in favor of the colonizer. Colonies were not merely characterized by the take over of resourceful territories for the colonial empires, but also by the capture of nations to be used as exclusive and dependent consumers of colonial products — the tax itself being one of them. The implement of the colonizer’s currency in the colonies (like it is the case in the Palestinian territories) is also instrumental to this dependency.
TOPIE IMPITOYABLE: Les politiques corporelles du vêtement, du mur et de la rue
Lecture recorded at L’Iselp in Brussels on October 16, 2014. The title of the presentation is the same than the book (English, French, and Italian) that should be published in the first part of 2015. Thank you to Florence Cheval for the kind invitation.
Elliptical Field – Site of Reversible Destiny Yoro by Arawaka and Madeline Gins (1995)
Photograph by Léopold Lambert
I had recently the great chance to (re)visit two of the three architectures designed by Arakawa and Madeline Gins in Japan, namely Yoro Park in Gifu prefecture and the Mitaka Lofts in Tokyo. Being familiar with their vision and work for several years and having been collaborating with their office for a year and half does not prevent me from being struck each time I physically experience their architecture. In it, the body is continuously stimulated by the situations created around it and with it. I however already wrote many times about their work and dedicated one of the Funambulist Pamphlets (volume 08) to it, and I hope not to repeat myself in the following article. The main argument that I would like to establish through it, concerns the political interpretation of the body that this work provides.
On the contrary of many architectural and political discourses, Arakawa and Gins’s is constructed much less on what it claims to know, than on what it embraces to ignore. It appears more and more to me that all forms of corporeal violence (racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, etc.) can be said to be built upon a complete knowledge of what a body is. In other words, essentializing a race or a gender, whether to value it or denigrating it – it is ultimately the same thing – would constitute in saying “I know what a body is.” The architectural corollary of such an hypothesis is that an architecture designed through a specific (conscious or not) idea of what a body is – the standards set by Le Corbusier, Ernst Neufert or Henry Dreyfuss are only the most explicit visions of this idea – inevitably creates an appropriate environment for such corporeal violence to take place.
Mellila, October 22, 2014 / Photograph by José Palazón
Making a photograph speak is a common journalistic exercise, yet it is a perilous one, since much of the image’s story remains unseen on it – the outside of the frame, the position of the photographer for instance. The photograph above, taken in the Spanish enclave of Melilla (North Morocco) on October 22, 2014, despite (or because) its striking symbolism, does not escape to the rule. The flattening of perspective we can see on it suggests that the photograph has been taken from a long distance of its subjects, with the help of a large range zoom. When attempting to situates it scene on google earth, we can realize that the wall separating the Moroccan and Spanish territory is not situated in the golf course itself, but actually slightly further on a road at its periphery. The visual encounter of the migrants climbing up the wall, the policeman, and the two golfers is therefore not as direct as it suggests. This photograph, like any other, constructs a vision that is to be slightly dissociated from a self-sustaining truth discourse.
When we associate it to a relative knowledge of the situation it attempts to recount, we can however start to use its symbolical power as a vessel of our arguments. What this image shows us is only a few of the many African migrants who regularly attempt to reach Melilla by climbing up its high wall, which materializes a part of the Southern border of what I called “Fortress North” in the past (when analyzing another part of this Southern border). The contrast between the urgency and the risk taken by these migrants and the comfortable casualness of the two Spanish golfers is striking. It is even more so, when we come to realize that the very principle of golf is to insure that only a limited amount of people is able to practice it. The price of golfing, like any other luxurious product, includes a part essentially dedicated to making it prohibitive to the largest amount of people. It is thus difficult not to make a parallel with the western world whose claimed “problem of immigration” might just well be that the golf course is becoming slightly too crowded to practice it comfortably.
On March 29, 2013, Stéphane Raffalli, the mayor of Ris-Orangis, a 25,000-inhabitant town of the South suburbs of Paris, issued a municipal order to evict and destroy a shantytown where more than 200 Romanian migrants (including Romas and non-Romas) lived. This municipal order certainly strikes by its stylistic prose, whose study gave birth to a collectively-written book entitled Considérant qu’il est plausible que de tels événements puissent à nouveaux survenir: Sur l’art municipal de détruire un bidonville (Considering that It Is Plausible that Such Events Could Occur Again: On the Municipal Art to Destroy a Shantytown, Post-Editions, 2014). The municipal order uses the dry administrative language, yet articulates it around an anaphora of the terms VU (observing, used 21 times) and CONSIDERANT (considering, used 75 times) at the beginning of each paragraph (see the entire order at the end of this article), thus mixing poetry and administrative jargon in an unprecedented and disturbing manner. Of course, the order’s arguments consist in enumerating the dangers from which this population should be saved but racism against the Roma population (and other people who could be interpreted as being part of it) is now wearing the bare minimum of disguise in France. The fact that this order has been written against this population renders its literary style closer to a prosecutor’s diatribe than a benevolent discourse from a mayor supposed to consider — the word is far from innocent — the life of bodies who live on municipal land.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to write a text for The Fall Semester, an in situ (Miami) and online symposium that occurred last week. I figured that it would be a good opportunity to make a synthesis of my thoughts/maps about the recent Israeli military massacre on Gaza as being ‘only’ a spectacular episode of a continuous siege. There is not much new information for people who had been kind enough to read the articles day by day (listed at the end of this text), but I am hoping that this synthesis could be helpful to others. The Fall Semester’s guest speakers were Nick Gelpi, Jean-François Lejeune, Nick Srnicek, Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, Grey Read, Jan Verwoert, Benjamin Bratton, Michael Hardt. Its online contributors were Jason Dittmer, Keller Easterling, Matteo Pasquinelli, François Roche, Nathalie Rozencwajg, Leandro Silva Medrano, Marion von Osten, and myself (each essay can be downloaded on the symposium’s website).
The Continuous Siege: Spectacular and Normal Territorial Violence in Gaza ///
As the Israeli bombs stop raining on Gaza and, with them, the outrage that this recent chapter of the continuous siege on this small land of Palestinian territory triggered, the last thing that we should wish is that things “go back to normal.” The normal is unacceptable, since it is made of the same violence than the bombings, only in a less spectacular manner. Throughout this text, I propose to use the oxymoronic phrase of “normal violence” in order to describe the (infra)structural subjection imposed on the Gaza inhabitants.
The Palestinian government of Ramallah in May 2012
In the recent days, both Sweden and the United Kingdom parliaments moved ahead to give recognition to a State of Palestine. What sounds like good news is actually not one, regardless of the good or bad intentions of the members of these parliaments. One can actually interpret this decision as a wish from Western countries to ‘wash their hands’ over what they still call the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, precipitating a future that has very little to offer, rather than the profound recognition for the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause. The recognition of a State of Palestine understands the latter as fundamentally separated from the Israeli one. It recognizes the pre-1967 borders as being the ones that bases the territorial separation of both states with the probable admission of a special status for East Jerusalem, which already indicates a fundamental failure in this scenario — one could think that the capital of this new state would rather be displaced to Ramallah. The “two-state solution” is certainly not a solution as it claims to be. Furthermore, as I wrote in the past, we should be fundamentally cautious when encountering the notion of solution: they imply a form of “end of history” and allow the worst to happen providing that it leads to this end — again, this is not innocent that the Nazis’ official denomination of the holocaust was “the solution of the Jewish problem.” What I would like to argue in this short article is that the establishment of a State of Palestine would in fact correspond to an update of the 1993 Oslo Accords that saw a Palestinian bourgeoisie and political elite emerge and take advantage of the occupation, rather than lead the Palestinian struggle to a just situation.
As I wrote as commentary to a map of the region without borders, the scenario of a State of Palestine existing aside a State of Israel, despite its lot of simulacrum of immediate victories (the eviction of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and in the most optimistic scenario, in East Jerusalem too, for example), would crystallize fundamental issues. The first one is the most obvious one: the separation of the population of Gaza with the one of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The high contrast of distance makes the comparison with the two territories under Pakistani sovereignty — one that became Bangladesh in 1971 — at its creation (1947) difficult to be made, yet it is certainly present in historical filigree. Scenarios of a road linking both territories have been elaborated (see past article) but the precariousness of such an infrastructure and the potentiality for absolute control by the State of Israel cannot be possibly ignored. For this reason, the so-called “two-state solution” awfully envisions an actual future three-state situation.
Trayvon Martin’s hoodie as a piece of evidence during George Zimmerman’s trial
(Gary W. Green / EPA / June 25, 2013)
Text written last year for a publication that finally refused it ///
Our bodies do not form a society in a vacuum. They are embedded within a multitude of designed elements of various scales that all participate to a certain degree to these relationships of power. Urban design and architecture often play a tremendous role in exacerbating normative process, but this is also the case of another design element: clothing. Clothes are what Mimi Thi Nguyen calls the “epidermalization” of the public body (see our first conversation for Archipelago): they compose an epidermic surface that comes as an additional layer subjected to recognition and reaction in regard to the norm, as well as normalized expectations regarding the body. This is how a piece of cloth like the hoodie crystalized a set of racist and social expectations in Trayvon Martin’s murder by George Zimmerman in February 2012 as Mimi introduced in a lecture entitled “The Hoodie as a Sign, Screen, Expectation, and Force” (July 2013). The hoodie’s role was so crucial in this tragic event that it was part of the forensic items presented by the prosecutors during the trial of Zimmerman in June 2013 – which creates other problems that I attempted to address in the article “Fashion Forensic: The Cloth as (pre)judicial Evidence“. This cloth was even discussed to be acquired by the Smithsonian as an important piece for National Museum of African American History and Culture – this information, although denied by the Smithsonian, is more problematic for the spectacularization of a tragedy than for the idea that Martin’s hoodie is linked to the African American history.
Racist and social expectations materialize in the context of modern policing, which no longer restrain itself to investigation and suppression but now dedicates most of its activity to anticipation and prevention, something relatively new in the historical existence of the police. Anticipation implies a fantasized narrative informed by a collective and individual imaginary. In order to inform the narrative, it builds upon a set of expectations based on characteristics proper to the body itself, but also to clothing and its normative properties. Because of the necessary participation of collective and personal subjectivities to the process of anticipation, we could say that this particular function of the police and its privatized versions is fundamentally discriminatory. These subjectivities are informed by the norm and, through the policing processed, reinforced in their essentialization.
When visiting for the second time the Chateau de Chenonceau (Indre et Loire, France) last week, I could not help but notice an important aspect of the chateau’s history in the sum of information given by the brochure. Usually known as part of the “Chateaux de la Loire,” all built during the 16th century in the region of Tours, Chenonceau has the particularity of bridging the Cher river, which has been implementing the demarcation line between occupied and free France between July 1940 and November 1942. During this period, France was effectively separated into two parts (see map below), one occupied by the Nazis including the cities of Paris, Lille, Nantes, and Bordeaux, as well as the two third of the resources of the country, and the other called “free” whose government based in Vichy has been instrumental in their collaboration with the Nazis, including in the massive arrests of the Jewish population that was subsequently deported to the extermination camps. Despite this collaboration, the French resistance had less trouble organizing in the ‘Free Zone’ and people susceptible to be arrested by the Gestapo were able to find a relative shelter South of the demarcation line.
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.