El ángel exterminador (1962) is a film by Luis Buñuel in which the group of main characters are stuck for weeks in a living room after a urbane dinner. Nothing visually seems to prevent them from actually exiting the living room but for a mysterious reason none of them seems to try to actually get out despite the fact that they are close from dying from hunger.
This narrative is a good subject of investigation for the theory often attempted here (thank you Nick for pointing that out) according to which architecture has a fundamental power on the bodies. Of course, in that case the living room does not appear as a prison as the large double door at its entrance remains open all along the film but we can, once again, interrogate ourselves about the power that the line drawn by the architect carries in itself.
What is a door after all? Isn’t it simply an apparatus that organize architecture’s porosity or, in other words, a device that control the carceral characteristics of a room. After all, a prison always have a door. A locked door is nothing else than a wall for which (most of the time) the human body cannot develop a sufficient effort to modify or destroy it. Each interior space (aka room), traced by the architect as a continuous closed line is a prison en puissance (“in power”, “potentially”). On a side note, I recently learned that the word “prisoner” has the interesting characteristic to be written 囚 in Chinese and Japanese. Whoever has been learning the very basics of Chinese characters will recognize 人 i.e. a person, surrounded by a continuous and closed line. As often, those characters are fascinating by their minimal representation of their meaning.
The claustrophobia that L. Buñuel succeeds to transmit in El ángel exterminador is a feeling that we should as fundamental in the creation and use of architecture. We have to be claustrophobic architects and architecture users! By that I do not mean in any way that we should refrain from designing and using narrow or small spaces (there are other phobia developed in large open spaces), but rather that we should be somehow “terrified” by the very act of tracing the lines that shuts (claustrum in Latin) space onto itself. Again, that does not mean that we should never trace or experience those lines, what it means is that we should be fully aware of the tremendous power contained within them in order to trace/experience them in such a way that we would the least possible subjected to their violence. As Michel Foucault says in his preface to Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, we have “to neutralize the effects of power linked to [our] own discourse.” (see previous article “Do not Become Enamored of Power“)