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.
More often than not, this protective shelter actually materializes and enforces the regime of private property. Architecture’s inhabitants are indeed protected from the rain, the wind, etc., but through the very physicality of theprotective function (walls and roofs), they prevent other bodies to benefit from it with them. Whether for natural elements or any representative of the otherness, the architectural protection enforces its strict limit between the privatized protected realm and the non-protected one.
Under the regime of private property, we do not have access to the quasi-totality of the ‘shelters,’ but find satisfaction in having access to one or two. The vagabond, on the other hand, is the body that has access to none of the ‘shelters.’ If architecture did not exist – this kind of considerations admittedly carries some Rousseauist characteristics as well – all bodies would have the same status than the vagabond, therefore the problem created by this status does not come from its essence, but rather from its relativity to the other. In other words, the vagabond does not exist as such; architecture creates the vagabond.
We keep thinking of architecture as the discipline that establishes an inside dimension in space. What is ‘outside’ would be then what remains from this spatial subtraction. Perhaps should we start to think of architecture as a discipline that creates two types of ‘insides.’ The first type is the protected realm described above, while the other is what we usually understand as outside, but whose very condition is fundamentally different since a given architecture has emerged. The exclusionary condition that architecture produces in this ‘inside’ is what makes this realm something different from what it used to be before architecture. I usually write, “when you create the wall, you also create the door and, with it, the lock.” I should add, however, that, by doing so, you also create the space of exclusion, which, admittedly is not separated from the original ‘untouched’ milieu, yet, has been the object of a significant political transformation, and can therefore be considered as a production of architecture. This is why the vagabond is a product of architecture itself.
The image of the primitive shelter is therefore a mythical one. We imagine it in a bucolic context, providing the protection that funds the ‘civilized man’ but, beyond this cliché, we can see that no architecture, however similar to this mythical shelter it appears, does not embody the means of its own exclusion.