rooms + cities

madrid placa mayor

The city has an inner surface and an outer surface. It is as crucial to give the city an inner surface as it is for it to have an outer one, especially when the outer surface is losing its clarity under the continual pressure of urbanisation. These surfaces are urban scale structures and structures of experience. There is also a question of institutions and enclaves. For Tafuri, the problem of architecture is how to understand or position architectural ‘ideology’ within the context of capitalist development (economics, production, planning, its history). For me, the problem of architecture is how to understand architectural ideology – i.e., architectural thought, principles, values, its many and varied discourses – within the context of an ecological crisis. The difference between our approaches has to do with what we regard to be the determining context for architecture: capitalism and the environment. Architecture is a tool for acting out our desire upon the surface of the earth. We can ask, why do we want to poison our habitat, destroy our own house? We do it in capitalist and socialist societies. The economic/political neutrality of my thesis is a function of the nature of the beast (both regimes are heavy polluters), and a function of the hegemony of capitalism (Zizek has argued that there is now nothing outside of capitalism, we are all capitalists, there is no choice anymore, and no class consciousness. These two contexts manifest differently for architecture. For Tafuri, capitalism as the determining context for architecture seems to be the hand that drives it. For me, the ecological crisis as context is the challenge confronting architectural thought, the problem it has to solve. The former pushes and the latter pulls. They are not exclusive of each other. If humans are fundamentally exploitative, if work is a process of exploitation, there may be an historical shift in our thought and labour. Man exploiting man. Man exploiting nature.

Google Earth image of Plaza Mayor, Madrid (598–1621) from 877 metres. See also Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia: design and capitalist development (MIT Press 1979)

architectural evidence that the spatial subject exists

Monument Paul Vaillant Couturier - Villlejuif, yellow

The relation of mouth and hand, speech and gesture (the poignancy of both), a concrete cantilever beam accusing a concrete plane surface to describe a triangular site (the poignancy of both), the people beneath, a scalar relation: the immediate and intuitive intelligibility of this project is additional evidence that the spatial subject exists.

Le Corbusier, project for a monument to Paul Vaillant-Couturier, Villlejuif, Paris (1937). Paul Vaillant-Couturier, Villlejuif was editor-in-chief of the Communist newspaper L’Humanite.

architectural evidence that the spatial subject exists

04_palazzo-del-littorio_carminati-lingeri-saliva-terragni-vietti-nizzoli-sironi1 crop

We draw buildings,

build buildings,

use buildings, and

write about buildings.

No one has yet explored, or explored fully, the quadripartite structure of our engagement with architecture. And in particular, the relation between these terms – drawing, building, using, writing – which is sequential episodic and cyclical. One thing is clear however: this engagement with architecture is also an engagement with ourselves. We draw buildings, which puts them in relation to the symbolic world of desire and ideology (think of the ideological shift attending each new technique of representation). We build them, which extracts them from a representational context and puts them in an organised world of finance and production. We use buildings in symbolic and material ways, the latter primarily by inhabiting them. We write about them to reorient them within their symbolic and material contexts, and to plot the path of their efficacy, as part of a continual process that critically rearranges our thinking on architecture. This is not a process of correction; it is work, psychical and physical work.

In order to put buildings in relation to the human subject that inhabits them, we draw on philosophy and psychoanalysis because these are the two discourses that treat the human subject in its capacity as a thinking being and a speaking being. These capacities are so essentially human that research relevant to architecture always ignores them. One of the challenges of writing about architecture is how to bring the human subject as a thinking and speaking being in line with the human subject as a spatial being. This capacity to be spatial is not exhausted by the material fact that we have a body; nor indeed, is the capacity to inhabit architecture exhausted by the fact of the body. The relation between thinking, speaking, and spacing needs to be explored. How does architecture reflect the fact that the human subject who inhabits space, inhabits it as a speaking being and a thinking being? How does this fact change our thinking on the social political economic historical material aesthetic efficacy of architecture? The immediate and inherent intelligibility of a project for a palazzo that addresses the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, witnessed by the Colosseum, is architectural evidence that the spatial subject exists.

If spatial subjects did not exist, this architectural project would not be intelligible as a project, or, if intelligible, not poignant.

Guiseppe Terragni, with A. Carminati, P. Lingeri, M. Nizzoli, E. Saliva, M. Sironi, & L. Vietti, Competition entry for Palazzo Littorio, Rome, project A, 1934. Littorio addresses Maxentius, witnessed by Il Colosseo, on a triangular site. Note also Il Duce’s podium and the curved facade decorated with stress fractures.

images of the multitude > distribution of goods

amazon 'fulfillment centre', england

Amazon and contemporary processes of marketing and distribution of commodities, in a social world where everyone is a consumer. The multitude takes a particular form of repetitive space.

‘An Amazon ‘fulfilment centre’ in England shows a vast supply of goods. On Tuesday, Amazon made more than a million new products available on its Canadian website as it moves even further away from its roots as an online bookseller.’ (Phil Noble/Reuters). Accessed 12:26pm, Saturday 11 October 2014 from

the field of the Other


Other                                                                          other

One of the relevances of psychoanalysis as a discourse for architecture, is that it addresses collective, associative life, through the concept of the Other, without relying on fictitious unities like the people, the body politic, etc. The Other is the field of social codes – language, the law, the customary practices of daily life, white dresses at weddings, fork on the left, and the like – that we abide by and by which we communicate. Psychoanalysis has the capacity to deal with the group, without losing sight of the fact that it is constituted of individuals. It is not possible to have a discourse about the environment, built and unbuilt, or a discourse about cities and landform, and its inhabitants, without recourse to the social group. Lets wager: if we could articulate our social codes, and in particular our architectural codes, in ways that are at least momentarily evident to us (we imagine the first utterances of Vitruvius’ primitives had this freshness), we could do two things:

1. position ourselves within this symbolic field, in more than imaginary ways, and

2. understand our relation to our habitat in ways that may lead us out of an environmental catastrophe.

Big Other (Lacan, Autre, Freud das Andere) + little other (Lacan, autre or objet petit a). In Lacan’s notation, A & a. Imagine, like Rossi, that architecture is constituted as a body of architectural signs; imagine that it formed an architectural language within which particular architectural acts happen, called buildings, and which makes them possible, rather than simply the material fact of buildings. It’s like when Eisenman distinguishes Architecture from architecture.

Freud refers to der Andere (an other person) and to das Andere (Otherness or Alterity). In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud borrows the term, eine anderer Schauplatz or eine andere lokalität (the other scene) from G T Fechner, to refer to the scene of dreams as other than the scene of ideational life. He stresses that it is not a physical or anatomical place. Lacan describes the scene of the dream as being ‘between perception and consciousness’ [Four Concept… p56], partaking of neither.

Lacan maintains Freud’s distinction between big or upper case Other (the unconscious) and little or lower case other (other person, other object, significant other). He refers to the Other as a field, the field of the Other. In architectural terms, it is a limitless field of operation rather than a spatial figure bounded by walls or other notation for edges.

‘[T]he Other must first of all be considered a locus, the locus in which speech is constituted.’ [S3 p274] The Other is the locus of language, the law, and other social codes, what in Lacan’s text is known as the symbolic order generally. Speech does not originate in the ego but in the Other. Speech is constituted outside the subject and conforms to its own language rules to which the subject must submit if it wants to speak. This is no less true of the architect who wants to practice than it is of the orator who wants to speak. The field of the Other is constituted of all the codes that bind a group. It is limitless or always incomplete, something is always absent or lacking, preventing its totalisation or formation as a whole body, in the sense that it is never possible to enumerate all the signifiers in a signifying chain, which leads Lacan to signify the Other with a slashed A. The slash of the cut, wound, disfiguration, or castration.

‘This schema [Lacan’s Schema L diagram] signifies that the condition of the subject, S, (neurosis or psychosis), depends on what unfolds in the Other, A. What unfolds there is articulated like a discourse (the unconscious is the Other’s discourse [the discourse of the Other]), whose syntax Freud first sought to define for those fragments of it that reach us in certain privileged moments, such as dreams, slips, and witticisms.

‘Why would the subject be interested in this discourse if he were not a party to it? He is, indeed, insofar as he is drawn to the four corners of the schema: namely, S, his ineffable and stupid existence; a, his objects; a’, his ego, that is, his form as reflected in his objects; and A, the locus from which the question of his existence may arise for him.’ [‘On a question prior…’ in Ecrits pp458-9]’

The little other is a reflection of our ego. It is different from me, hence it is other, but it is what I identify with. It has the illusory completeness of objects, which makes it both the object of jealousy and identification. Elsewhere Lacan links aggression and identification [think of that movie Single White Female, in which becoming like you, is a way of replacing you in your own flat and in your love life]. If the little other is always outside us, hence ultimately alienating, the spatiality of the Other is deliciously ambiguous. It is outside us and inside us at the same time. Language always comes from outside us, we are born into it, it comes from our parents, it begins for the infant when the mother punctuates it’s cries, although we internalise it in order to speak.

If we are attentive to the social and other codes that bind us as individuals, rather than to the objects to which we collectively identify (nation states, particular places or buildings), we will be able to address the collective as a multitude of individuals, rather than the collective as an illusory unity. Arguably, this was Aldo Rossi’s project in Architecture of the City. In order to build his theory of types, Rossi was attentive to the anonymous buildings that constitute the city, to an exploration of their clear, formal, serial, historically situated, language. He never articulates buildings and places, but only a language of buildings and places. Another example is Serlio’s definition of the three modes of discourse – the tragic, comedic, and idyllic – as a function of the language of expression of objects rather than the objects themselves or their localities. Another example would be Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, a kind of ethnography of the language of city life.

Big Other and little other                                           or social codes and social objects

Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (New York: Norton Press, 1981).
Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book III: The Psychoses 1955-1956 (NYC: Norton, 1993).                                   Jacques Lacan, ‘On a Question Prior to any Possible Treatment of Psychosis (1958)’ in Ecrits: the first complete edition in English (New York: W W Norton, 2006) pp. 445-88.

the multitude >< the field of the Other


Vitruvius’ account of the primitive hut.

Three configurations of the group – three innovations – three (forms of ‘associative life’):

1. the individual – fire – (brownian movement)

2. the multitude – speech – (the field of the Other)

3. the people – building – (an armory, an exoskeleton, architecture is the first discourse)

The individual becomes a multitude when it enters the associative life of language. The multitude becomes a people when it builds a wall around itself, when it publicly (re)presents itself as architecture. Vitruvius’ account of the primitive hut is an analogy for the formation of the nation state (by nation state we mean a power structure that puts itself in dialogue with an imaginary entity called the body politic).

In Vitruvius’ account of the primitive hut, language and architecture are born together in fire. In his originary state, primitive man wanders alone in the forest. Imagine a kind of Brownian movement: each person exists alone, save for unmotivated chance encounters. A forest fire raises the statistic likelihood of chance encounters by driving these originary solipsists out of the forest and into a clearing where they gather around the remainders of the fire. Once so gathered, they decide that they ought to speak to each other. Hence the birth of language. Once speaking, they cooperate to build the first building.

This parable says something about the role of fire, which first presents itself as a danger, and subsequently an opportunity. It also underscores the opportunistic character of the primitive. There is no particular drive to speak or to build. Nor does the hand of god (or fate or destiny) drive progress. The primitive – like that contemporary persona, the slacker – is simply riding along on the flow of life, taking advantage of opportunities as they arise.

I would like to put Vitruvius’ account of the primitive together with the concept of the multitude as it is deployed in political discourse as a model for resistance to national and global power structures. The concept of the multitude was first mooted by Machiavelli, developed by Spinoza, hated by Hobbes. In Vitruvius, language and architecture are born together, but not simultaneously. First language then architecture. The fear of fire drives individuals together, which makes language possible, and language makes architecture possible. In the shift from speaking to building, from language to architecture, there is a shift in how the group is configured. This change is mirrored in political discourse by the shift from multitude to people. In Grammar of the Multitude (2004), Paolo Virno argues that political discourse distinguishes the people (champion, Hobbes) from the multitude (Spinoza). These are competing ways to invoke ‘associative life’. The birth of the modern nation state was made possible by the ascending concept of the people. Virno argues that modern political discourse may have run its course and it is time to reintroduce the political concept of the multitude. Whereas the people are the counterpart to the sovereign state, there can be no social contract between the state and the multitude.

‘I maintain that the concept of “multitude”, as opposed to the more familiar concept of “people”, is a crucial tool for every careful analysis of the contemporary public sphere. [It is a middle term.] One must keep in mind that the choice between “people” and “multitude” was at the heart of the practical [political] controversies… of the seventeenth century [the foundation of the modern centralised nation state]. These two competing concepts,… played a primary role in the definition of the political-social categories of the modern era. It was the notion of “people” which prevailed. “Multitude” is the losing term… In describing the forms of associative life and of the public spirit of the newly constituted great States, one no longer spoke of multitude, but of people. But we need to ask whether, today,… this once defeated notion is not displaying extraordinary vitality, thus taking its dramatic revenge.’ p21 [with my ‘intrusions’ in brackets]

I am attempting to understand the social conditions of the production of architecture on the basis of categories and concepts drawn from political philosophy and psychoanalytic theory, which are in turn drawn from linguistics. In order to understand clearly how architecture functions in respect to the social order of the individual, contemporary architectural production demands this depth of specialist analysis. Anything less fails to penetrate a cluster of self-serving political and spatial illusions.

We want to return architecture’s account of itself to its ground in individuals. In Vitruvius, the group is not a given, but undergoes a transformation between forest, fire, language, and architecture. The question is how to maintain a practice of architecture and the constitution of the group without constituting a unity. Driving this is a notion that we can restore the link between architecture and subjectivity, or what is the substantially the same, between architecture and production. How to have a collective discourse of the multitude that does not go to the fictional unity of the people? How to aestheticise the multitude without appealing to wholeness and unity. Lets wager, we can do this via the psychoanalytic concept of the field of the Other (about which, more later), in other words, the linguistic, architectural, cultural codes that bind us.

‘In order to name, with a unifying term, the forms of life and the linguistic games which characterize this era, I have used the notion of the “multitude”. This notion, the polar opposite of that of “people”, is defined by a complex of breaks, landslides, and innovations which I have tried to point out…: the life of the stranger… experienced as an ordinary condition; the prevalence of “common places” in discourse over “special places”; the publicness of the intellect…; activity without end (virtuosity); the centrality of the principle of individualism; the relation with the possible… (opportunism);… idle talk.’p97

Breaks Landslides Innovations – I read the multitude in the unmotivated opportunism that characterises the people in Vitruvius story. The multitude appears not simply as a polar opposite of people, as in Virno’s text, but as a middle term between people and individual. It is the murky surface from whence the individual and the people emerge and into which they return. What constitute the multitude as a multitude, without making them over as a people, what binds them without becoming a totalising unity, is language. It is not discourse per se, but the pre-condition for discourse that makes discourse possible. Let me therefore go one step further: what constitutes the multitude is the field of the Other. I borrow the field of the Other from Lacanian discourse. In its initial enunciation, this term is primarily linguistic (psycho-analysis is concerned with speech); in its development it encompasses all the symbolic codes of contemporary life, from language, to the law, to white dresses at weddings. The field of the Other is the field within which architecture is practiced. The field of the Other is a way to theorise the multitude without totalizing and unifying it. It is a way to treat the empirical reality of individuals, a reality founded in biology as much as subjectivity, as the collective that it is, without losing site of the multitude. And without defaulting to the political fantasy of a unified body politic which the state has to posit as its reflection, its reflective other.

‘In the multitude there is the full historical, phenomenological, empirical display of the ontological condition of the human animal: biological artlessness, the indefinite or potential character of its existence, lack of a determined environment, the linguistic intellect as a compensation for the shortage of specialised instincts.’ pp97-8

‘The multitude is this: a fundamental biological configuration which becomes a historically determined way of being, ontology revealing itself phenomenologically.’ p98

The individual becomes motivated when it enters into the associative life constituted by the field of the Other. The field of Other is the reality of codes that motivate and shape our actions, rather than the imaginary groups to which we identify. Desire is a function of language and other social codes. Desire flows through the individual and from one individual to another to form the multitude of individual desires of desiring individuals. When it manifests spatially, the individual finds itself literally immersed in desire. In this regard, Deleuze+Guattari (Anti-Oedipus: capitalism and schizophrenia) recognised the affinity between Freud and Marx: in their respective texts, the world is a continuous flow of libido (Freud) and capital (Marx). The multitude is a flow and the function of flows.

Where to go from here? We need to understand more fully the spatiality of the multitude. We need to trace our Vitruvian progression, individual-multitude-people, through Aureli’s distinction between the figured City and contemporary processes of Urbanisation. We need to find a third term between City and Urbanisation.

Paolo Virno A Grammar of the Multitude: for an analysis of contemporary forms of life (New York: Semiotext(e) 2004). Cf. also, ‘Multitude’ Wikipedia at                                                                                                     Vitruvius, On Architecture or The Ten Books of Architecture (New York: Dover, 1960). This woodcut from the Cesare Cesariano Italian edition (Como, 1521) the first translation of Vitruvius’ De Architectura out of Latin.

architecture >< community


World Trade Towers, New York                                    IJburg, Amsterdam

The role of architecture in the formation and deformation of social groups:

1. symbolic, based on the image of the object.

2. territorial, based on the plan.

Both, in their respective ways, place-based.

The originary narrative is by Vitruvius, in which primitive man emerges from the forest to gather around an open hearth, and once gathered, decides to speak, and once speaking, agrees to build. Let us assume that the first decisions, the decisions to congregate and speak, were taken by individuals simultaneously, in silence, a kind of spontaneous eruption of speech due to social friction – what today we would call flash-mob. The second decision, the decision to build, was a group decision that was made possible by the discovery of speech.

CC some rights reserved Pat Bianculli from Brooklyn, NY, United States/ CC some rights reserved Attribution: Debot

the assembled self

blog 1

Beckett’s trembling surface                Le Corbusier’s exteriorized matrix

Two different architectural models of the self: a black single sided surface/space with a mouth hole that speaks. A scaffold with eye and organ and cosmos that sees.

What does it mean to say who I am? What does it mean to say I am an architect?

Any answer will be in code, in this case avant-garde theatre or avant-garde architecture: all their props, language, forms. The code precedes you or your answer. The presence of the code presupposes an other. Code and other, precede you and your answer. [Lacan insisted that coded seeing, or seeing in perspective, is preceded by the gaze.] Accordingly, we can be more precise: What does it mean to say who I am? always goes to What it mean to you, for me to say who I am?

Still from Samuel Beckett’s Not I, performed by Billie Whitelaw at the Royal Court Theatre, London, 1973, and recorded by BBC2 for the program A Wake for Sam (screen grab by author). A Wake… was broadcast in January 1990. Beckett died in December 1989. Whitelaw described her performance at the Royal Court: ‘this relentless mouth that wouldn’t let go’ of the audience.

Le Corbusier, sketch of his installation for the Ideal Homes Exhibition, London, 1938, featuring La Ville Radieuse. From Oeuvre Complete vol 4 1938-1946 (Zurich: Artemis, 1946) p 13.