Our aim is to study – by architectural means – the forms and conditions for the eruption of rooms within the fabric of the city. By fabric we mean texture, infrastructure, morphology, topography, and zoning, even. Rooms may take many forms and scales, they may be big or little, public or private, commercial or residential, habitable or uninhabitable, accessible or inaccessible,…. Let us wager that the subject of the city sees itself in the room. The subject uses the room to locate itself, whether the room is accessible or not. In their many and varied forms, rooms represent the subject of the city to itself and to others. In the language of Lacan, the subject is in an imaginary and/or symbolic relation to the room. Imagine for a moment that the city has two surfaces, both of which are problematic. There is an outer surface and an inner surface. The outer surface is the interface between the city and its region or hinterland, usually rural. The inner surface is the interface between the spatial subject and the city or city fabric. Both are problematic, not least because the outer edge no longer exists (it has been urbanised), and the inner edge never did (it is symbolic or imaginary, it is always already disappearing).
If the spatial subject did not exist, this architectural project, which creates a space for inhabitation by projection, would not be intelligible as a project, or, if intelligible, not poignant.
SOM, Lever House, NYC (completed 1952). Designated as a NYC Landmark, 1982. Built by British soap manufacturers Lever Brothers as their American headquarters. Lever Bros. founded in Warrington (1885), merged (1930) with the Dutch margarine company Margarine Unie to form Unilever. Merger based on the natural affinity of soap and margarine.
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)