Architecture and the Unconscious


London Book Launch >>> 5-8:00pm >>> Friday 09 December 2016 >>> University College London

We (Jane Rendell and I) are launching Architecture and the Unconscious (Routledge 2016), an edited collection of essays by architects and theorists of architecture, which explores the concept of the unconscious in architectural thought and imagination. Edited by John Hendrix and Lorens Holm. On sale at the London event at special discount by the AA Bookstore. This project began as a paper session that John and I co-chaired at the annual international conference of the Society of Architectural Historians in Austin, April 2014, more than two years ago.

The launch will include a discussion between the contributors to the book and an invited panel of psychoanalysts and architects, including:

David Bell, Past President British Psychoanalytic Society; and Consultant Psychiatris, The Tavistock Clinic.

Lesley Caldwell, Psychoanalyst BPA, and Honorary Professor, UCL Psychoanalysis Unit.

Patrick Lynch, Lynch Architects London, and University of Liverpool.

The contributors to Architecture and the Unconscious are from cities around the UK, USA, and Europe including Moscow, Rome, and Athens: Andrew Ballantyne, Kati Blom, Hugh Campbell, Emma Cheatle, Gordana Fontana-Giusti, John Hendrix, Lorens Holm, Stephen Kite, Christina Malathouni, Tim Martin, Francesco Proto, Jane Rendell, Nikos Sideris, Alla Vronskaya.


4. dream city

Andre Kertesz, lost_cloud

Marx, ‘The reform of consciousness consists solely in… the awakening of the world from its dream about itself.’

Karl Marx, Der historische Materialismus: Die Fruhschriften (Leipzig 1932) vol 1 p226 (letter from Marx to Arnold Ruge, Kreuzenach, September 1843. From Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Cambridge MA, Harvard Belnap Press, 1999) p456.

Kertesz, Lost Cloud, from the collection of The Photographers Gallery, London, accessed 09 08 14.

3. Consumer city

Andre Kertesz, Paris

Benjamin, ‘Architecture… the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction.’

Architecture—unlike painting—is received in a state of distraction. It goes on all around us all the time, and escapes our attention. Like our subjectivity.

Walter Benjamin, ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ in Illuminations (London: Pimlico, 1999) p232. Andre Kertesz, Paris, from the collection of The Photographers Gallery, London, accessed 09 08 14.

2. Analogical city

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Rossi, ‘In order to be significant, architecture must be forgotten, or must present only an image for reference which subsequently becomes confounded with memories’.

Forgetting is the other half of memory. Architecture has to slip under the taught surface of consciousness, in order for it to be significant. In order for something to be committed to the unconscious, it must first be symbolised as part of a signifying system. It is not the real Parthenon that haunts me or haunts modern architecture – that’s just a pile of old stones – but its image. In Aldo Rossi’s drawings and texts, the city becomes a repository for collective memory. The architecture of the analogical city must be made over into a closed system of signs with a history and rules of engagement (the type is a logical principle, not a form) that generates its own meaning. Architecture is a signifying field which – like the language of others, Lacan’s field of the Other – is the exteriorised impersonalised locus of the unconscious.

Aldo Rossi, Scientific Autobiography, trans. Lawrence Venuti (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1981) p45. Photograph of Aldo Rossi’s Scholastic Publishers Headquarters Building (2001) within the field of Manhattan. Source unknown.

1. Baltimore

REFERENCE ONLY. Baltimore City Life Museum 8x10 inch Glass Negat

Lacan, ‘The best image to sum up the unconscious is Baltimore in the early morning.’

The city just before it wakes up…. Lacan was in Baltimore to present a paper at a conference on structuralism. It’s a familiar situation. You have just pitched up at your hotel in a strange city. It is either too early in the morning or too late at night. You are jet-lagged and not a little nervous about tomorrow’s presentation. You are gazing out the window at whatever fragment of cityscape the window has to offer. The only thing going on are traffic lights, advertising signs, and electric clocks. All these signs going on and off, communicating to each other, because no one (except Lacan) is watching. The language goes on working, whether anyone is paying any attention or not, and that is what the unconscious is. It’s like that joke ‘Light’s on, nobody home’.

Jacques Lacan, ‘Of structure as an inmixing of an Otherness prerequisite to any subject whatsoever’ in Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato, eds. The Structuralist Controversy: The languages of criticism and the sciences of man (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1970/1972) p189. The conference, same name, comprised a stellar line-up of thinkers on philosophy, language, and the human sciences, also included Roland Barthes, Tzvetan Todorov, Jean Hyppolite, Jacques Derrida.

Gas & Electric Co., temporary location [night scene, exterior]; Lexington and Liberty Streets, northwest corner, Baltimore Maryland, ca. 1915; Hughes Company, 8×10 inch glass negative; Baltimore City Life Museum Collection, Maryland Historical Society, MC6815