Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Space and Place in Architexture

And do you know what "the world" is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end; a firm, iron magnitude of force that does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself; as a whole, of unalterable size, a household without expenses or losses, but likewise without increase or income; enclosed by "nothingness" as by a boundary; not something blurry or wasted, not something endlessly extended, but set in a definite space as a definite force, and not a space that might be "empty" here or there, but rather a force throughout, as a play of forces and waves of forces, at the same time one and many, increasing here and at the same time decreasing there [...]. Frederick Nietzsche, The Will to Power.





Lefebvre's argument in The Production of Space is that space is a social product, or a complex social construction (based on values, and the social production of meanings) which affects spatial practices and perceptions. As a Marxist philosopher (but highly critical of the economic structuralism that dominated the academic discourse in his period), Lefebvre argues that this social production of urban space is fundamental to the reproduction of society, hence of capitalism itself. Therefore, the notion of hegemony as proposed by Antonio Gramsci is used as a reference to show how the social production of space is commanded by a hegemonic class as a tool to reproduce its dominance." Wikipedia
Lefbvre writes: “social space is not a thing among other things, nor a product among other products: rather, it subsumes things produced and encompasses their interrelationships in their coexistence and simultaneity—their (relative) order and/or (relative) disorder” (p.73). Lefebvre objects to the reification of space by rejecting the Cartesian model, separating “ideal space” from “real space.” Instead, space is a product of something that is produced materially while at the same time “operate[s]…on processes from which is cannot separate itself because it is a product of them” (p.66). (Thinking Culture)

"We are forever hearing about the space of this and/or the space of that; about literary space, ideological space, the space of the dream, psychoanalytic topologies, and so on and so forth. Conspicuous by its absence from supposedly fundamental epistemological studies is not only the idea of 'man' but also that of space -- the fact that 'space' is mentioned on every page notewithstanding [...] Consider how fond the cognoscenti are of talk of pictural space, Picasso's space [...] Elsewhere we are forever hearing of architectural, plastic or literary 'spaces'; the term is used as much as one might speak of a writer's or artist's 'world.' Specialized works keep their audience abreast of all sorts of equally specialized spaces: leisure, work, play, transportation, public facilities -- all are spoken of in spatial terms. Even illness and madness are supposed by some specialists to have their own peculiar space. We are thus confronted by an indefinite multitudes of spaces, each one piled upon, or perhaps contained within, the next: geographical, economic, demographic, sociological, ecological, political, commercial, national, continental, global. Not to mention nature's (physical) space, the space of (energy) flows, and so on."
The Production of Space

Lefebvre identifies three forms of space; the mathematical, the mental and the social (14), which are dialectically related to each other through the codes used to experience them. These codes rest on two conceptions of space; the representations and the representational.

"Because Lefebvre is referring to not only the empirical disposition of things in the landscape as 'space' (the physical aspect) but also attitudes and habitual practices, his metaphoric l'espace might be better understood as the spatialisation of social order. In this movement to space, abstract structures such as "culture" become concrete practices and arrangements in space. Social action involves not just a rythm but also geometry and spacing. Spatialisation also captures the process nature of l'espace that Lefebvre insists is a matter of ongoing activities. That is, it is not just an achieved order in the built environment, or an ideology, but also an order that is itself always undergoing change from within through the actions and innovations of social agents. In short, all 'space' is social space, and a systemic approach is nesessary that avoids a partial, discipline-based analysis (...) and keeps the intersections on space with an overaching regime or spatialisation in sight." (Rob Shields, Lefebvre: Love and Struggle - Spatial Dialectics Routledge 1999: 154-155).

1. Spatial practice refers to the production and reproduction of spatial relations between objects and products. It also ensures continuity and some degree of cohesion. “In terms of social space, and of each member of a given society’s relationship to that space, this cohesion implies a guaranteed level of competence and a specific level of performance” (p.33).

2. Space as a mediated form is tricky because it is both experienced and understood simultaneously. You cannot experience a space and understand it as something else, other than what you experience it as. The same goes for mental space; when it is thought/understood it is experienced. However, space is produced and it is so by a set of relations mediated through codes according to Lefebvre.

3. Lived space (Representational space): as directly lived through its associated images and symbols. The experience of space in the traditional emotional and religious manner. Formed by everyday life. The space of the everyday activities of "users" (or "inhabitants") - a concrete one, i.e. subjective. The "users" naively experienced space. The dominated - and hence passively experienced - space, making symbolic use of its objects. The representational space is the space that the inhabitants have in their minds. (Gronlund, 1999) Representational spaces refer to spaces “lived” directly “through its associated images and symbols and hence the space of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’…” (p.39). These are the lived experiences that emerge as a result of the dialectical relation between spatial practice and representations of spaces.

Think Museum and You Think Space

4. Represented Space: Representations of space are certainly abstract, but they also play a part in social and political practice. Representations of space are tied to the relations of production and to the "order" which those relations impose, and hence to knowledge, to signs, to codes, and to "frontal" relations. The producers of space have always acted in accordance with a representation. Such representations are thus objective, though subject to revision and have a practical impact.. The space of scientists, planners, urbanists, technocratic subdividers and social engineers, as of a certain type of artist with scientific bent, all of whom identify what is lived and what is perceived with what is conceived. This is the dominant space in any society (or mode of production). Empty space in the sense of a mental and social void which facilitates the socialization of a not-yet-social realm and is actually also merely a representation of space.

5. At the center of social space is the Body.

This video is a response to a university module regarding the Production of Space. It traces the paths of shoppers in the Drake Circus centre in Plymouth, UK in an attempt to visualise the directional choices we make and show how they are affected by what we consider to be our 'personal space'.

We could go much deeper into 'Space' but maybe that's enough to break the surface of a topic that is really really big.

Place is different from Space but at the same time they rely on each other in order to be separate (in a dialectical sense).

Place: The oldest known theorising about 'place' is the treatise of Archytas of Tarentum, a Pythagorean thinker who lived in the Fourth Century BC. Like of the treatise of Anaximander, only fragments of it have survived. The fragments were written down by Simplicius who also saved the 'Anaximander fragment' for latecomers (Casey 1993: 14).
The main idea in the remaining fragments of Archytas' treatise is the logical conclusion that place is prior to all things. This follows from the assertion that 'to be is to be in place'. Nothing exists if it does not exist in place. From this follows that 'place' itself is nothing. If it was something, it would have to be in a place that would have to be in a place and so on ad infinitum. Archytas' ideas are also repeated by Aristotle in his Physics (Casey 1993: 14). According to Edward S. Casey (1993: 16), however, the views of Archytas and Aristotle differ in that while Aristotle takes place as a container of things, Archytas stresses that a thing constitutes its own place: the limit-of-being of a thing is the place that it constitutes since the unlimited is nothing.

'Place' is a concept that is so deeply entrenched in culture that it is impossible to give any straightforward definition of it. Due to its fundamental status in ontology, it is a rather basic concept used for defining other concepts. To understand its meaning, however, it is revealing to study its relation with other concepts close to it. 'Landscape' is one of the most important ones.

"The power a place such as a mere room possesses determines not only where I am in the limited sense of cartographic location but how I am together with others (i.e. how I commingle and communicate with them) and even who we shall become together. the "how" and the "who" are intimately tied to the "where", which gives to them a special content and a coloration not available form any other source. Place bestows upon them "a local habitation and a name" by establishing a concrete situatedness in the common world. This emplacement is as social as it is personal. The ideolocal is not merely idiosyncratic or individual; it is also collective in character." Edward S. Casey, Getting Back into Place: Towards a New Understanding of the Place-World. (23)

While place is not simply a question of location, it is a product, among the many described by both Casey and Lefebvre, of the formation of location (name, history, relation to places around it, use etc). Location becomes valuable for its place-ness. But location cannot be represented in the same sense as place can. Place is a referential construction that not only functions in a similar sense to a sign, but it is also performed in a similar sense to that ways that Lefebvre describes the rules that are enforced in the production of space. Think of the museum and how it is to be in a museum. I was once asked to stop running in the Centre Pompidou, it is not the way to be in the space of that place.

A target for the post-structural conception of space and place can be seen in the writings of Homi K Bhabha, who attempts to catalogue the transience of contemporary spaces and the power that contributes to the construction and representations of place:

From Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture:
If Renée Green's questions open up an interrogatory, interstitial space between the act of representation - who? what? where? - and the presence of community itself, then consider her own creative intervention within this in- between moment. Green's 'architectural' site-specific work, Sites of Genealogy (Out of Site, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Long Island City, New York), displays and displaces the binary logic through which identities of difference are often constructed - Black/White, Self/Other. Green makes a metaphor of the museum building itself, rather than simply using the gallery space:

I used architecture literally as a reference, using the attic, the boiler room, and the stairwell to make associations between certain binary divisions such as
higher and lower and heaven and hell. The stairwell became a liminal space [(from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold"], a pathway between the upper and lower areas, each of which was annotated with plaques referring to blackness and whiteness.'

The stairwell as liminal space, in-between the designations of identity, becomes the process of symbolic interaction, the connective tissue that constructs the difference between upper and lower, black and white. The hither and thither of the stairwell, the temporal movement and passage that it allows, prevents identities at either end of it from settling into primordial polarities. This interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy:

I always went back and forth between racial designations and
designations from physics or other symbolic designations. All these things blur
in some way ... To develop a genealogy of the way colours and non-colours
function is interesting to me.'

'Beyond' signifies spatial distance, marks progress, promises the future; but our intimations of exceeding the barrier or boundary - the very act of going beyond - are unknowable, unrepresentable, without a return to the 'present' which, in the process of repetition, becomes disjunct and displaced. The imaginary of spatial distance - to live somehow beyond the border of our times - throws into relief the temporal, social differences that interrupt our collusive sense of cultural contemporaneity. The present can no longer be simply envisaged as a break or a bonding with the past and the future, no longer a synchronic presence: our proximate self-presence, our public image, comes to be revealed for its discontinuities, its inequalities, its minorities. Unlike the dead hand of history that tells the beads of sequential time like a rosary, seeking to establish serial, causal connections, we are now confronted with what Walter Benjamin describes as the blasting of a monadic moment [being with and only with oneself] from the homogenous course of history, 'establishing a conception of the present as the "time of the now"'.

In The Location of Culture, Bhabha advocates a fundamental realignment of the methodology of cultural analysis in the West away from metaphysics and toward the "performative" and "enunciatory present"[4] Such a shift, he claims, provides a basis for the West to maintain less violent relationships with other cultures. In Bhabha's view, the source of the Western compulsion to colonize is due in large part to traditional Western representations of foreign cultures.

Bhabha's argument attacks the Western production and implementation of certain binary oppositions. The oppositions targeted by Bhabha include center/margin, civilized/savage, and enlightened/ignorant. Bhabha proceeds by destabilizing the binaries insofar as the first term of the binary is allowed to unthinkingly dominate the second.

Once the binaries are destabilized, Bhabha argues that cultures can be understood to interact, transgress, and transform each other in a much more complex manner than the traditional binary oppositions can allow. According to Bhabha, hybridity and "linguistic multivocality" have the potential to intervene and dislocate the process of colonization through the reinterpretation of political discourse.

From the three examples of how space and place are produced, understood and reacted to it should not be too difficult to step over into the idea that architecture is the arrangement, control, organization, planning, integration, and changing of the representations of space and place.

As a process, architecture is the activity of designing and constructing buildings and other physical structures by a person or a machine, primarily to provide socially purposeful shelter. A wider definition often includes the design of the total built environment, from the macro level of how a building integrates with its surrounding man made landscape (see town planning, urban design, and landscape architecture) to the micro level of architectural or construction details and, sometimes, furniture. Wider still, architecture is the activity of designing any kind of system.Wikipedia

The mechanics of space and place can be seen to be at the center of architecture as a process. Think of buildings and what they mean to you:

From the concept of Architecture to the concept of the architexture. The term has been used in relation to the writings of cyberpunk author William Gibson to explain "the effect of place, space and architecture on "posthuman" form and ontology" (Farnell 1998)
Architexture aligns the important distinction between the text as a fixed and interpreted medium and the performative realities of mediated space in the post-industrial societies of the world today. It is possible to live in a text today, in fact it is compulsory in many situations as the French theorist Jean Baudrillard has argued for in his works on simulacra and simulation:

Simulacra and Simulation is most known for its discussion of images, signs, and how they relate to the present day. Baudrillard claims that modern society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that the human experience is of a simulation of reality rather than reality itself. The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are signs of culture and media that create the perceived reality; Baudrillard believed that society has become so reliant on simulacra that it has lost contact with the real world on which the simulacra are based.


Farnell, Ross. Posthuman Topologies: William Gibson’s "Architexture" in Virtual Light and Idoru (1998)

Lefebvre Henri, The Production of Space (Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith) (1991)

Casey, Edward S. Getting Back into Place: Towards a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World (1993)

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