It’s About the Heterotopia as a Real Different Space, Stupid!


25/05/2005, KU Leuven

A Lacanian Reading of the Concept of Heterotopia.

Urban theorists in the Netherlands seem to be stunned by that ‘sublime object of urbanism’: the problem neighbourhoods in the metropolitan areas. Celebrated as the place where the ‘multitudinal’ network society is put to practice, the problem area is at the same time put forward as a nightmarish dystopia plagued by the worst excesses of the global village. In this intervention we want to decide this debate. This we’ll do first by confronting and radicalizing the philosophical reading of the heterotopia by using psychoanalytic concepts. In the second part of this essay, we’ll use this analysis as the backdrop for setting out the coordinates of a ‘psychoanalytic’ urban activism.

1. Heterotopia: Imaginary, Symbolic, Real

A critical discussion of the status of today’s heterotopia cannot but start with Steven Spielberg’s latest movie The Terminal (2004). Why? In showing how the smooth, ‘friction-less’ spaces of an airport terminal start to function as the ultimate prison, this film reveals in all its naivety urban theory’s fundamental fantasy about today’s heterotopia. Take for instance the inconsistent, ambivalent stance of critical Leftist planners vis-à-vis the so-called problem neighbourhoods in the metropolitan areas. On the one hand they are praised for offering a ‘real different space’: problem neighbourhoods are posited as those unique places where the nomadic, de-territorializing lifestyle has taken firm root and functions ‘for real’ – which of course, according to Foucault’s definition, makes of it a heterotopia or a utopia ‘that works’. On the other hand, leftist planners are quick to add that we should not idealize the harsh, distopic spatial conditions of many inhabitants of the problem areas (think for instance of the infamous ‘hot beds’of the illegal proletariat, the Islamic women locked up in closed orthodox Arab ghetto’s, etc.) The message here is thus that behind the fascinating veil of the exotic there lurks a dark system of oppression (human trafficking, prostitution) and discipline (right wing populism, Islam fundamentalism). Of course with this, Leftist planners merely ‘reproduce’ the stories we hear in television shows, in political debates, the parlance of estate agents, etc. Also in these ‘mainstream’ discourses, the unconscious image of the heterotopia oscillates between that of a saint and a whore, a free-state and a prison, the place where intercultural society is put to practice and a dys-topic ‘Blade runner’ setting that would fit the ‘post-urban’ battlefields of L.A. perfectly. And finally, do we not encounter here the two basic perverse solutions to the antagonism of sexuality? Either its enigmatic character is detracted through hallucinating a phobic object so terrifying that it makes you forget the real trauma; or the ‘floating and unbound energy’ released through the impact with the primal scene is used to eroticize an arbitrary object and thus to turn it into a fetish whose fascinating presence prevents a further encounter with the sexual relation.

Is it any wonder that, against the backdrop of urban theory’s constant oscillation between opposite emotions, there is growing consensus on the necessity of a ‘Third way’ approach towards the heterotopia? In other words: an approach that adopts an un-dogmatic and pragmatic attitude and tackles the heterotopia on the level of what it is ‘in itself’ – i.e. without ‘perversely’ using it as a projection screen for solving the libidinal deadlocks of the normal order. Instead of opting for such a naive escape route (whose ideologically over-determined nature is hopefully becoming apparent to urban theorists today ), one should rather take a Lacanian approach which would uncover that the inconsistent projections of the urban theorists are nothing but the ontological qualities of the ‘thing itself’. Put differently: also to the forces operating ‘within’, the heterotopia is radically antagonistic: fluctuating constantly between opposites, creating ‘undecidable’ mutations, oscillating between being the promising place of the new revolution of the multitudes on the one hand and the ‘junkyard’ left behind by the virtualization of production relations on the other. The heterotopia is thus a Lacanian Real of an antagonism: rather than being the ungraspable ‘Other’ substance beneath the status quo’s economy of desire – either functioning as a projection screen for the repressed fantasies of the existing order, or compensating for the lack or the ‘holes’ in the ‘normal’ urban order, or even producing a constant anxiety so that people forget about their own problems – the heterotopia is itself the unstable relation between antagonistic, radically incompatible processes. This Lacanian twist thus accomplishes two things at the same time. First, it reveals the impossibility and naivety of the Third Way approach since how can one ‘pragmatically’ deal with an antagonistic minefield? At the same time, it deepens and radicalizes the theoretical deadlock by revealing how both the Leftist fetishist discourse on the heterotopia (as one of the last vestiges of difference) as well as its counterpart: the dystopian phobic visions set out by urban theorists (the heterotopia as the flipside, the a-topic remainder of the ‘capsularization’ of society ) are already secondary domestications of the more traumatic Real of the heterotopia in itself.

If the heterotopia is ‘nothing but’ a relation between radically opposing states, the question concerning the nature of this relation becomes decisive. Or, in other words: what are the different ways to think this relation? In his book The Sublime Object of Ideology Slavoj Zizek distinguishes three ways to conceive of the ‘disturbing oscillation between opposing states’ typical for the Real of an antagonism. Here Zizek ‘improvises’ of course on the Lacanian triad of the imaginary, symbolic and real.

‘In the imaginary relation, the two poles of opposition are complementary; together they build a harmonious totality; each gives the other what the other lacks – each fills out the lack in the other… The symbolic relation is, on the contrary, differential: the identity of each of the moments consists in its difference to the opposite moment. A given element… takes the place of the lack in the other, its positive presence is nothing but an objectification of a lack in its opposite element. The opposites… each in a way return to the other its own lack; they are united on the basis of their common lack.
[…] Finally, the Real is defined as a point of the immediate coincidence of the opposite poles: each pole passes immediately into its opposite; each is already in itself its own opposite.’

For Zizek it is in the third, ‘Real’ mode of relating that the subversive potential of psychoanalysis is to be located: only in this third relationship an encounter with the Real occurs. If we follow Zizek’s insight and apply this scheme to the heterotopia, the question is thus no longer whether the heterotopia is Real (or not) but whether the relation between the antagonistic states (which the heterotopia is) is a Real relation (or not).

(1) The imaginary relation subscribes to the commonplace that ‘you can’t have the one without the other’: since man is ‘both good and evil’ it would be a disastrous mistake to for instance want to eliminate the alternative libidinal circuits that the problem area qua heterotopia offers (prostitution, drug trafficking, informal housing, etc.) Such an act can only cause ‘the repressed’ to return and destabilize also the ‘positive side’ of the heterotopia: the fact that it is a ‘wealth of differences’, that it is the perfect incarnation of all the utopian qualities of the ‘coming’ network city: nomadic, flexible, operating according to a fuzzy logic, hybrid, self-regulatory, etc. For instance, are not many immigrants – crucial for the buzzing intercultural vibe of the heterotopia – dependent on the third economy of sex, drugs and petty crime? Moreover, according to the imaginary position there is no need to ‘eliminate the negative’ since this dual circuit (in which the one complements the other) seems to ‘work’ quite well. The illegal proletariat residing in the infamous ‘hot beds’ for instance is naively seen as providing a permanent reservoir for the maintenance jobs created in small dynamic network hubs (creative labs) that are popping up in the ‘blind spots’ of the regular economy (the so-called Shadow City ). Think of the cliché that three jobs in the creative network-industry create one ‘low-skilled’-job. So in this imaginary mode all heterotopic antagonisms are ‘soothed’ in a productive modus vivendi.

(2) In the symbolic mode, the relation between the different antagonisms is much more tragic: the radically negative processes in the problem areas (informal gay prostitution, vandalism, abuse of drugs, rape, graffiti’s, etc.) reveal a fundamental impossibility that questions everything that is so refreshingly different about them (the new creative network locations, the vibrant public spaces, the multicultural ethos, etc.) The claim here is that the problem areas reveal in an exemplary way how ‘something’ subsists in urban space that can never be made ‘complementary’ to any productive system (no matter how progressive it claims to be.) It is something which on the contrary does not stop with generating supplementary energies that disturb for example the very fundaments of the utopian discourse of the Shadow City and especially the latter’s ambition to construct a modus vivendi with the ‘Other’, negative, informal processes. For instance, when ‘regularizing’ the informal network locations in the problem areas (providing a semi-legal status for them) – even if organized by the network community itself – it generates spontaneous supplementary side-effects: junks ‘parasiting’ in the renovated spaces, Moroccan youth spraying graffiti, the proletariat moving to other districts, new and more refined ways of human exploitation popping up, etc. In the symbolic scheme, these immobile, radically negative processes function as the symptom of informal network urbanism: an uneasy indivisible remainder that warns them never to aim at an ‘imaginary closure’ (even in its complementary guise) since it will always generate an off-line spectre. As symptom, these ‘phobic’ forces start to function as sublime objects: being both repelling and attractive, destructive and rejuvenating, and so on. This sublime quality however has little to do with the object itself: the ‘fascinating yet horrifying’ descriptions of the nomadic lifestyle of the illegal workers in artistic texts for instance have less to do with these workers themselves (their habits, philosophy, political opinions, etc.) than with the fact that they ‘occupy’ the symptomatic lack in our present late-capitalist global village.

(3) Finally, the ‘real’ relating of opposites is usually interpreted as the opposite of the two previous ‘fake’ modes of dealing with differences. According to the poststructuralist doxa a real difference is built up by a ‘two’ or a manifold (multitude) that can never become a ‘one’: all elements are truly and irreducibly ‘other’ to one another. Such a difference would of course go against the imaginary reconciliation of opposites in a complementary division of labour, as well as the symbolic reduction of one of the differences to being nothing but the ‘positivization’ of the lack of the other: a ‘state that is essentially a by-product’ of the other. Such a ‘philosophy of differences’ reading also forms the ultimate horizon of Foucault’s Other spaces: it is articulated in his third principle of the heterotopia which claims that the latter “is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible.” To put it in different terms: in the heterotopia, differences are ‘linked’ through a principle of ‘adding’: instead of categorizing the different topoi, establishing hierarchies, fixing certain productive interrelations, etc. – in short, creating a totality again, a ‘one’ that annuls the ‘other’ character of some elements while ‘hystericizing’ the identity of others – one merely adds parts ad infinitum. And does also Lacan not subscribe to such a poststructuralist approach to difference? Think for instance of his thesis that ‘the sexual relation does not exist’, that the symbiotic ‘ying and yang’ approach to sexual difference does not take into account the fact that the opposition between the sexes is ‘not all’, etc.

Although such a reading is tempting, the true Lacanian stance could not be further removed from this principle of the endless, indifferent adding of differences (and does the latter not merely establish what Hegel calls ‘the bad infinity’?) In Lacanian theory, a Real difference must rather be understood as the opposite: a difference becomes real when one ‘subtracts’ its so-called irreducible Other. The Real status of a difference is not determined by a ‘tense yet exciting coexistence of incompatible opposites’ (which is experienced as a ‘break’ from late-capitalist’s terror of simulacra, sameness, etc.) but rather by a ‘suffocating’ coincidence of opposites, a radical closure. As a metaphor one can use the concept of the Moëbius Ring (albeit in its non-Deleuzian, Lacanian version): if one embraces one element fully it immediately changes in its opposite, thus leaving the subject with no more ‘breathing space’ or escape route to some irreducible otherness. Or to apply this Real logic to the problem area: if we push the lifestyle of the creative net-worker to its extreme and ‘subtract’ from it its other: the illusion of some ‘unmediated’ way of life such as that of the homeless people, junks or foreigners, does this heroic network-surfer not become himself the ‘junk’ of the global economy? A ‘naked life’ exploited by late-Capital, sent from ‘here to there’ leaving behind broken relationships, working only on a vague, temporary contractual base, being delivered to virtual agreements, uncertain about what tomorrow will bring, etc. Or differently put, the heterotopic relation between opposites in the problem areas becomes Real only when they start to function as the exemplary site of an uneasy antinomy: a situation where two theses explain the current situation equally well: we are both all going to be freed in the coming multitudinal network society and all becoming homeless junks delivered to some virtual stuff. And does this formula of a Real heterotopia not provide us with the ultimate key to the fate of the poor hero of Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal? After the hero (Tom Hanks) painfully forgets his papers at home, he enters the fantasmatic Real of his contemporary yuppie lifestyle: his dream (in which he freely hops from one continent to the other, having different jobs and brief sexual encounters) immediately turns into his worst nightmare (being truly lost in the network and subjected to abstract laws and unwritten rules.)

2. Towards a heterotopical urban activism.

To theoretically detect and clarify the Real status of the heterotopia is one thing, but how can we also conceive a practice of urban activism that puts this Lacanian line into practice? Here we should see how the theoretical deduction performed above already offers us the key to the solution. Consequently, we have to avoid two possible answers to the heterotopic status of the problem areas.

– First, an ‘imaginary’ urban practice: the latter naively provides ‘other spaces’ in the margin of urban developments. Backed up by the commonplace that differences are not only good in itself but also make for a ‘city that works’, activist create the spatial conditions for ‘bug uses’. They for instance design so-called blind spots in school-buildings where youngsters can smoke a joint, etc. The ultimate theoretical manifesto behind these practices is the book Mutations which presents itself as an encyclopaedia of all kinds of heterotopical practices in which the multitudes succeeded in finding a positive modus vivendi towards the conventional, disciplinary programmes of the city by abusing and mutationg them from the bottom-up.

– Secondly, a ‘symbolic’ urban practice: for the latter the ‘imaginary’ practice of ‘shadow programming’ is a farce. The symbolic activist believes that it is a ‘working paradox’ – and thus impossibility – to ‘plan the unplanned’. Consequently, he devotes his entire production to uncompromisingly lay bare this ‘impossibility’ in all its guises: not just the impossibility of the ‘regular’ planning strategies or its alternative, experimental variety, but also his own impossibility as planner. This the activists do by subverting the ‘imaginary’ activist practice from within: like the shadow planners they design informal spaces for the ‘other’ users of the city to occupy, but they do it in such a radical way that the city authorities or even the alternative ‘bug use’ activists cannot but contest or destroy them. Of course, in line with the tragic philosophy behind this symbolic praxis, it is in this moment of destruction that the symbolic urban activist finally realizes his activist praxis. It produces a symbol that reveals the irreconcilable ‘lack’ of urban praxis as such: the fact that due to a structural necessity it will never master the heterotopic, radically other uses of space (and its users of course), nor is it able to establish a positive modus vivendi with them.

To conclude: what does a Real urban activism consist in? Based on our earlier theoretical rejection of the poststructuralist topos, it is clear that the aim of such an urban praxis cannot be to create a really other space – the latter is the naïve ambition of the imaginary heterotopic activism, the naiveté of which is laid bare again and again by a symbolic urban activism. Yet, although the latter seems to open up a real and authentic space beyond all false pretences or imaginary ambitions, it is the ultimate way of ‘fooling yourself’: entrapped as it is in a hysterical relation with its apparent opponents (i.e. the ones that pretend to master the situation.) To arrive at a Real urban activism we should – rather than hysterically reveal the false pretences and impotence of urban planning – establish or provoke a Real closure (in the Lacanian sense) between the seemingly radically different processes in a heterotopic situation: a suffocating coincidence of opposites that first creates the condition of possibility for an act that cannot but break with the happy-imaginary or tragic-symbolic coexistence of opposite states in the heterotopia.

It might be that this is what Rem Koolhaas aims at in his project Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture. Apart from serving as a key reference in discussions on the heterotopia in urban theory, does it not reveal the Real of the heterotopic urban act? On the one hand the project performs – albeit in a symbolic way – a liberatory, progressive urban intervention: the creation of an infrastructure in which metropolitan dwellers can pursue the intensification of their ‘pleasures and pains’ or ‘dreams and nightmares’ without the usual constraints exerted by the moral majority. On the other hand, it also reveals the inevitable violence of such a radical act of liberation: the collage for instance suggests how a huge chunk of central London has been erased while two ‘walls’ have been dictatorially erected to partition of the free-zone. This urban motive of the ‘two walls’ of course refers to the violence of that other sublime heterotopic free-state: the no man’s land that existed for some forty years around and between the Berlin Wall (the latter served as the direct inspiration for the project.) In short, the message of Exodus is that heterotopic, liberatory spatial conditions cannot be achieved through a pacifist, humanitarian urban activism that equally respects all the differences in the multitudes. Instead, it involves a necessary act of exclusion in which the multitude ‘gets hurt’.

Although this reading – which is quite popular among urban theorists – definitely lays bare a certain truth about urban practice (it seems to be conscious about the ‘good old’ Leninist idea that a revolutionary praxis is only Real when one is ready to ‘dirty one’s hands’, i.e. when one is ready to fight for his ideals ) it moves to quick! Yes, of course the inevitability of the proverbial ‘blood on the hands’ is the Real dimension of planning, but it is only the second moment of a Real urban act. To be more precise, it already presupposes a clear ideological programme that, in a second instant, can be executed in the urban field (in Koolhaas’ case it is of course the libertarian May ’68 programme à la Marcuse: to create an anti-space designed especially to make possible the unrestrained satisfaction of the erotic drives without any ‘Oedipal’ interference.) In today’s conditions however – and also taking into account the undecidable status of the heterotopia – it is all but clear in what such an ‘other’ program could consists (and did we not argue how the ‘network heterotopia’ can all but serve as an unproblematic societal alternative for the activists, being a ‘bric-à-brac’ of incompatible elements?) To come to the point: there is still something ‘reassuring’ about the Real urban act as imagined in Exodus: even though it questions the humanist assumptions of the May ’68 generation (their Beautiful Soul-like rejection of violence) by revealing the dictatorial means necessary to implement them in the urban field, these means can still be justified by referring to a ‘bigger picture’: the libertarian Grand Narrative. Do we not here arrive at the architectural version of the commonplace that ‘to make an omelette, one has to break some eggs’? That is, the commonplace that to create a city in which people are free to enjoy life, one cannot shun an urbanism of tabula rasa and not take on the arche-Modernist position of the architect qua Master: ruthlessly setting out the broad lines of the city even if this involves suspending the rights of some.

The key question thus becomes what a real Real act consists in: a violent act that is not already backed up by a transcendent Cause (or in Lacanian terminology: the Big Other.) Permit me to end with an architectural example: the free-standing house Baeten-Doubbel designed by Belgian architect Wim Cuyvers. This example might at first sight seem quite inappropriate for our purpose: is this not a ‘petty bourgeois’ project for a single family house situated in a rather dull region in Belgium known mainly for its horticulture and canning industry? Still, if we take a closer look at it, the heterotopic context of this house becomes obvious: a typical Belgian indeterminate place that is neither rural nor urban, where one finds idyllic, regional-style condominiums next to industry parks or large scale horticulture greenhouses. In other words, it is precisely the sort of In-Between Land that has fascinated and disgusted urban theory for many years. Apart from this libidinal instability at the perception end, does this context not also perfectly fit Foucault’s already quoted third principle of the heterotopia as a juxtaposition of several mutually incompatible places? Although it seems unlikely that people would like to live here, it is the (libertarian) dream of the average Belgian to be able to build his own private utopia in a condominium. However, given the building requirements of the condominiums it is a rather expensive affaire, mainly due to the often obligatory use of so-called region-specific materials. Although the latter is not always literally spelled out that this means brickwork and terracotta roof-tales (notoriously expensive due to high material and labor costs) every Belgian architect knows that this is the unwritten rule. The client for this project however specifically asked the architect to build in the cheapest possible way while achieving a maximum comfort level. This forced the architect to ‘give up’ the search for a compromise solution:trying to get most out of ‘bricks and terracotta’, using it in a progressive, modernist way, etc. Instead he designed the family house as an ‘industrial greenhouse to live in’ (to distort a famous statement of Le Corbusier).

What makes this greenhouse especially relevant for our purpose, is how a purely formal-architectural decision turned into a political intervention in the heterotopic condition of the In-between Land. By building this greenhouse the architect stirred a violent debate with the surrounding house-owners as well as the municipality, a disturbance that even made it up to the deontologic board of the Belgian Architectural Association. The latter parties of course accused the design for being a barbaric architectural act expressing a total disrespect for the regional building tradition. The crux however was that legally speaking these parties could not prevent this design from being built since the architect inversely accused the other houses from being disharmonic elements in a landscape governed by industrial greenhouses.

Let’s bend this example back to our thesis. This act not merely lays bare the political and economical inconsistencies typical for the Belgian In-between Land: it is after all not satisfied with merely staging the ‘interesting’ wealth of inconsistent differences, neither is it waiting for them to be ‘realised in their destruction’. This project on the contrary creates an unbearable, suffocating knot, a short-circuit that aggressively forces the ‘differences’ operative in the heterotopic In-between Land to ‘take sides’, to reveal how the supposed parallel coexistence of differences is but a farce and covers up their ‘deeper’ identity. What do we mean with this? As we all know, the Belgian In-between Land presents itself as an idyllic-democratic realm where people have a sense of liberty one does not find in the metropolitan areas – think here of the typical image of the ‘anarchistic’ Belgian that build his own private utopia on a free plot of land. Still, those same anarchists go to a lot of trouble to defend a set of formal building prescriptions that are not even literally prescribed by the law and that moreover keep building costs unnecessary high (mainly benefiting Flandres’ brick capitalists.) This project performs a reduction or subtraction of these empty differences and reveals the ‘split nature’ of the typical In-between Land inhabitant. How his ‘passionate attachment’ to a supposedly traditional rural architecture (as revealed in the violent attacks to the client of this project) forecloses its deeper identity with the ‘Real’ industrial-economic processes that first make possible such his idyllic-anarchist world. The difference with Koolhaas’s act is thus clear: instead of operating from a bigger, liberatory narrative, the architect here simply over-identification with one of the existing ‘incompatible parts’ of the heterotopic situation to subvert it ‘from within’.

If such an act is possible in this seemingly harmless area in Belgium, how much easier should it be for urban activists to perform a similar Real intervention in the context of that other sublime heterotopia: the problem area and today’s ‘terminals’? And even more importantly: how much more explosive can its impact be?

This article was presented at the ‘EAAE Conference: The Rise of Heterotopia: Public Space and The Architecture of the Everyday in a Post-Civil society’ in Leuven on Friday 25 May 2005 and was published in the conference reader.

[1] With this, the film also stages the distinction Foucault makes in his sixth principle of the heterotopia between the heterotopia of illusion as exemplified by the brothel (a space “that exposes every real space, all the sites inside of which human life is partitioned, as still more illusory”) and that of compensation as exemplified by the colony (a space “as perfect, as meticulous, as well arranged as ours is messy, ill constructed, and jumbled”). Cf. Michel Foucault, ‘Different Spaces’, in: J. Faubion, ed. (1998). Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology, trans. Robert Hurley. NY: The New Press, p. 184
[2] This is a common practice in problem areas. It concerns illegal rent practices in which usually illegal workers rent a bed either for the day or the night depending on whether they work in day or night shift.
[3] This is the underlying message Bert De Muynck’s book review (published on ArchiNed) of Lieven De Cauter (2004) De capsulaire beschaving, de stad in het tijdperk van de angst, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers.
[4] See BAVO (2003). De onverdeelde stad en haar gewillige beulen. Den Haag: Stroom Hcbk
[5] This is of course how the heterotopia is also Real in another way: it is something which has to be constructed if our normal order is to have sense and consistency and is able to function at all. Think of Foucault’s own examples in the sixth principle: the dark, in-transparent, private brothels on the one hand, or the puritan, ‘geometric’ settlements in the New World. From an ideology critical point of view it is clear that the ‘illusion of otherness’ created by these spaces is a necessary illusion. If one would reveal their illusory nature what you would not get is a reconciliation with reality, on the contrary: reality itself would collapse. In this sense it is Real in the sense of the Imaginary Real: the social phantasm in other words which is always on the side of reality.
[6] For a recent detailed study on the concept of the capsule (popular in urban discourse since the sixties), see De Cauter, L. (2004). De capsulaire beschaving, de stad in het tijdperk van de angst, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers. Our use of the dialectic between heterotopia and the capsule differs here from De Cauter when he for instance writes how “capsules and heterotopia are islands of order in a universe of rising disorder” (p.74) and further expresses the hope that they “should maintain the illusion of normality in chaos” (ibid.) This description mainly holds if one reads it against the backdrop of Foucault’s 6th principle of heterotopia as compensation, incompatible elements co-exist next to each other’. Against this backdrop capsularization is a process in which all elements that are incompatible to the capsule’s purpose, functioning or illusory theme are violently extrajected. Heterotopia on the other hand are those places where several ‘expelled’ population groups or programmes come together in one space or area.
[7] Zizek, S. (1989). The sublime Object of Ideology. London and New York: Verso, pp. 171-172
[8] See Urban Unlimited, (2004). The Shadow City. Free Zones in Rotterdam and Brussels. Unpublished.
[9] Michel Foucault, ‘Different Spaces’, in: J. Faubion, ed. (1998). Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology, trans. Robert Hurley, NY: The New Press, p.181.
[10] A key example here is an ‘early’ design for a waiting room (1990) by Wim Cuyvers in Zwijndrecht, Belgium. In this design he specifically designed a blind spot where youngsters could temporarily escape the public gaze of passers-by. Published in: Wim Cuyvers (1995). Wim Cuyvers, De Singel Antwerp, 1995, PP 40-41
[11] Koolhaas, R [et. al. Lavalou A., Holmes B.] (2000). Mutations. Barcelona: ACTAR ; Bordeaux: Arc en Rêve Centre d’Architecture
[12] A key example here is a later project of Wim Cuyvers (2003) called ‘Public House’ that was created in the context of a tri-annual open air exhibition called Beeld in Park (‘sculpture in the park’). The project consists of a little cabin built into the exterior fence of a park in Etterbeek (Belgium) accessible from the street level. The cabin was meant as a space open to everybody and for every purpose. In the cabin there was for instance a bed and a little table. Short after it became operative, the mayor sealed the space of for reasons of fire hazard as well as public safety. Finally it was demolished in a very theatrical, aggressive way by the city authorities. Although a big fuzz was created by the artistic community accusing the authorities of censorship, it should be read (taking into account the thematic context of Cuyvers’ work) as a meta-statement on the impossibility of planning a real public space. In this sense, it is precisely in its destruction that the true intention of the work is realized: to reveal the transcendental lack of politics to ‘plan’ the public space. But the same is of course valid for Cuyvers: as a planner he is also ‘marked’ by a fundamental impossibility to plan the nature and direction of the processes taking place in his designs. This work can thus be seen as an internal critique of Cuyvers’ on his own praxis of ‘shadow planning’ that still formed the co-ordinates of the project in Zwijndrecht we mentioned earlier (see footnote 10.) A theoretical exposé of this project is published by the architect in: Cuyvers, W. (2005), Tekst over Tekst, Stroom/Voorkamer, pp. 161-164.
[13] Koolhaas, R. (1972). ‘Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture. AA Final Project.’, in: Koolhaas, R. [et. al. Mau B., Sigler J., Werlemann H.] (1997). Small, Medium, Large, extra-Large: Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Rotterdam: 010-publishers, pp. 2-21.
[14] See Heynen, H. (2004). ‘Utopia, Critique and Contemporary Discourse’, in: Contemporary Discourses in Architecture. Symposium Proceedings. pp. 11-27 (esp. 22-23); Heynen, H. ‘The antinomies of Utopia. Superstudio in Context.’ In: Byvanck, V. (ed.) (2005). Superstudio. The Middelburg Lectures. Middelburg: De Vleeshal, pp. 61-74 (esp.70-71)
[15] In this regard the negative perception in the West of urban planning during the Communist age (think of all the urban horror stories on the tabula rasa politics of Stalin, Chroestjov or Ceaucesu that are circulating among Western planners) is somewhat hypocritical. Doesn’t Koolhaas’ Exodus stage a similar image of an idealist (albeit libertarian) planning act that does not step back from shedding blood? One can further wonder whether Koolhaas’ so-called neomodern attitude (i.e. a modernism without a social or ideological program) makes of him not a bigger threat to the city?
[16] One can think here of the recent fascination with post-war modernist planners (working in, say, the fifties and sixties) which were responsible for the re-building of the Dutch cities after World War II. See Hans Ibelings. (1996) De moderne jaren vijftig en zestig: De verspreiding van een eigentijdse architectuur over Nederland. Rotterdam: NAi uitgevers. The latter was also the theme of an exhibition in the NAi in the same year.
[17] Here we apply the idea of ‘two revolutions’ worked out by Slavoj Zizek (2002) in Revolutions at the Gates. London and New York: Verso.
[18] The house house Baete-Doubbel was built in 2000 in Gits, Belgium. Published in: o.a. Archis 9, 2000, pp. 55-59.
[19] Ruimtelijk Planbureau. (2004). Tussenland. Rotterdam: Nai Publishers. See also: Frans Hamers. ‘Nederland tussenland’, in: Filosofie Magazine 2, 2005
[20] Of course there are probably more reasons to rationalize this decision: apart of being a very cheap industrial construction, greenhouses are very ecologically friendly and even allow the owner to experiment with the lay-out of the housing program. While these are strict architectural reason, they must nonetheless be regarded as superfluous effects of the arbitrary desire of the other (i.e. the client) which the architect had to take into account.
[21] This is the basic assumption of the Dutch hype of ‘Wild Living’ promoted by architectural coryphée Carel Weeber. For the latter, the Belgian urban landscape served as a key example of ‘an architecture beyond state interventions’. See: Weeber, C. (1998). Het wilde wonen, Uitgeverij 010. In discussion with Weeber, former director of the Dutch Architectural Institute Adri Duivesteijn picked up on this trend and turned it into a plea in favour of a new state policy that ‘steps back’ and limits itself exclusively to infrastructural concerns, leaving it up to the people to build what and how they desire. To proof his ‘right’, he used the example of certain favela’s in the outskirts of the Peruvian capital Lima. See: Het ‘wilde wonen’ vereist collectieve planning, NRC Handelsblad, 22 mei 1997.

Tags: English

Categories: Urban planning

Type: Article