THE SPACE OF ARCHITECTS
Cases are legion where the empirical approach to a given process refuses to carry its description to a conceptual level where a dialectical (conflictual) dynamic is likely to emerge. For example, countries in the throes of rapid development blithely destroy historic spaces — houses, palaces, military or civil structures. If advantage or profit is to be found in it, then the old is swept away. Later, however, perhaps towards the end of the period of accelerated growth, these same countries are liable to discover how such spaces may be pressed into the service of cultural consumption, of `culture itself, and of the tourism and the leisure industries with their almost limitless prospects. When this happens, everything that they had so merrily demolished during the belle epoque is reconstituted at great expense. Where destruction has not been complete, `renovation’ becomes the order of the day, or imitation, or replication, or neo-this or neo-that. In any case, what had been annihilated in the earlier frenzy of growth now becomes an object of adoration. And former objects of utility now pass for rare and precious works of art.
Dominant mode of production. mark + poppy 2016
Let us for a moment consider the space of architecture and of architects, without attaching undue importance to what is said about this space. It is easy to imagine that the architect has before him a slice or piece of space cut from larger wholes, that he takes this portion of space as a ‘given’ and works on it according to his tastes, technical skills, ideas and preferences. In short, he receives his assignment and deals with it in complete freedom.
That is not what actually happens, however. The section of space assigned to the architect — perhaps by ‘developers’, perhaps by government agencies — is affected by calculations that he may have some intimation of but with which he is certainly not well acquainted. This space has nothing innocent about it: it answers to particular tactics and strategies; it is, quite simply, the space of the dominant mode of production, and hence the space of capitalism, governed by the bourgeoisie. It consists of ‘lots’ and is organized in a repressive manner as a function of the important features of the locality.
Modular form of bourgeoisified space. mark + poppy 2016
As for the eye of the architect, it is no more innocent than the lot he is given to build on or the blank sheet of paper on which he makes his first sketch. His `subjective’ space is freighted with all-too-objective meanings. It is a visual space, a space reduced to blueprints, to mere images — to that ‘world of the image’ which is the enemy of the imagination. These reductions are accentuated and justified by the rule of linear perspective. Such sterilizing tendencies were denounced long ago by Gromort, who demonstrated how they served to fetishize the facade — a volume made up of planes and lent spurious depth by means of decorative motifs. The tendency to make reductions of this kind — reductions to parcels, to images, to facades that are made to be seen and to be seen from (thus reinforcing ‘pure’ visual space) — is a tendency that degrades space. The facade (to see and to be seen) was always a measure of social standing and prestige. A prison with a facade — which was also the prison of the family — became the epitome and modular form of bourgeoisified space.
– Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space 1974
Fetishized facade, © mark + poppy 2016