architecture is NOT a constant

April 28, 2011

Foucault (2000) quotes a Sartrean psychologist who mentioned that “space is reactionary and capitalist, but history and becoming are revolutionary” and then explains that this very notion is absurd in today’s architectural understanding. In his text, “Space, Knowledge and Power”, Foucault attempts to locate architecture and its arrangement of space in relation to power and elaborates on the effect one has on another.

In the interview the Foucault (2000) highlighted these issues, he discusses fairly bluntly on the lack or even absence, and of power that architecture held over an individual.

“One must take him (the architect) – his mentality, his attitude – into account as well as his projects, in order to understand a certain number of the techniques of power that are invested in architecture”

An architect in this context therefore is stripped of his direct and total control of individuals or circumstances. Rather, Foucault places the architect as the person who isn’t totally removed from the system but rather becomes the instigator to potential outcomes of his architecture and its effect on organization, the implementation and all the techniques of power that are exercised in society (Foucault 2000). There is still the right and freedom that falls on the user as an individual to redefine or reconstruct that which the architect deems as an ideal built form.

Instead of the actual built forms and cities that are erected by architects, Foucault put forward the notion that it is actually those who dictate and create the links and territories around and between these cities that hold what can be described as power. It is the engineers and builders of bridges, roads, viaducts, railways as well as the polytechnicians – those are the people who thought out space (Foucault 2000). This quintessential element that could possibly define the scope of power however then becomes the very cause of architectural violence. As discussed briefly in the conversation, the railroads became the veins in which vessels and weapons of war flowed down between Germany and France. Railroads, electricity as well as the efficiency of communication, made war easier to wage (Foucault 2000).

Is architecture therefore powerless in this war against violence? Has the architect been so far removed from the system that it loses grasp on its ability to impose power upon society and cities? Or can architecture be in itself revolutionary rather than reactionary? Architecture is not, and must not become a constant.

Joel Lee

One Response to “architecture is NOT a constant”


  1. Some string sentiments are expressed here about architecture and its limits. You need to clean up your grammar a little. Also, be careful about placing the year 2000 after Foucault, certainy that is the Penguin edition, but the date from the original publication in French may be more helpful…or else, don’t worry about the year at all, but cite the essay at the opening.
    A good account and clear discussion.


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