Position of Influence

May 4, 2011

Power – Michel Foucault

In the chapter Space, Knowledge and Power Foucault describes a shift in the conceptualisation of urbanism from the eighteenth century onwards towards ‘models for the governmental rationality’ with the system of policing cities ‘extending over the entire territory’ (p 350). Through drawing together the city in it’s physical design with the governance of society Foucault discusses the stratergies of the exercising of power; ‘if one governed too much, one did not govern at all – that one provoked results contrary to those desired’. He recognises that the majority of developments that shape the city on behalf of those who govern are done not by architects but engineers and builders (p 354), whilst considering the power of architects over future users of buildings. This gets to the core of the architect’s position between the powers of governance and the desires of individuals within society. An extremely complex position that requires careful balancing, a balance that architects during the more idealistic years of the mid 20th century (Le Corbusier is mentioned) are often criticised for getting wrong. Whilst Foucault doesn’t find any use in harsh criticisms of Le Corbusier, he makes the point that despite the architect’s good intentions ‘It can never be inherent in the structure of things to guarantee the exercise of freedom. The guarantee of freedom is freedom’. We can use a space any way that we chose after all.

So what is a legitimate intent for an architect in the age of post-idealism? It’s my opinion that whilst architects shouldn’t totally dictate the future use of a space (by making it either too fixed or too flexible depending on the building program) they should take the existing systems of cultural environments as a starting point, selectively subverting them in the hope of arousing self-awareness within individuals and society, challenging the status-quo through hints of mis-use and appropriation. From architects like Rem Koolhaas who uses the pure desires of programme as a major driver of his architecture to Lacaton and Vassal who apply their creativity to the economics of buildings, the opportunities for systemic subversion are endless.



2 Responses to “Position of Influence”

  1. andrejvod Says:

    I didn’t mean to draw together a discussion of Freudian desire and Foucaultian power.
    I meant to relate the pure desires of program that Koolhaas focuses on in his designs to Foucault’s discussion of power in the sense that rather than looking at buildings in terms of urban harmony (which could be argued as bowing to the powers of governance that control planning and taste) he focuses on the performance of program.
    Lacaton and Vassal subvert power in their public housing works by NOT designing new buildings, rather finding economic efficiencies in improving existing facilities, replacing the usual response to dated social housing of it looks cheap so we should knock it down and make new housing that looks nicer with lets improve the housing so they are nice to live in, who cares how they look? Niceness is a matter of perception anyway.

    Also the image is not mine.

  2. AV, is that also your image above? Might there be a way of describing it with a title, r even an instruction for how it can eventually be coloured in (given that all these discussions will eventually be compiled as colouring-in books!)
    You’ve offered a concise response, but I wonder whether you could go deeper? Or explain further what Koolhaas and Lacaton and Vassal do to subvert desire and power in their architectural proposals?
    Also, you have brought desire into the equation, which I don’t remember Foucault doing in the given article…what is the relation between desire and power relations? And especially in regard to space?
    String image by the way…

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