The state of exception consists of an extraction of an institution from the laws that have constituted it. It breaks the original Social Contract that stated the agreed balance between the concessions of people’s freedom in exchange for various forms of security.
What is interesting for architects is that this state of exception implies a territory where it finds its application, whether it is a whole country or regions of specificity. I will try to distinguish here two different aspects which would separate spaces of punishment and spaces of precaution, which appear to be the two spatial categories of those territories.
Spaces of punishment are more or less legal territories of exception. The question of the legitimacy of people’s forced presence in those spaces is not so much relevant here. What is more interesting for our problem is that they constitute micro-totalitarian societies that can difficultly be thought without architectural apparatuses which can materially frame them. The cell fully expresses the supremacy of the wall on the body and the prison subtly negotiates between hyper-seclusion and hyper-visibility. Spaces of punishment, in their essence, have been created in a peculiar revanchist way of thinking. Indeed, they have been programmed to suspend the application of the law for people who have been suspending the law for themselves. It is then important for the society that hosts those territories of punishment that the exceptions they represent do not appear in any way as enviable. Their design is therefore intentionally and considerably aggressive to the human body. This state of exception is comparable to the one of war as “war exists because the taboo on violence in daily life relegates violence to areas of existence confined in space and time and that follow their own rules.” writesGeorges Bataille.
Space of precaution are essentially based on hypothesis as they exist in reaction of potential threats for society, They also contribute to the materiality of the state of exception since the law states that only its transgressors can be forced to move to a space of punishment. However, spaces of precaution temporarily apply the exact same schemes as spaces of punishment on people who did not transgress the law. Martial law and quarantine are the two states that transform a space where law normally applies to a space subjected to a total transcendental and authoritative control. In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault describes a 17th century city that has been the victim of a plague epidemic. Each family there is imprisoned in their own house for forty days and has to constantly respond to a totalitarian power that associate military and administration to the highest degree.
Albert Camus also depicts the complete seclusion of the Algerian city of Oran during another plague epidemic; in fact, in his novel The Plague, the city itself becomes a prison for which the exterior becomes an abstraction. Quarantine is a simple mathematical calculation that creates the precautionary incarceration of a certain amount of people for the sake of a larger number of others. Its architectural implication is the intrinsic potential of each building to become instantly a carceral space.
Martial law establishes a military power within a city or a country in which citizens must unconditionally subordinate to the army. As its name indicates, martial law establishes a situation of war in a city, that makes any civilian a potential enemy. It is generally declared during extreme situations of instability such as in New Orleans after the city suffered from Hurricane Katrina in 2008. Nevertheless martial law and curfews can also be used as well-considered strategical weapons in order to control a population. The example of curfews established and regularly applied by the Israeli army in the West Bank is quintessential of this control. Such measures have in fact the great advantage for militaries to imprison a population in its own infrastructure without nescessiting to provide one by themselves.
One architectural typology seems to stand in an ambiguous way between spaces of punishment and spaces of precaution. In fact, for Giorgio Agamben, the camp is the perfect example of the state of exception’s embodiment:
“Reflection is needed about the paradoxical status of the detainment camp in its quality as an exceptional space. It is part of a territory which stands outside the normal rule of law but which is not therefore an external space. What is excluded there […] is actually included by virtue of its own exclusion. The state of emergency is what, above all else, is captured in the order of the camp. The right to declare a state of emergency is the basis of sovereign authority, and a camp is the structure that realizes a state of emergency in its most permanent form.”
American internment camps for Japanese descents during the Second World War are exemplary for the precautionary incarceration. In fact, the United States Government, fearing the presence of Japanese spies on its national territory, decided to imprison 120,000 people in camps, chosen on the unique criteria of their ethnic origins. This vast operation represented the territorial exclusion of a part of the American population.
About sixty years later, in the context of what has been demagogically called “war against terrorism”, the U.S. State imprisoned several hundreds of foreign suspects in order to prevent them from taking part in terrorist attacks. Guantanamo’s Camp Delta is situated in the U.S. Navy’s basis in Cuba where American Laws about detention do not apply. The word terrorist became Former U.S. President Bush’s open door to the state of exception. His administration used this terminology to legitimize the increasing power of American Security Service. The designation of prisoners as what the Geneva Convention calls “Unlawful Enemy Combatants” allows the withdrawing of their constitutional rights. This situation therefore allows a judicial-spatial status that can be freely re-interpreted by the U.S. Administration. Prisoners thus do not have the right for a trial which allows the camp to detain a very important amount of people who are suspected members of terrorist organizations yet who have not been formerly proven to be part of them. In a similar way, the State of Exception’s spatiality following N.A.T.O.’s initiation of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 was embodied by the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu which was used as a detention facility in a similar contextual legality, thus allowing greater flexibility in the application of the law.
The State of Exception is thus being embodied by two types of architecture. The first one is specific to it and fully expresses the purposes of violence over the bodies such a state represents. The second one includes the entire built environment in a potential establishment of a precautionary emergency state that transforms domesticity into detention and control. As its name suggests, the State of Exception is supposed to represent a temporary political regime in a society -we could call it a heterochronia-, however, it is noticeable that every State of Exception never completely disappears after having been established and that the current society reflects the ensemble of exceptional measures that have been taken during the past.