Following the conclusions of the last chapter, the repercussions of the terrorist attack against New York’s World Trade Center in 2001 were much more than the destruction of two buildings. Architecture had been targeted and attacked; thus, it seems now normal that the current era of paranoia materializes itself with architecture.
However, this paranoia is not only characterized by the fear of very hypothetic terrorism but by a global fear of otherness. Architecture is therefore invoked not only to protect from endogen entities but also in order to actively participate to the global machine of securization and segregation of social groups and individuals
One book, particularly illustrative of those issues, has been written in 1983 by Barry Poyner who was himself inspired by Oscar Newman’s classic book from 1972, Defensible Space. This book, entitled Design Against Crime, proposes architectural solutions to every kinds of delinquency with a disconcerting simplicity. Without ever making a distinction between homicide, robbery, burglary and vandalism, Poyner’s states that “the layout of neighborhoods, the form of streets, the design of housing and the planning of schools can be said to contribute to the likelihood of crime” . At the beginning of the book he recalls the four principles enunciated by Newman to invent secured public housings:
1. Territoriality: The sub-division and zoning of communal space in and around residential building to promote proprietary attitudes among residents.
2. Natural Surveillance: The positioning of apartment windows to allow residents to naturally survey the exterior and interior public areas of their living environment.
3. Image: The use of building forms and idioms to avoid the stigma of public housing.
4. Milieu: Locating residential projects to face onto areas of the city considered safe (such as heavily-trafficked streets, institutional areas and government offices).
He also advocates for the suppression of semi-public environment (like decks, platforms, galleries etc.) and even more radically for a regulation of children density in residences. Each scale is being studied and optimized for the sake of security. From the urban organization of a residential district to the door’s material via anti-burglary houses, anti-pickpockets markets and anti-vandalism schools. The result of such designs is the creation of a city where each fragment is being surveyed and controlled, thus composing what I would call an immanent panopticon that we can observe in a more recent project, the winning entry for the Stockholmporten master plan by Bjarke Ingels Group in 2010. Indeed this circular district has for main characteristics, the presence of a gigantic reflective sphere in the center of it.
What is used to be known as the panopticon is the paradigm that Michel Foucault establishes for the disciplinary society, appropriating the design originally created by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. In fact, this circular prison in which the centralized form of power can easily supervise every actions of the prisoners situated in the perimeter, was a paradigm for the society between the end of the 18th century and our era. Foucault’s thesis was that the society’s scheme that we progressively enter into is much more interested about control than discipline. The mode of surveillance is shifting from a transcendental mode -the centralized proctor, symbolizing an entity like a government or an institution- to a complete immanent mode in which each member of the society is supervising the ensemble of the other members while being supervised himself.
BIG’s project is therefore amazing for its absolute literalism of forms and schemes. Both Bentham/Foucault’s transcendental Panopticon and Bjarke Ingels’ immanent Panopticon are spheres. When the transcendental one is exclusively an interiority -there is nothing outside the sphere- the immanent one is exclusively an exteriority – there is nothing inside the sphere. This is a topological transformation as the interior surface “unfolds” itself to become the exterior surface and one has to visualize this transformation to understand this morphological shift. This shift is also a political one, the same that I was evoking above. Power is not anymore effectuated by an imprisonment of the bodies, but rather by their delegated control.
One thing that is regularly observed about the transcendental Panopticon is that discipline is actually being more applied by the knowledge of the prisoner that (s)he is being monitored -and therefore self-censored his(her) behavior- than the actual centralized supervision whose embodiment is not visible to him(her). That is why many people compare it to what we know in our societies as the videosurveillance and why one has to notice that, the actual embodiment of this centalized authority does even need to exist.In the Stockholmsporten example, the transcendental power is known not to exist as it is replaced by an omnipresent immanent control, but the sphere manages to conserve the quintessential iconic vocabulary of transcendence whether it is the Sun, God, the Sphere in the 60’s UK TV series The Prisoner or a fortune teller’s crystal ball.
Another paradigmatic example of the society of control finds its existence with the gated community. In chapter State of Exception, we observed the camp as an interiority created to protect the exteriority from its content, or rather a small pocket of exteriority created within an interiority. The gated community is its exact opposite. It composes an interiority protected against the environing exteriority. As Rem Koolhaas and his partners described in their Exodus as a metaphor of West Berlin, gated communities can be said to host voluntary prisoners of architecture. People who choose to live in those districts made indeed a Faustian choice against their privacy and in favor of their security and the fact of living exclusively with the same social class or ideological group.
The extreme example of this scheme is obviously the Israeli illegal settlements of the West Bank in which private police within the area is replaced by civilian militias and governmental army. The population entering these militarized heterotopias is filtered by the small amount of entrances and their design as checkpoints. Gated communities can thus be said to be conceptualized on a medieval scheme that implies a state of continuous war against exteriority. It needs therefore to maintain a paranoid imaginary to retain its illusionary legitimacy to exist and to develop such defensive means against exteriority.
Gated communities, as examples of secluded and remote living communities, when studied at a larger scale then can be understood as examples of a suburban living in the strategical spirit the latter has been created in.
In fact, suburbia has been thought in the 40’s and 50’s order to respond to problems of national and domestic security. In War Against the Center, Peter Galison establishes that Suburbia has been created in the very beginning of the Cold War as a military strategy of urban and ressources dispersion in order to minimize the economical and human effect of a potential nuclear strike against the United States. This hypothesis also includes a solid study of the infrastructures designed in such a way that one part being destroyed would be easily replaced by the rest of the rhizomic network and even be used as military infrastructures in the case of a war situation.
As far as domestic security is concerned, Mike Davis in City of Quartz, affirms that the design of Suburbia was part of a political strategy in order to destroy public space in the American city. In fact, in a will of control and security, free gathering of people was being too hazardous and uncertain for a system that bases its self-sustainability in the anticipation of its subjects’ behaviors. Suburbia was thus a way to kill the Mediterranean model of the street to replace it with the road or the highway to prevent any social interaction between people as we will see in the next chapter.
In a conversation with Daniel Mock and Stephan Truby, Noam Chomsky evokes a similar aspect of the suburban invention. He in fact, recalls the 1940’s General Motors, Firestone Rubber and Standart Oil California’s conspiracy when those companies bought and destroyed the urban collective transportation system in order to make cars and oil as indispensable as they are nowadays. This conspiracy was then followed and institutionally implemented by the Eisenhower Administration’s National Interstate and Defense Highway Act in 1956 which was the first real step of the American urban spreading.
Safety and security are thus being considered at every scale in order to assure both a transcendental control and an immanent state of surveillance between the city users. This dimension of architecture can be seen as fully included in the modern scheme of sovereignty studied by Foucault called biopolitics, a sovereignty based on the (daily) life of its subjects and that regulates it both in its biology and its anatomy in a precise set of operative cogs composing a system.