What I define by Resistive Architectures is the ensemble of architectural apparatuses defined by either, their legal status or their physicality as a resistance towards the normative establishment. These architectures are not defined by belonging to a revolutionary manifesto but rather to a state of continuous or evanescent resistance emitted directly from a system’s interiority. These states can be studied either by their relationship to the law or by their typology depending on the nature of their resistive characteristics.
One can distinguish three main attitudes towards the law that can adopt an architecture: legality, “unexpected legality”, and illegality.
The first one is obvious; it consists in an acceptance of the law as the only realm of action and somehow, supposes that the written principles of the legality should absolutely prevail for society. However, this attitude is not as easy as it seems since law and norm are intricate and therefore resist against an establishment that produce this norm constitutes a difficult and complex assignment. American architect Teddy Cruz, for example, often bases his projects around problems of Mexican immigration and integration in Southern California. In order to implement his office’s work, he organizes negotiations with the local institutions and attempts to prove the qualities of his projects for the collectivity. This process has the advantage of being relatively durable and the disadvantage of constituting a long process full of concessions that is in contradiction of the urgency of the needs that the project responds to.
In contradiction of this attitude stands one that consists of what Thoreau called civil disobedience. In fact, when the law is considered to be serving other interests than the ones it originally served, then one has the right to violate the law. When Max Rameau observed simultaneously the situation of homeless people in Miami and the fact that an important amount of land in this same city was being used for financial speculation, he decided to reclaim the land and create a temporary village on it as a response to the homelessness issue. Rameau considers “right of home” an inalienable right and still succeeds to maintain the existence of this illegal “village” by the recognition of this right by the legal neighborhood.
One can possibly argue in favor of this right by observing that the right of vote –probably less pragmatic but more symbolic of democracy than the right of home- is maintained in the United States by the possession of an address. Being homeless therefore constitutes a state of sub-citizenship that is not compatible with the values of the republic.
Another architectural actor of illegal architectures is Gordon Matta Clark. In fact, he was forced to leave the United States after creating what is now, one of his most famous pieces, Day’s End (Pier 52) due to the controversy created. This piece consisted of architectural interventions in an abandoned warehouse in New York’s harbor and eventually obtained a retroactive legality due to its deemed work of art status. This decision appears as symptomatic of a system that can possibly accept some room for “legal flexibility” if it is recognized as part of a set of normative codes and can be placed in the category of “Art”.
What I call “unexpected legality” is an attitude situated between the two previously mentioned. It consists of a careful study of law and the extraction of some pockets of ambiguity within it. This ambiguity can be taken advantage of in order to place an architectural project and providing a safety from an illegal status while simultaneously adopting a behavior that is not concurrent with the norm.
Spanish architect Santiago Cirugeda applied this attitude to several of his projects in Seville. One of them is as harmless as useful to illustrate this process: In Seville, when a landlord discovers graffiti on one of his walls, a law authorizes him to set a scaffold in order to be able to erase it. The duration of this temporary installation is up to three months. Cirugeda, via the production of graffiti of his own wall succeeded to set a scaffold-like balcony on his apartment for the whole summer. This project, as anecdotic as it is, illustrates this position towards the law that can have more “crucial” implications such as in Turkey where a law forbids to the police the destruction of home that has been already achieved but rather places this same destruction within the judicial frame. The physical implications of this law is the over-night creation of illegal slum houses that can thus legally exist until Justice orders its delate destruction.
Architecture can thus resist against an establishment by its legal status; however, its own physicality can also be a factor of resistance. In fact, this chapter proposes to study two different typologies that offer a resistance against an absolute control to a transcendental entity: the labyrinth and the hole.
The labyrinth, in its classical representation, is the quintessence of the architect’s absolute control. The line is traced from above, its author has a total vision of the space, and he is amused to see bodies below subjected to his architecture. When he writes The Trial and The Castle in the 1920’s, Franz Kafka reinvents this notion of labyrinth by creating a maze that escapes the control of its developer, the giant administrative system. The fact that Kafka never achieved his book and that the chapters’ orders has been reconstituted by Max Brod lead to think that this labyrinth even escaped to the author’s control himself. Each reader could then composes another chapters’ order and Brod was probably uninspired in his choice to end the book with K.’s death that gives a peremptory achievement to the novel. On the contrary, my own order would start from this death episode and introduce the whole narrative as death itself in its infinite duration.
This labyrinth created by Kafka will find a space in 1941 through Jorge Luis Borges and his Ficciones in which space is composed both by the same notions of infinite and the random. Eventually, during the 1950’s, Constant Nieuwenhuis brought an architecture to this labyrinth by the creation of New Babylon, the urban territory of the Homo Ludens’ continuous dérive. Those three labyrinths, whether they are administrative, spatial, or architectural, all own the characteristic of escaping any form of transcendental control and therefore can be said to constitute true resistive architectures.
Considered in the core of an urban fabric, the labyrinth can thus become the space liberated from the authority or at least, favorable to alternative ways of life. That is what could be observed in Algiers’ Casbah and the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong. When the first one was embodying the Algieran space of resistance during the guerrilla against the French Army in the late 50’s, the second one was set free from the police who were afraid to enter in it until it was destroyed in 1993 by the English authorities.
As I wrote earlier, the second paradigm of a resistive architecture thanks to a favorable typology is the hole. Subterranean architectures are created via a process that is fundamentally the contrary of usual architectures. In fact, instead of building space by superposition of material within a milieu that can be assimilated as hollow, subterranean architectures are being built by a process of excavation of material within a milieu that can be assimilated as full. This construction protocol is therefore preventing architecture to hold an externality but rather to be composed exclusively by its internality. This characteristic is interesting in the ambiguity it implies; caves, tunnels or other subterranean networks have been and still are paradigmatic spaces of resistance against transcendence thanks to their conceptual invisibility to the outside world; however, this absence of externality also allows them to contain an environment within clear limits and thus to apply control to the same environment.
In Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s terminology, subterranean architectures are negotiating between smooth and striated spaces, they are the holey spaces. Holey spaces are produced by the blacksmiths who are neither part of the substance like the nomads are, nor assembling fragments of it like the sedentary do. They are directly acting on the substance and thus modifying its configuration. They don’t create an internality by building a frame but rather incise the earth and inhabit in it.
The three dimensionality of this milieu –the earth being different from the ground- allows the creation of labyrinthine networks of paths and rooms within it regardless of the gravity which rules the “surface world”. Paris’ Catacombs are exemplary in this regard; they embody an incredible subterranean maze. This urban labyrinth has never succeeded to be ever fully mapped and while continuously growing it hosted many heterogeneous programs such as boneyards, shelter of resistance during the German occupation, youth gathering and even pornographic theater.
The subterranean world stands in the collective imaginary as the milieu of the unknown, the illegible, the hidden. Indeed, those notions are not really valued by Christianity in the elaboration of a universal moral. Going towards the unknown therefore implies a movement down in the earth, imitating Gordon Matta Clark’s 1975 attempt to dig a hole in the ground of his Parisian apartment in order to explore the dark matter of the undeground. Yet, nobody celebrates more beautifully this exploration than Reza Negarestani does in his Cyclonopedia:
“Disturb and irritate, dilate and contract the repressed cavities of the Earth: Tunnels and tubes, burrows and lairs, acrid bungholes and perforated spaces, its fanged vaginas, slits and the schizoid skin. Unclog and squeeze the earth; exhume its surfaces; makes an earth whose conundrums cannot be solved by recourse of their origins or causes.”
In a world where sovereignty is operative through surveillance and processes of normatization, holey spaces embody resistive zones by hiding their internality from the outside and therefore, make those processes becoming obsolete. They are also allowing an escape from the schemes already evoked in this research, as the physicality of “surface” architecture provides a transcendental control.
That is how the Palestinians living in the Gaza strip difficultly manage to bring in supplies, digging tunnels that ignores the Israeli blockade walls, or how a small amount of Mexican immigrants succeeded to enter in the United States’ territory by going under the physical border.
Holey spaces are interesting for architects in the fact that they can be designed but necessities tools that already exist but are usually used for other purposes such as destruction. Such a detournement can be interpreted as a breakage of Aristotle’s hylomorphism that advocates Deleuze and Guattari. In fact, the mater being acted on, by means that are not achieving the purpose they have been designed for is breaking the predeterminism of forms that the tool implies.
Despite their non-subterranean characteristics, bunkers can somehow be considered as holey spaces as well. Their surface’s thickness is so important that one could think of them as a hole within an artificial earth. Their beauty consists in their absence of foundations thus allowing them to move when an explosive impact occurs nearby. This ambiguity between heaviness and lightness and its will of composing a mineral landscape in a given biotope maintain an interesting mix between the State apparatus and the resistive movement, between the striated and the smooth.